So much has changed since the beginning of the pandemic. And so much is changing still. From clients, Roundtable members, and coaching colleagues, I hear about pivots of all kinds. I hear about bolstering a remote staff’s engagement and morale. Some leaders are still protecting their cash every single day, while others are getting ready to hire new team members. I hear about the good, the bad, and the uncertain.
But what hasn’t changed for you since March 2020?
I don’t ask this question as hyperbole. I’m earnestly challenging you to step back and consider: what in your business, and in your life, has held strong through this storm?
A flashback: it’s 2012, and I’m stepping into my first role running a company. I’m inheriting a ship heading toward an iceberg. I know it, the team knows it, the shareholders and board members know it too. I feel a dogged determination to turn the ship around. My goal? To make this company profitable again. Not an overnight task, but I know for certain that it needs to happen, that people are counting on me to do it, and that it will help everyone sleep better at night.
But the more I drive towards that profitable number, the more I notice my efforts are thwarted. I can’t seem to get everyone on the same page. The only message that seems to be getting through is “we need to turn this around,” which actually means, “I am afraid of what’s in front of us,” which just makes everyone look harder at the iceberg.
Here’s one thing I’ve learned from my time as a CEO: if you are unclear about the future of your business, no one on your team will have any better a picture than you. And in stormy times, people need a clear picture of where they’re headed. Like sailors who navigated by the stars, people need something constant to hold on to, that doesn’t change, no matter the conditions of the present moment. We need a North Star.
Going through crisis as a CEO, I learned that when I stopped talking about the number, and started talking about the bigger picture, people started to listen. When I talked about where we’d be in the future, bringing to life a vision full of emotion, purpose, and passion, people were motivated to get on board, to bring more of themselves to the table, because they knew they were a part of something. More than a number, more than a goal - they were driving towards a North Star.
As a leader, your vision for the future is what will keep your business going. That’s why we call it the North Star. It’s always there. In times of difficulty, in storms, you may lose sight of it. But when it calms and the clouds peel back, you will reorient to your North Star, and find that it’s still where you’re going and where you want to go.
I’ve seen the power of a North Star during the past few months. I have clients who have told me directly that they would not have made it through this time without one. That is why, during this unique and challenging time, I’m introducing The Apex North Star Way.
The North Star Way is all about creating a vision: a vibrant, bold, and emotionally compelling vision for the future. Not only is the creation of this vision crucial for times of crisis, it is one of the most important skills a leader can have.
Developing that skill is built into the proven process of the North Star Way. I actively challenge CEOs and leadership teams to start thinking long-term first, rather than starting with where we are in the present moment.
One way I do this is by asking a CEO to envision “the end of the movie” about their life. (And by the way, this movie has a happy ending). The camera pulls back, the triumphant music plays: what’s happening on the screen? More than just an activity, this question - and the ensuing questions I ask to make the picture more specific, more emotional, more vibrant and compelling - serves to unearth possibilities we often imagine as leaders, but don’t dare to speak out loud. The “Moon Shot” possibilities, the things that will really stretch us - that’s where the North Star Way aims, before all else.
Once leaders have clarity on their North Star Vision, the next step in the process is communicating it. This is a crucial step, relying on the leader’s ability to authentically convey all the passion and boldness built into the North Star to their team. It is also a test - the CEO will know they’ve authentically conveyed their vision because when they do, the team will be inspired and motivated. They no longer need to be managed. A great North Star naturally aligns an organization, gives them the ability to be agile and adaptive to challenges that arise, and it elicits volunteerism, because people know they are a part of something.
So I ask again: what hasn’t changed for you since March 2020?
The CEOs and leadership teams whose North Stars we have helped to uncover have held true to them. The course to achieve their North Star has changed, as have our day-to-day realities, but that shining vision hasn’t changed, and won’t change for years to come.
Mine hasn’t changed either. Apex North’s Star is to help one thousand CEOs and business leaders achieve clarity on their North Star and chart a path to get there. If you are already one of those leaders - keep following the course. If you aren’t, reach out. I’d love to be your coach.