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Strategies for igniting bold leadership

Television industry veteran and IB Expo keynote speaker Libby Gill offers tips to help business leaders and their staffs succeed in an ever-changing business climate.

IB Expo keynote speaker Libby Gill

IB Expo keynote speaker Libby Gill

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Businesses and industries are in a constant state of change. No real shocking information there. For as mutable as our working lives are, however, many business leaders still resist change or ignore it in the hopes it will just go away. (For its part, change just keep charging ahead, one big never-ending slap in the face that says, “You can’t escape me, stupid.”)

In order to succeed in an ever-changing business climate, leaders must place as high a priority on people and performance as they do on process and procedure. But how do you prepare for the new normal of constant change?

It starts with a new look at a worn out business trope and continues with investing in the personal lives of your employees, says Libby Gill, a former executive at media giants Sony Pictures, Universal Studios, and Turner Broadcasting, and this year’s IB Expo & Conference keynote speaker.

After nearly 20 years in senior leadership roles in communications, Gill left the television industry in 2000 to forge her own path as the CEO her own executive coaching and consulting firm, Libby Gill & Co. Now a sought-after international speaker, Gill guides established and emerging leaders to increase passion and productivity in their organizations.

She’ll also publish her fifth book in early spring of 2018, titled Hope Is a Strategy. If that sounds like an intentional reversal of the oft cited “hope is not a strategy” business axiom from author and sales guru Rick Page, it is.

“Frankly, I just got so tired of hearing ‘hope is not a strategy,’” Gill notes. “I’ve found hope to be for me, personally, the driving force to get through changes. It’s a sense of ‘there’s something more, there’s something in the future if we could just keep looking ahead.’ Leaders need to recognize that it’s part of their job to paint that picture of the future, while recognizing the obstacles, and get people really excited about the possibilities.

“With disengagement, which is often where I’m brought in as a coach,” Gill continues, “sometimes it’s working with new leaders and sometimes it’s with teams that are a little bit checked out. How do we get them re-enthused or re-engaged? To me it’s all about infusing that sense of hopefulness and painting that picture of the future.”

Gill says belief driving behavior is the very definition of hope. But it’s also looking at the data.

“The best data for me are Gallup’s engagement surveys that they’ve done for more than 30 years,” Gill explains. “It’s a high number — it took me a moment to really swallow — but their most recent survey said 67% of the workforce in the U.S. is unengaged or disengaged, meaning you wouldn’t say this is my A-plus player, my mover and shaker. They’re just people doing their job.

“That’s okay, we’re not going to get all A-plus people on our entire team,” Gill continues, “but to think that that much of your workforce is kind of going through the motions — and a portion of those are people who are not good for your workforce because they make mistakes in service or safety — there are a lot of pitfalls for having a workforce that’s not deeply engaged. You can give strategies, resources, or tools to your workforce, but if they are feeling hopeless or disengaged from the process, it’s not going to happen. However, if you can get those people committed, enthusiastic, and excited about what they do, then the strategies — business development, new technologies, or whatever it is — are going to be so much more fruitful.”

Gill also notes that getting workers to buy into what the company is doing and make change easier to navigate requires business leaders to take a moment to actually get to know their employees as individuals.

She points to a client who has the typical Monday morning status meeting where everyone on the team or in the office gets together.

“People started to take things for granted when they were no longer new,” Gill says. “You know, newness wakes us up. He decided it was time to reinvigorate those meetings, so he started with just a personal tidbit — just go around the circle and add something about your weekend, your family, your vacation, whatever. Of course, people looked at him suspiciously, like, what seminar did you take or what book did you read, but he kept at it.

“He found that as he kept it and people started to engage on a personal level before going into their work updates, that the communication flow became easier and the cross business-unit collaboration became more intense. It just added that personal element of be who you are, bring your best to the table, and don’t be afraid to share with each other. So it was an opportunity for people to feel really connected.”

Gill says the nature of change itself has changed, in terms of being far more complex than ever before and moving with a greater velocity.

“People’s heads are spinning when they go through a merger or some kind of restructure or new business development,” she explains. “You can’t necessarily slow down the train but you’ve got to take a minute to say here’s where we’re headed so that people get it on an individual level and can internalize it rather than looking at it warily as just another ‘change initiative.’ That seems so basic and yet we’re moving at such a rapid pace a lot of people miss that step.”

Another client, Edmunds, holds a weekly company lunch. The consumer automotive resource company has about 700 employees, with 400 to 500 on site at their headquarters in Santa Monica, Gill says, and yet the company hosts a weekly luncheon with the company chairman and employees “and they fill people in on new developments, milestones, what’s happening, and they also take that time to introduce new hires, do that round of applause for anybody who’s gotten married, had a baby, hit a milestone, run a marathon, etc. Just that moment of personal sharing connects people on an emotional level that ‘business as usual’ does not,” Gill explains.

“Leaders need to take the time to think these are human beings and their livelihoods, at least, if not their lives, are in my hands. It’s up to me to recognize them as individuals, take just that bit of time to understand what makes them tick, and get in their heads to motivate them in a way that’s meaningful to them. I think that makes people feel like, ‘Wow, I’ve got a role here, and even though I might be six or eight layers down I see where I can go, and I see why it connects to the greater vision of the organization.”


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