The Crucible of Execution

As this CEO shared his frustrations regarding a key leader on his team, I mentioned that I’d been hearing him express this for quite awhile when he quickly fired back, “No, it’s only been a few months.”  With a patient voice, I proceeded and then he volunteered, “I guess you’re right, it has been going on for quite awhile.”  With this statement, he shifted into awareness.

It’s been said that 70% of the communication between two people swiftly occurs through body language.  With this in mind, consider also that frustration is often described as low-level anger.

When my wife Becky, greets me with, “Hi, how was your day?” her words carry different meanings based on how I interpret her body language.  Eye contact for a second or two means one thing, while shifting eyes means something very different.

In the case of the CEO described above, although he denied it, his frustrations had been present in this critical relationship for some time and were being communicated to this key person through his body language.

Like a low-grade fever, this hidden message was actively eroding their capacity to execute and was even threatening the longevity of this vital relationship.

The companies that I work with have less than 1,000 full time employees and I can tell you that in this space, hidden messages abound and denial is the norm, but I have seen this change.

Key relationships are a crucible.

A crucible is a container that can withstand very high temperatures.  In a similar way, we find ourselves being tested and refined through the key relationships in our lives.  Execution depends on key relationships; they are a special place where energy and meaning flow as a current between people.  When frustration, unmet expectations, rushed, inadequate or incomplete communication or judgment is allowed to linger, the flow deteriorates: creating a cycle of waste that dramatically affects execution.

In the words of Warren Bennis, “Social architecture is that which provides context (or meaning) and commitment to its membership and stakeholders.”  “An organization’s social architecture serves as a control mechanism, sanctioning or proscribing particular kinds of behavior.”  “A leader must be a social architect who understands the organization and shapes the way it works.”

When a CEO is frustrated with a key contributor for long, it points to a bent social architecture – one that sustains and supports a crippled relationship.

Relational connection is the conduit that supplies the flow of current that your future depends upon.

Most “first company CEOs” form their leadership patterns in a predictable fashion.  Their first step is usually to replicate the skills and moves that landed them the CEO seat in the first place.  When these moves yield diminishing returns, the hunt for new tips, techniques and ideas ensue.  With hundreds of promising self-help sources within easy reach, their experimental cycle accelerates.  After much trial and error, a few CEOs choose to move deeper.

After either repairing or replacing this key relationship, the next move for this CEO is about looking deeper.  It involves personal transformation in pursuit of the ultimate question, “Who am I that I would allow this frustration to linger?”  Tackling this question is important because by choosing this path a more authentic and durable CEO will emerge.

In my experience, the craft of leadership starts with heightened self-awareness and this gift is usually presented to us in the crucible of execution.

Exciting strategies are fun to develop but poor execution is the norm.

What should we be talking about that we are not?  I’d love to hear from you.


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