Ron Carucci led a 10-year longitudinal study on executive transition to find out why more than 50% of leaders fail within their first 18 months of appointment. In this interview, he’ll share the four differentiating capabilities that set successful leaders apart.
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Deliberate Leaders, I’m your host Allison Dunn, executive coach and founder of the Deliberate Leaders podcast dedicated to helping leaders build strong, thriving businesses. Each episode, we feature inspiring interviews to help you on your leadership journey. I am super excited about our guest today. He is Ron Carucci. He is the co founder and managing partner at Navalent He is a popular contributor at Harvard Business Review, and Forbes and a two time TEDx speaker, as well as a best selling author of eight books, including groundbreaking Amazon number one book Rising to Power. And this book is, I think, a product of a 10 year study on executive transition to find out why more than 50% of leaders fail within their first 18 months of appointment, and then covers four differentiating capabilities that sets successful leaders apart, which he is going to be sharing with us today. Ron, thank you so much for joining us here at Deliberate Leaders.
Allison, it’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
I always like to kick these off with kind of asking for your number one tip on leadership for our deliberate leader listeners.
My gosh, where do you start?
If you do not have people coming into your office on a regular basis, telling you things that are uncomfortable to hear, you can be very confident that your leadership sucks.
Such a great tip, actually.
Um, let’s dive into that. So I know, I know that it is really important to have people being able to tell you difficult things. And the most common thing as an executive coach that I recognize leaders don’t get is that feedback, right? That feedback, the challenge to push, you know, there’s sort of every you know, like, you don’t want a yes team around you, you really do want some, some pressure some if someone has just heard that tip, and they’re now questioning whether or not their leadership might suck, what should they do about it?
Well go find out, right, so if you if you if you don’t have access to good data, whether it’s anonymous or direct, you need you need to be calibrated too many leaders go uncalibrated for too long. And I don’t just mean a cheesy 360 I mean, really forensic data on how people experience your leadership, how they experience your team, and how they experience your remit to the organization, right. So your, your team and you or your department or whatever you’re doing doesn’t exist apart from the context. There’s, there’s a remit to the organization. And that Sprint’s that strategic context is part of who you are as a leader. You may not understand what part you play in it, many leaders, but believe that their intentions are what’s actually happening in the real world. And don’t realize that, that the movie playing in their head is not the movie playing out in front of them. And of course, nobody tells you that. I think watch for cues, you know, if people if people are in the middle of a heated debate or silent, if you’re watching little facial cues of people, you know, little handset, they’re uncomfortable. Don’t assume silences consent, dig deep, and create an environment where you get to hear the things. Listen, you can be very confident that you are the topic of conversation at dinner in people’s homes, on your team. You just have to find out what stories they’re telling.
Right? Okay, I think just go find out and get the data. That’s awesome. And there’s statistic that 50% of leaders fail within the first 18 months is it one it’s incredibly expensive, right? To have that type of turn, and lack of longevity in 50% of roles. So first, first and foremost, but in your research, you found that there were a couple of key elements. And so I’m hoping that we can cover those in our short interview together today. So what were some of the key elements that you’ve uncovered that caused that? And then capabilities of successful ones, it’s going to be kind of the latter part.
So the book was a study was launched by failure. We were working with a CEO and his team after a large transformational project and one of the leaders on that team or on the design team had set themselves apart they were beloved middle manager, everybody’s high potential list pic of the year. And so when he was given a bigger job when the at the end of the project, nobody was surprised Nine months later, he was in my caller ID I was super excited to hear from him I assumed he was calling to check in, say hi come about all the great things he done. And he was calling to tell me he’d been fired. And I could barely speak two hours later proceeded to call to let me know that they let him go. And more than suddenly inferring that some of the failure was my responsibility for not having a better prepared him, which, you know, as an executive coach is not the call you ever want to get. And so I said, Can I just come back and it’s never around. On my own time, I just I have to understand how we could have so wildly misjudged his potential when he was so gifted you how do you go from being that gifted to that much of a disaster in 10 months? I just doesn’t make no sense to me. Well, that little investigation is what led to our 10 year study with more than 2700 leaders to understand why our why we’ve known for 20 years that more than that, it’s about 50 to 60%. Don’t make it within 18 months. What a Why is that? Okay? I mean, obviously, the recruiters love it, because it’s an annuity. Right? But besides that, what why are we rolling dice on people’s careers, people’s families, and not wanting to know why this is happening? So I wanted to, I wanted to understand I wanted to turn over every rock, understand what are the landmines people are landing in here? And there were there were dozens. And so we documented all of them in the book. But then I wanted to understand if there was a way Well, what are the other half doing it? Have people have them or so are sticking the landing and thriving at this really strange higher altitude? That is so foreign to people in the middle? What are they doing? What are this? What’s the secret? So we were actually able to, we use IBM Watson. So we had some great AI, statistical modeling data to look at the data to say, Can we cut this up in some way that sets it sets the good ones apart. The interesting thing about failure, the seeds are sown. So early, Allison, like even in the interview process, we say to executives, or recruiting, or we’re looking to promote, wow, look at these great apps you built. And that’s what we need here. Or my gosh, you turned a supply chain around there. That’s what we need here. Or Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe these brands you but we need that kind of brand building here. And when we say those things, that people in the interest of affirming them, making them feel good about their resume going through there, we know that the resume and the interview are still the least reliable devices, to select people, but we still using them. What we’re saying to people in those sentences is you have a formula. And what you to come here and apply it. And so people think they have this mythical mandate now to come here and repeat their past successes. So when they arrive, they do what you tell them to do. They reach back to their past successes, and they try and slap it on the organization mindlessly without contextualizing them, without asking them what might apply here without ever asking what is it I need to change here, and we’ve all seen the movie, they start pushing harder, people start to resist, they start kicking up dust, people start to back up further. And then suddenly, they weren’t a good fit. And out they go. So that’s just one example of many we found of how the seeds of failure of otherwise well intended, people who want to come make a difference, who probably were talented, you know, really is the issue, really, they weren’t a good fit, and shame on you, if you hired somebody that wasn’t a good fit. That just becomes the catch all bucket to use when you didn’t do a good job helping them onboard and assimilate well to succeed.
Right. I appreciate that you point out that we do plant those seeds in the interview, right. And as humans, our we want to be successful. And so we apply what has made us successful in the past. So taking those two metrics to it. I also really, truly believe 100%. Even if you’re hiring at a very high level, in an organization, they still require your onboarding, especially at a higher level.
Yes. As in knowing that they’re coming from a different organization, it’s just ever so more critical. And the one thing that honestly, most organizations are just absolutely horrific, adds that onboarding process, I think our employee orientation is onboarding, we actually have a whole methodology in the properties and it’s one year, we know that the six month mark is actually the most fragile. And you have to onboard them, technically on board them, and or traditionally on board them. And most employees, most companies do a little bit about organizational onboarding, with your benefits. And here’s the bathroom key. And they do a little bit of social onboarding as a couple lunches for you in the first month. And that’s so, so inadequate, especially for senior leaders. They’ve got to build our network, you have to have to know who their stakeholders are. They’ve got to get technically just because they have great technical experience doesn’t mean they technically understand the job here. So yeah, it’s a it’s a woefully inadequate process, but many, many of you For Whom the altitude is new, then they have to contend with the fact that their life’s now on the jumbotron. Suddenly, everything they’re doing is on public display being commented on. And when you own you overlay that with social media, or internal social media channels like a Yammer, now, these leaders are now always on the defense, they’re always back on their heels, they don’t know how to handle the fact that that people have concocted 20 versions of them. And they always have a bullhorn strapped to the mouth 24 seven, everything they say and do is amplified. There’s so much in such a small talk, you can’t even walk down the hall quickly, without people having to attach meaning to Oh, my God, something’s wrong. And you just go to the bathroom. So learning to deal with the fact that you’re now a bigger than life persona of yourself. And this whole, every executive, I’m sure you’ve heard this for many of your clients, I just want to be myself. Well, that’s a great idea. The problem is, is 20 versions of you. So which version of yourself Do you want to be, and the version of you that you that you’re playing, that hides half of you, is the most dangerous one. Because the parts that are missing, people are going to fill in with parts of you that don’t exist.
And so I would love for anyone who’s listening right now, and you may be the person who’s hired that executive that you know, you’re giving them a 5050 roll of the dice of whether they succeed or fail. And that what Ron just shared is a one year onboarding acclamation, where you’re actively helping them get to that, that new elevation inside of your company. So let’s say I’m, I’m in the company, or you know, this, this client is inside of the company, and they’ve now been in there for 12 months, and no one’s coming to their door. And they don’t have that feedback. And they may be on this 50%, what type of like, Where, where does the turnaround happen? And at what point? Is it too far past that?
Well, I think I mean, I think you if you’ve lost traction with your boss, or then you that’s a red alarm. And if you’ve lost traction with your peers, that’s especially went along. So you know, building the critical connection, so so if I were to ask you, tell me who are the stakeholders in your organization, who are critical to the success, your of your remit, and tell me whose success you are critical to they’re in it. And if you can immediately give me five names for each of those lists, I’m gonna be worried. And you should worry too. Most people play up to their boss, and they pander to their direct reports. And that’s it. And those are the boss is important, but not to pander to the boss is important because you have to drive their agenda. direct reports can undermine you and cause you to fail if you lose their if you lose them. So you can’t lose your team. But you, the higher you are, the higher up in rotation you are, the more spidery your network becomes. And the more interdependent your contributions are. And so you’ve got to know who are the you know, who are the people? If you’re in marketing? Who in sales who in supply chain? If you’re an r&d, who in manufacturing, you there are critical people who are typically on the adjacent nemesis, rivalry function that you have to plant yourself a flag with and build a partnership with? Who are they? And if you haven’t done that, start yesterday.
Okay, excellent advice.
So let’s go through the parts of your question. So what were the exemplars doing? What are the successful ones do that’s another part there were four. And the asterisk here is it’s all four. So I had our team do 99 different regression analysis on this data, because I wanted to understand and no matter how we cut that data, these four were in the top, meaning that if you only had three, you in the failure group. I didn’t, I didn’t want to have to say it’s for nothing, because I think Jesus is already employed, there was nobody else. But the data is my research. If I said enough, wrong, it’s not going to change. It’s the these four, I think the great news is you can learn them. They’re not like some magical genetic material that just appearance on people. The bad news is you shouldn’t start learning them when you first become a vice president. First one is context that you can read the tea leaves that you can adapt, that you can look around you and ask yourself why that’s happening. You have a natural curiosity around why things are the way they are, in your industry, with your competitive set and in your culture of your organization. You have an anthropological nature to not just be the answer ATM and slap on your answers, but to go. That’s interesting. I wonder why that’s this way. And in so doing, you learn to adapt. Because if you’re going to get past an obstacle or an opportunity, or an opportunity that you read the context and discover you actually recognize that I have to change first. So you contextually intelligent, second one is breath. Right? So the higher up you go, the more fragmented the audition feels, but the silos splinter. The work divides mitosis happens among functions, your job is to create cohesion, your job is to bring the pieces together into a whole. So at a higher level, you’re not interested in research and development, marketing analytics, or product development, you’re interested in innovation, right, which is at the intersection of those functions, you know, interested in Supply Chain Finance, you’re just enjoying costs, right. So your emits are much more capability driven than they are functional driven, which means you may sit in a function, but you have, you no longer have the luxury of your silo. If you grew up in finance, you cannot see the world economically anymore. If you have a marketing, you can’t see the world through economic consumers anymore. If you grew up in sales, you can’t see the world through revenue anymore, you have to let go of those functional biases, and see the world through capabilities and stitch the seams. So graph means you could stitch the seams, you could bring the pieces together and make them a whole third was choice. So leaders at the senior levels, obviously get that make a much harder cause and don’t like to. And so often leaders will put those hard decisions down and bypass them by winning favor, with people buying popularity, doling out way too many S’s to make people like them, and diluting the focus of their position and diluting the leaders.
Sorry, that that leaders need to be able to make the high cost they need to be able to say no, and, and accept the fact that leadership is the ability to disappoint people at a rate they can absorb. And so if you can narrow the focus of organization and give them the gift of priorities, and stick to those, just know that you may win some near term popularity, but you will lose long term respect. And the last was connection. These are the people every company has them, that they have relationships with their bosses, with their peers, and with our direct reports that are magical. These are the these are the bosses, everybody wants to be around, you want to be in their presence. They’re, they’re likable, they’re credible, they’re trustworthy, they’re smart, you know that if you’re around them, you’re going to learn, you know that if you’re around them, you’re going to get better. And the interesting thing about these these exemplary leaders, is that when they prioritize their stakeholders and their relationships, they prioritize them by who they could help succeed, not by who they get something from. So you knew that their interest was in you. And you could trust it. So breath context choice connection, Master all four of those, and you will you will not be one of those 50 percenters that fails?
And is there so I know that you said all four are critical? And are they in that order, or it’s just you have to have all of those skills, you have to have all of them you bit me, I think if you have outages and some of them work on those. So connection, and context with a faster fails. So in that 18 month span, you could fail quicker if you’re if you have broken relationships, or you misread the context, the guy that I got that phone call from was a context failure. choice and breath are slower fails, because it depends on if your organization is highly solid and fragmented, you might not stick out so badly, right? If you already have poor governance systems, and decision making and decision rights are not clear. Anyway, your choice making apparatus may not stick out so badly. So those are longer fails. But, you know, in the book, we have an assessment tool that can help you figure out where am I strong these areas? And where do I need to shore up?
I’m in, in your research? Did you? Did you identify that it’s often that the executive is self aware enough to recognize that this is happening? Or is it a Oh by shock? Like, you know, the person who called you and said, Oh my gosh, I’ve just been just been let go? Did he knew it was coming?
You know, it’s always in hindsight, I can see the signs. Okay. Right. And so but they but they weren’t potentially intelligent have to read the tea leaves. So, you know, you can you will know, early on by how forthcoming are people?
How much how many?
The ratio, your ratio of questions to declarative sentences, in any given meeting should give you a good clue. And if, early on, if you are not asking three times more questions, then you are declaring things that idea, listen to meeting our people, is it simultaneous monologues are on your table, or people asking questions of each other? Are people coming to you and saying, Hey, boss, talk to you about Bill? collusion, right, and you’re gonna want to be the hero and go take care of Bill. You took the bait, you’re just further furthering the fragmentation and further inclusion. Right. So there are cues that would tell you are you being played? Are your peers trusting you or your peers coming to you and saying, so what are you doing? Are they suspicious of your agendas? How much dusty keeping up and how early, you know, do not march in with teams of consultants and turn everything on its head, you know, in your first three months. So, so early on in your tenure in the role, you’ll get signals from people. Mostly that people are going to be afraid of you. And so they’re going to want to compensate for their fear by sucking up to you by embellishing their contributions by telling you why they’re so worthy to stay on your team. Especially if they think you’re sizing up your team, you’re going to make some changes. You need to be very transparent about how you plan to make changes when you make but how are you going to inform them, don’t make people decode, you, decode, decode, decode you for them, tell them that what you see is what you get. This is how you read my face. This is how you can know I’m upset. This is why not to talk to me. This is how to ask me a question. This is how to bring me a problem. Just make give them all the code now. So they’re not going to try and figure you out and and do it wrong.
Excellent insights. Do you have any specific tips? Because I do I do agree that the context and connection I can see as being like a quick failure, if it’s not working context, I think, you know, being able to read the tea leaves, I think is a skill that you pick up. And I, I would say in general, I find that people who lead into leadership typically can make a context but not connection. Do you have any tips on connection because if you have all the context, but no connection to it, it doesn’t work with vice versa, you have great connections and be done. Right? So it’s a great point. These are highly intimate, very interdependent variables.
What I said in the context, one is look for patterns, read about your industry, read about your products, we get data, the best and the best builder of connexes data, get information, find out the analytics, what are your customer saying? What are your marketing people saying about your competitive set, about how your products performing? And then compare that data to what people are saying, you know, how are people spending my data? What’s being actually reported in the QPR? You know, where their gap what’s actually happening, and what people are trying to spend, that’s a great contextual skill that you can figure out where you fit their connection is. Go, just go spend time with people. I have one guy one, he’s a case study in the book, he asked people three questions. He’d say, What can I do to be a better colleague to you? He’d say, what are you working on? What’s most important to you working on to you today? Or this this week or this month? And then he’d say, What can I do to help you with that really important thing? Just three basic, simple questions, and the people knew he meant it. So go learn, go learn about your people. Don’t network, just go make friends. You know, just go build relationships, go find out Google working on find out, find out what people are interested in.
Ask people for the story. And ask people, you know whether they’re graphic, especially the different ports, but even peers, when they ask, what’s the thing, what’s the thing that you’re most proud of, that you worked on? Tell me the story how to do it. And just get him to tell the story. Because they will tell you all kinds of things about themselves, and about what they need from you, by telling you the story of this thing they’re proud of. So just listen to the story. Go get information about people, and then learn how to build connections with them, but don’t intend to do it intentionally. Relationships take a lot of work, they’re not going to form easily. And especially go build a relationship with the person you think is the most unlike you, the person that in the meeting, they make you bristle, the person who think you’re on the opposite polarity of politically, religiously, operationally, whatever it is, the person you think is the is the Nemesis, or the irritant, build that connection first. Because if you can do that, you’ll be fine. And you will model for the organization what it means to, to create connections are anywhere.
I think that’s a solid piece of advice.
That’s an interesting element. And I think every organization probably has one to some degree. So choose go there first, we all have it, we all have it. Who are you saying they did this or them? Or that group? Who are you othering whoever you’re gathering, first of all, if you’re a leader, you othering out loud, you’re really not doing it, people are coming to you and other and you’re not stopping it, shame on you. But whoever in your mind and hopefully not more than that. othering that’s that is a clue that that’s a tumor growing on your career that you need to go fix.
Um, what are you working on these days? I’m super curious what I don’t know if you have anything new coming down the pipeline.
I have a brand new book coming out based on a 15 year longitudinal study with more than 3200 years And it’s an organizational honesty, and what organizational honesty notational is called the book is called To be honest, lead with the power of truth, justice and purpose. And if we were in final approach, we have just launched a video series that will take us through launch the launch of the book in 21. And I’m so excited about this book, I got to talk with some of the world’s greatest luminaries, greatest executives, the books about exemplars, I’m not looking to tell them Wells Fargo story of the books we can store anymore. We know that I wanted to know under what conditions people would tell the truth behaves fairly and act with purpose. What the what the research reveal is that honesty is divined by all three parts truth, justice and purpose. You can’t have one without having all three, people have to say the right thing, do the right thing, and say and do the right thing for the right reason. If you don’t, you’ll be considered clever, or nice or good hearted or good intended or results oriented. But you won’t be considered honest. I wanted to know what conditions organizations were working under, that created the conditions under which people would choose that, or they would choose to be to lie, cheat and be self interested. And it turns out ordinations do in fact, create Why is that a lot of people they create software, people have a lot of people simply because they have conditions that are aware of that promote those behaviors. So for example, what we called clarity in your identity, strategic clarity, we all have a mission, a vision, we have purpose statements, we have rent, we have all these statements that say who we are. Turns out people are reading them. And that if they look at those statements and roll their eyes, and conclude, that’s for cosmetic purposes, we don’t really do that here. You have now institutionalized duplicity, what you have said is we say one thing and do another. If you are not regularly talking about those statements, if you’re not trying to embed them in your practices, if you’re not regularly firing people, for disavowing them, you have said to people, it’s okay to be a hypocrite. And when that is the case, you are now three times more likely to have people lie, cheat and serve their own interests first. But if there is alignment, if you are who you say you are, meaning the purpose I say I live by is actually what I strive to live by now, you’re three times more likely to have people tell you the truth, behave fairly toward each other, and act and serve a greater good.
So alignment being the key element to visible tangible actions matching words.
Yeah. So concurrency alignment are to like things that are critical, like things that I show. In coaching often it’s sort of like, Is that is that in alignment with what you believe? Is that the, you know, in alignment with the purpose, so yeah, excellent. When, when is that coming to market?
It will be in the spring of 21.
But in the meantime, to whet people’s appetite. We have a whole video series we’ve just launched. I got to interview people like Jonathan Hite and Amy Edmondson and James Dieter and Sonia Chang and Italian cabin crew, the CEO and Basha Lee from Best Buy and Vince’s family from Patagonia. So the book is about exemplars. The book is about the people we want to emulate modeling these honest practices. And so I’ve got a video series of webinars sort of calling it building on what I say in the book is that honesty is a muscle. It’s not a trait of character trait. And so we’re gonna go to the honesty gym together and build our honesty muscles this fall. And then I’m watching a news magazine show called moments of truth in the spring that will showcase all the interviews I did with the PBS example so you can get an inside scoop on their story. So lots of appetite waiting, before the book comes out to get people ready for it.
Oh, that’s fantastic. I, I love I love hearing stories of people who you want to use as an example. Right? And I love the fact that you’ve shined on some great ones, but not the ones that are always getting shined on for what it is that they do. So kudos to you for that good work. And I’m fascinated by your study. I kind of disclosed that I have not read your book and it’s on order right now it’s coming in immediately. I so appreciate your sharing so generously today on the for success factors. What is the best way for people to either follow you and or maybe get on your list for you’re going out at the studio.
So come to Nashville, calm and maybe calm and we have great videos there. We’ve done all kinds of if you’re dealing with the virtual workplace now the hybrid model we have a brand new ebook called designing your virtual workplace. You can cut you can find it netflix.com slash virtual. If you needing some kind of major change, you can get our playbook for transformation at mathworks comm slash transformation can sign up for our newsletters and magazines. Follow me on LinkedIn. And that’s where you get all the information needed our video series or follow me on Twitter and do stay in touch and join the journey.
Fantastic. Well, I’m excited for your book launch, and I will include the links you’ve just mentioned in the show notes below on this perfect, perfect on this episode. Ron, thank you so much for your time today. It has been a pleasure chatting with you.
Awesome. My pleasure. Thanks for having me.