We assist several clients who have recently been promoted as leaders. This client engagement has produced some of the most profound and engaging work our advisors have ever been involved with.

Advantage Business Partner, Murray Fulton reflects on his work advising business leaders. His article provides some food for thought for both emerging leaders and those gathering momentum.


Loneliness and uncertainty

I have faced and overcome many challenges when leading a business as a CEO. Leadership roles in business are by their nature and construct lonely, with fine business and emotional judgements required, often under intense pressure. Dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity comes alongside leadership. This was the case before COVID-19 and if anything, the level of loneliness, uncertainty and ambiguity has increased.

While there is a myriad of positive aspects to leadership roles, often the ability to have an experienced, confidential and impartial sounding board, can be invaluable. Leaders sometimes need support from a person who has successfully negotiated the personal challenges they are going through. When asked, that trusted advisor can provide experienced-based stories to help you place your own needs and struggles in context. This can really help.

I am privileged to work with many high-quality leaders, assisting them to optimise both themselves and the businesses they lead.

Watch Jeremy Irons play a business leader demonstrating excellent leadership in a time of great pressure and uncertainty in this clip from Margin Call 4.


Confidence, and permitting yourself to lead

Promotion can come about through a move to a new company or a different area of your business group. Depending upon the scale of the step-up, it can cause you to pause for thought but don’t forget to enjoy the exhilaration of your new opportunity.

When I work with a client in these situations, I provide a 360 degree “wrap around” service, which both provides the client with space and at the same time allows us to work in both a structured and unstructured way together. This is a tailored service and is driven by the client.

I have extensive experience, tools, content and relevant stories to call on – which my clients find to be of tangible and lasting benefit in their leadership journeys.

Work often centres on confidence and the client permitting themself to be the best that they can be. Much has been written over the years regarding leadership and the fear of failure but far less has ever been written about the fear of success. Each person has their unique drivers and values and these are the foundations upon which leadership is built.

Experienced leaders sometimes ask me to engage with them exclusively as a sounding board. I provide an external unbiased view of their business group and their current strategic. tactical, and at times operational, viewpoints. I am reminded in these instances that Olympic athletes do not engage a coach because of a lack of ability; rather due to a relentless drive to improve and break through barriers to success. My client’s self-actualisation needs to take centre stage. This tends to be fascinating for both of us – we learn from each other.


Areas of strength and confidence, and areas needing development

All leaders have areas of comparative strength. Within these, it is far easier to feel confident, in control and able to chart your course.

However, all leaders also have areas needing development.

Concentrating on areas of personal strength and confidence, while good for the leader, is not always what is needed either personally by the leader or by their business.

Charting a balanced course, where strengths and areas needing development are both given due weight, is one of the more challenging aspects of leadership development. This is an area in which I often provide support to my clients and it is fantastic to see them grow, develop, and chart their course.


Managing owner and stakeholder expectations

Leadership roles are always accountable to business owners and stakeholders.  Owners can be external, or a leader can partially or fully own their business. External stakeholders can have wide-ranging or very specific expectations.

I spend significant time with my leadership clients in this critical area, assisting them to balance the myriad of owner and stakeholder expectations. Particularly where some of the expectations are either vague or not sufficiently clarified.

It is difficult to overstate the benefits I see them achieve when they can improve their visibility and clarity around owner and stakeholder expectations.

The process looks like this:

Clarity – make clear that which must be and remain clear.

Visibility – make visible to the right people, in the right format, at the right time, that which has been made clear.

Ongoing conversation – rather than meetings, engage in an ongoing conversation  on that which has been made clear, and that which has been made visible. This often takes place across multiple teams, time zones, and on both an informal and formal basis.


Developing your team

It is well known and accepted that a leader is more effective when they work with their teams, lead with them, develop them, and ensure that their teams know they are there for them.

Watch University of Texas System Chancellor, Bill McRaven speak to academic leaders about his approach as Admiral of the US navy.

I almost always work with my clients in areas of team development; both regarding troublesome areas and also areas that have worked extremely well and need to be scaled. This could be by means other than personal involvement, or with a very light touch.

We use the strengths and weaknesses of your team and your own mix of abilities, experience and personality to leverage team development. It is always a unique and tailored exercise, which flexes over time. This is an area of considerable focus in my work with leadership clients.


Making time for yourself

This is a critical area and one that many of my clients struggle with, at least initially. They often ask me,

“How can I develop and also save enough of myself for my family and my sanity, when I already give a great deal of myself to my role?”

That is why I work with leaders on engagement, disengagement and communication; as optimising these areas helps them walk the line between success and failure.


What is your plan?

In the end, as a leader, only you can create, stand by, refine and deliver on your plan. My clients find sharing their thoughts in this space with another experienced leader who is there only for them, to be extremely valuable.

The devil is in the detail in the planning area. However, you must have a plan and the personal conviction that it is useful, well balanced and able to be delivered with pace and agility. This is key for all leaders.


What will be your legacy?

This is a critical question and one I assist many leaders to find their answers to. It can take time and is often subject to change throughout our work. Always present in this area is the alignment of the leader’s values and personality to the contribution they make when working with a business.

When leaders reflect on the people they have influenced, they often comment,

“They will often not remember what was said but they will always remember how they felt.”


What my clients are saying

Debbie McKenzie shares the benefits of working with me in her recent testimonial:

Despite being in this business for many years, managing the business through these extraordinary times has been challenging. Managing a business through quiet periods can be tough, let alone supporting staff through so much uncertainty. Murray has kept me focused and steered me in the best direction for all.

Working with Murray has been an enlightening experience for me. Through discussions about the various aspects of my business, I have gained knowledge from Murray that is invaluable, both for my business and myself.

The results are already visible, following just a few months of work, and I am gaining far more control over the direction the company is taking.

The wealth of knowledge and experience Murray brings to the relationship cannot be measured simply in words. Murray’s friendly manner puts me at ease, which enables me to gain the most from each of our interactions.

Debbie McKenzie, Country Manager, Famous Pacific Shipping


Get in touch

Are you a corporate athlete with a relentless drive to improve and break through the barriers to success? If so, you’ll need a good coach. Contact me for an obligation-free chat.

By Murray Fulton | Partner | Business Advisor