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When I began my tenure at Credential Financial Inc. in 2009, the circumstances were interesting to say the least. The firm had been without a full-time CEO for a year, there were major hires required in the executive team, and a number of clients had recently left for competitors. To top it all off, both the company and the economy were experiencing their worst financial crises in decades.
Some of my former colleagues questioned my judgment for willingly jumping into such a precarious situation. I, on the other hand, relished the challenge of being able to step in and completely refocus the company’s corporate strategy and reshape the senior leadership team in one fell swoop.
It’s been over five years since I began this process and to date, I am pleased with the results. Our rate of growth has been significantly higher than the industry average and we have more than doubled our assets while launching a new division and providing excellent service to our partners.
Yet there’s no doubt in my mind that we would not have experienced this kind of success if we hadn’t followed these three crucial steps:
1. Set the vision
In consultation with our board of directors and our top partners, we completely realigned the firm’s vision and strategy. Once our new course was set, we were in a better position to take stock of what we had and what we were missing in terms of leadership. This made the task of filling the gaps in our executive team much easier.
2. Find the cultural fit
A leader may have all the right skills but if he doesn’t embrace the culture and values of the company, his team will not have the drive or incentive to make the corporate vision and strategy a reality.
New leaders are undoubtedly hired because they have an existing skillset, experience and past success at other companies, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll work out at your organization. Why? Because it takes time to assess whether or not they truly fit into – or can adapt to – the organization’s culture. From past experience, I know it takes six to 12 months to know if I’ve made the right choice, but only three or so months to know that I’ve got it wrong.
So how do you evaluate if a person will be the right fit? Go beyond the candidate’s résumé. Empathy, integrity, courage and emotional intelligence are examples of the intangible characteristics that make or break successful leaders. Leaders that lack these essential qualities have a difficult time delivering your corporate vision and strategy clearly and passionately. Ultimately, this can severely hamper their teams’ dedication and effectiveness.
3. Balance your team
I’m a big believer in being honest about my own strengths and weaknesses, playing to those strengths, and finding the right leaders to fill in the gaps. This creates a team of individuals who are all playing to their strengths, and more importantly, who enjoy and are fascinated by their work.
Of course, this approach requires a high level of trust in your leaders, but the payoff is worth it. Aside from the natural enjoyment they gain individually from their work, the balanced strengths and weaknesses of the team ensures that all angles will be considered when dealing with challenging issues. Ultimately, this leads to wiser decision-making and protects you from going down the wrong path.
It’s likely that your senior managers have the skillset, experience and expertise to lead their areas; however, if they aren’t completely aligned and passionate about your corporate vision, don’t have a strong cultural connection to the organization and its people, or bring unique strengths to the team, then it’s time to re-evaluate them and your environment.
Getting all of these elements right creates a resilient corporate culture that drives the company forward. To me, getting this part of the job right is the highest measure for any CEO.
Doce Tomic is president and CEO of Credential Financial, a national wealth management firm owned by Provincial Credit Union Centrals and The CUMIS Group. He is also a member of the Institute of Corporate Directors and TEC Canada, a peer advisory group for chief executives.
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