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      Martin G. Moore

      We Spoke to Martin G. Moore on Being an Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

      As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Martin G. Moore

      From university drop out to CEO of a multi-billion dollar business, Martin G. Moore forged a successful 30+ year career working for a range of major businesses across multiple industries.

      He is best known as the CEO who turned around CS Energy, the Australian energy business, where he drove EBITDA from $18m to $441m, a compound annual growth rate of 125%.

      Martin is now pursuing his true purpose; to improve the quality of leaders globally, each week reaching tens of thousands of leaders in over 70 countries with his chart-topping, 5-star rated podcast, ‘No Bullsh!t Leadership’. His book of the same name will be published in the USA on 8/31.

      Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

      After dropping out of University in the early 1980s (lawyering wasn’t for me), I started my professional life as a software developer, which shows there’s hope for all of us!

      I loved the work in IT, especially project management and landed my first executive role as CIO of a major listed mining company about 20 years ago. From there, I managed to move across multiple job families and industries, each time finding the patterns in what works and what doesn’t.

      My experiences eventually led me to be CEO of a multi-billion dollar energy business (the first time I had worked in that sector). Being successful in my corporate career came down mainly to people. I wasn’t an expert in anything in particular, but had a great set of baseline skills (communication, negotiation, commercial acumen, problem solving etc) which underpinned my success.

      But more than anything, I learned how to lead. I figured out pretty early on that I could only go so far on my own individual brilliance, and would get much better results if I learned how to tap into other people’s capability and talents.

      I left the corporate would because I am driven by impact. I realized that, as CEO of a major corporation, I would only directly impact perhaps 100 people (and 50 of those wouldn’t want to be impacted). Instead, I can now reach hundreds of thousands of leaders globally, with our podcast and other products.

      … and we’re only just beginning!

      Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

      I started our business, Your CEO Mentor, with my daughter, Emma, who is now 31 years old. In the corporate world, I knew all about strategy, marketing, economics, operations etc. So when Emma told me we had to give away our best content for free, I laughed — THAT’S NOT HOW IT WORKS!

      But, apparently, it is. After many robust conversations, I gave Em the benefit of the doubt (after all, she did run a marketing agency before we set our business up), and we led out with our podcast, No Bullsh!t Leadership, where I actually DO give away my best stuff for free!

      The podcast quickly became the linchpin of our business model, and is now approaching 1.5 million downloads since we launched it around two-and-a-half years ago.

      None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

      In the corporate world, we rely a lot on patronage — having someone who trusts you, believes in you, loves what you do, and lets you run hard to see how much you can achieve. I had two or three patrons during my career who gave me the opportunities to learn, grow, make mistakes, and improve.

      In my current business, I wouldn’t be anywhere without my business partner and daughter. No matter how good my content is, without her incredible genius in getting it to market, it would never see the light of day.

      And I need to mention Dr Nick Morgan, my advisor on all things publishing and speaking. He guided me every step of the way as a novice seeking to publish in the US, and paved the way for my dream run!

      Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

      We spent six months gaining clarity on our purpose, and it drives everything we do. Both Emma and I are driven by having impact — the more we can have, the happier we are. WE never focused on making money (we had the luxury of being well-capitalized when we started our venture)

      Our motto has always been income follows impact… and that’s where we focus — the impact.

      That’s why our purpose — to improve the quality of leaders, globally — resonates with us so strongly.

      Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

      As CEO of CS Energy, a company that generates and trades electricity from its fleet of predominantly coal-fired power stations, there was always controversy and opposition to what we did. Unfortunately, until we can solve the intermittency problems of renewables, coal and nuclear will be an essential part of the energy mix. So, lights and air conditioning courtesy of us… you’re welcome!

      There was a time when CS Energy was accused of using its market power to push wholesale prices up and earn windfall profits. This managed to secure a foothold in the media.

      Dealing with the uncertainty of the growing penetration of renewables, the lack of clear energy policy from government, the retirement of competitors’ power stations, and the media storm around market design, pricing, and energy trading made for a very uncertain business context.

      So we focused on the things we could control, and made a number of ‘no regrets’ moves, where we knew our effort and energy (and investment) would be rewarded, regardless of the outcomes of factors that were outside of our control.

      So we built our organization culture and leadership capability… we invested in our trading capability (both systems and people)… we put an incredible amount of effort into ensuring our assets were protected from catastrophic failure… and we ran a behavioral safety program top further reduce the likelihood of our pope being injured during the course of their work.

      Having clear, simple objectives and being able to communicate these effectively, was a key leadership imperative, and one that helped to steer through the uncertainty.

      Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

      Strangely, I love the opportunity to lead in difficult times. Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm, but you don’t find out what you’re made of until you’re stretched to the limit.

      I relish the opportunity to take people and companies through difficult situations. Not only does it help them, but it is also a huge builder of confidence and self-esteem. After handling many difficult, complex, challenging situations as a leader, I feel as though there is nothing that can’t be overcome.

      What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

      Remaining calm — it is contagious, and the people around you become much more relaxed as a result. Martin seems to be fine, so I guess it’s not as big a deal as I thought. I even used to say to my people occasionally, “Just relax… I’ll tell you when to panic — and it’s not now!”

      Being calm isn’t just about putting your game face on. I’m talking about the deep, genuine, centered calm that comes when you have a certain grace under pressure. And your people can tell the difference.

      Many leaders find it difficult to cope with adversity and uncertainty. They demonstrate this in a range of ways — the landmine leader explodes without warning… the catatonic leader freezes, and can often be found in fetal position in the corner of their office… and the Teflon leader blames everyone else for their problems.

      As long as you’re doing that you can’t make good decisions, and you can’t regain control of the situation. Calmness, both physically and mentally, is the key to being able to keep a clear head and make good decisions, quickly and effectively.

      When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

      Remain optimistic and have a plan. Talk to your people and let them know that things will be OK, and give them as much information as you can to support that assertion.

      When things are most uncertain, leaders tend to communicate less. They’re afraid that they don’t have all the answers, so they say nothing. But these are the times that you need to communicate most. People will be more likely to get on with it if they understand the situation, with all it’s cold hard facts.

      I will just add that, when you communicate, always come back to the purpose. “This is why we’re here… this is our strategy for realizing our purpose… that’s why we’re doing these things now… and this is what you need to do to contribute to the purpose.” Deliver meaning on a higher level, and people will overlook the ‘rats and mice’ issues that would otherwise dominate their thoughts.

      What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

      Directly and openly. People want to know what’s going on, and irt;s incredibly liberating when you learnt he truth as a leader: people hate uncertainty way more than they hate bad news.

      Communication that is genuine and accurate, minimizing spin and platitudes, tends to work well.

      People want to be able to understand context. I call it school photo principle. People can’t think about anything else until they can see where they fit in.

      You obviously won’ be able to tell people everything, but recognizing this is important. I would often say things like, “Obviously, I can’t go into any details of the arrangements we made with this supplier, because it’s commercial-in-confidence.”

      Also, mix your communication channels — email is useful, but not the best way to communicate. Most people want to hear from another human. So, although the missive from the CEO’s office has the advantage of being consistently delivered to everyone in the company, they won’t understand until their direct manager tells them how to interpret this for their unique situation.

      How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

      We sometimes forget that uncertainty, ambiguity, and unpredictability affect everyone in a market, not just us. If you can remain calm in a crisis, have strong decision-making accountabilities in place, and understand your risk appetite, there’s often an opportunity to make bold moves that create competitive advantage.

      Where there is great uncertainty, there’s enormous opportunity. Being competent and confident enough to step into that space will pay you back in spades!

      Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

      If I had to pick one thing, I’d say it is about knowing your value proposition, and focusing own that above all else. If you have a clear purpose and strategy, everything else in anchored by that!

      Having said that, there’s no silver bullet for this, and your success in turbulent times will be predicated by what you have built in the good times: a combination of competencies, behaviors, and capabilities in your company that contribute to your culture.

      If you can manage to create a no blame / no excuses culture where people are confident to try new things, stretch themselves, and demand high performance from themselves and the people around them, you’ll be on the right track.

      Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

      1. Not seeing market shifts. Leaders often become fixated on their strategy, and this can blind them to seeing and responding to inevitable shifts in the market. Kodak was the first company to develop Digital photography technology, but didn’t take it to market because of its potential to cannibalize the sales of 35mm film which, at the time, was their cash cow product. Blockbuster didn’t see the potential for digital media streaming to render their model redundant. It’s easy in hindsight, but much more difficult to preempt .
      2. Decision-making inertia. It’s easy to freeze in tough times, when uncertainty is at its peak. I’ll just wait for this data… I need more time to think about this… We need to get a second opinion… Let’s commission an external review… We need to wait and see what our competitors do… All of these things slow our decision-making processes, at a time when they should actually be faster.
      3. Cutting costs irrationally. When the market becomes hard, the fastest way to prop up profits is to attack costs. I’ve seen a number of businesses do this in the wrong way. For example, a 10% cut applies across the board in a large organization might seem sensible, bu rarely achieves the right result. The better way would be to determine what the most critical functions that are core to generating revenue, invest in those, and reduce output in other areas. One area might get a 10% increase, while another might be axed altogether.
         

      Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

      Build a business that has highly diverse revenue streams. When one geographic region, one sales channel, or one industry segment is in a downturn, others won’t necessarily be. Make sure you have sufficient diversification to manage through this.

      Also, remember that for smaller businesses, cash is king. Keep an eye on the till, and don’t let cashflow become a problem. As they say, revenue is vanity.. profit is sanity… cashflow is reality!

      Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

      1. Remain calm. As I said previously, calmness is contagious, and the people around you become much more relaxed as a result.

      Being calm isn’t just about putting your game face on. I’m talking about the deep, genuine, centered calm that comes when you have a certain grace under pressure. And your people can tell the difference.

      Many leaders find it difficult to cope with adversity and uncertainty. They demonstrate this in a range of ways — the landmine leader explodes without warning… the catatonic leader freezes, and can often be found in fetal position in the corner of their office… and the Teflon leader blames everyone else for their problems.

      As long as you’re doing that, you can’t make good decisions, and you can’t regain control of the situation. Calmness, both physically and mentally, is the key to being able to keep a clear head and make good decisions, quickly and effectively.

      2. Take accountability. No matter whose fault something is, or what has happened, people look for leaders who will step into the breach, and take control. That should be you!

      There have been many occasions during my career where I’ve simply decided to step up to take control of a situation when it demanded that someone do so. It shows a willingness to shoulder the burden of finding solutions and remedying a problem. It gives the people around you great confidence that the situation is under control. It makes you feel better, because it pushes you into a place where you can make a difference.

      This reinforces your internal locus of control (I can make a difference to my environment) rather than an external locus of control (I’m a victim, all of this is just happening to me).

      3. Filter out the noise. Part of the art of leadership is knowing what information to pay attention to, and what information to discard. Dealing with uncertainty relies heavily on your ability to not be distracted by the noise, and to focus only on the things that are of most relevance.

      In our endeavor to cover all bases, we tend to tae on too much information, and it becomes much more difficult to make decisions with information overload. If you can filter out anything that isn’t relevant (or as relevant as other factors), you’re more likely to make good decisions.

      How do you determine what’s relevant? By referencing your purpose and strategy, and having a profound understanding of what really drives value for your business. The factors that are core value drivers for your business will massively outweigh less relevant pieces of information. Use the Pareto Principle to get the right balance.

      4. Increase your decision-making tempo. Your decisions are likely to be slower than they should be, even in normal times. They can be even slower when faced with the uncertainty of a crisis. Learn the discipline of making decisions faster, and it will be crucial at the right time.

      I learned to do this through managing crises in large corporations over a number of years. When something goes wrong… BIG… you don’t control the tempo. The speed is dictated by an external force — for example, the media, a market regulator, or an event that has ongoing implications, like a catastrophic asset failure (think Deepwater Horizon).

      Once you learn how to make sound decisions under this sort of pressure, it makes it much easier to adopt a rapid decision-making tempo in normal times, and in times of great uncertainty.

      5. Communicate relentlessly. Your people will fill any gaps in communication with speculation, so make sure you give them the guidance and certainty they need to get on with their jobs.

      Communication that is genuine and accurate, minimizing spin and platitudes, tends to work well. People want to be able to understand context. I call it school photo principle. People can’t think about anything else until they can see where they fit in.

      You obviously won’ be able to tell people everything, but recognizing this is important. I would often say things like, “Obviously, I can’t go into any details of the arrangements we made with this supplier, because it’s commercial-in-confidence.”

      Also, mix your communication channels — email is useful, but not the best way to communicate. Most people want to hear from another human. So, although the missive from the CEO’s office has the advantage of being consistently delivered to everyone in the company, they won’t understand until their direct manager tells them how to interpret this for their unique situation.

      Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

      I love many quotes, but these two really capture the essence of leadership:

      “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts” John Wooden

      • This quote highlights the importance of continuous learning… you’re never too old to pick up something new, change your perspective, or grow your wisdom

      “The secret of [leading] people is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are still undecided” Casey Stengel

      • Leadership isn’t a popularity contest, and the higher up you go, the less likely you are to be able to please everyone. Get comfortable with that fact, and don’t get hung up on being liked. Respect before popularity!

      How can our readers further follow your work?

      martingmoore.com

      yourceomentor.com

      No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast

      @yourceomentor on Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook