Jim Canfield shows us how to communicate, execute, and optimize

Episode Thumbnail
This is a podcast episode titled, Jim Canfield shows us how to communicate, execute, and optimize. The summary for this episode is: <p>Jim Canfield, President of CEO Tools by Aprio, joins Tim in this episode to talk about what it takes to be a great leader! Jim discusses the CEO's role in communicating, executing, and optimizing. He talks about dynamics of an amazing team and what the real orientation of a team truly is. That is only the tip of the iceberg, tune in now to hear all of Jim's insights!</p>
Communicate, execute, and optimize
01:53 MIN
Different stages of growth require a different type of leader
00:53 MIN
Dynamics of an amazing team
00:37 MIN
The real orientation of a team
00:26 MIN
Go back to the basics and deliver on those in a really robust way
00:48 MIN
Trust and communication rise and fall together
00:45 MIN
Three parts of leadership
00:52 MIN
Every leader who wants to be better can benefit from outside feedback
00:52 MIN
Celebrating successes
00:29 MIN

Tim Leman: Have you ever felt like you're on the edge of something great? You've put in the work, you've done the hard stuff most people aren't willing to do, and now you can just sense a magical run lies ahead. On this podcast, we talk about what separates those special teams. The kind, if we're lucky, we get to be a part of maybe three or four times in our life, from the more ordinary experiences. I'm your host, Tim Leman, and let's discuss Leading on the Edge. Welcome to the edge podcast. I'm your host, Tim Leman. On this episode, we have Jim Canfield. Jim is President of CEO Tools by Aprio. Jim, I've had the opportunity to get to know you, I think, over the last decade or so. We got introduced through a mutual friend, Tony Hutti when you were running the Executive Forums organization. Then we both did some work on publishing a book and assisted a little bit back and forth. You've spent most of your career, really, working with leadership teams and leaders. I'm just really excited to have you on our show today.

Jim Canfield: Thanks Tim. It's an honor to be here.

Tim Leman: Hey, so tell me a little bit about CEO Tools.

Jim Canfield: Yeah. So CEO Tools 2.0 is a revision and an updating of a classic business book called CEO Tools written by Kraig Kramers back in the late 90s. When Craig passed away, we'd been friends for almost two decades, if you can believe it. When he passed away, I was asked to come in, take that content, bring it up to today's standards, add some concepts that were new to management and leadership today, and also give some examples of other companies who had successfully used the tools. And that's really the basis of that book. Since then we've built it into what we describe as a content- based consulting practice, where we coach CEOs and teams all over the US and Canada and even across the pond in the UK, somewhat.

Tim Leman: Oh, that's great. What does your role look like? I get titles and all that, but what do you actually do?

Jim Canfield: I really do three things. One is I continue to speak on a regular basis. I'll probably give 100 workshops and speeches this year on the topic of CEO Tools, leadership, how to build, manage, and lead teams. I also... We have a coaching component to our business, so we certify other people to do what I do with their clients. So I'm always coaching and training and working with our coaches around the world. And I think the third part is we always want to be introducing new content, new ideas, so I'm also developing new concepts and new ideas all the time.

Tim Leman: So when you think of teams, Jim, and you think of new content and new ideas, what are some things you're seeing starting to develop or come about that teams can take advantage of? Or maybe it's something that teams are not doing well and need help with?

Jim Canfield: You know, it's kind of funny. Sometimes I think what's new are things that have been old and we've forgotten about them. Right? I think it really comes down to the basics with teams. A couple of things is I think that it all starts with the leader and building a great team is the first step. But then how do we lead team over time? one of the things I talk about, Tim, is taking the title CEO and think about it more like an acronym. The acronym for CEO for me is communicate, execute, and optimize. Inside of communicate, what message do we need to communicate and how? I think the fundamental message that every leader must send, not only their team, but the whole organization, but it always starts with those team members that are closest, is where are we headed? How are we going to get there? And what are we tracking to know when we're on and off track? I think that fundamental message has to be sent over and over and over, probably way more times than people believe, until it begins to sink in. Once it does, that's when we get some alignment. Next is execute. What are we going to do to make that happen? Here's what I've noticed, Tim, and you've probably seen the same thing. We step in any business and people are busy. The question is, are they doing what we need them to do to get the results we say we want? The only way we know that is effectively tracking metrics. It even is a bit more, I always talk about tracking metrics and giving feedback. Metrics and feedback are like two sides of the same coin. We have to give away for people to see, on a regular and ongoing basis, how their results, as they change their behaviors and their results change, are they consistent with the goals? When we get that, we get a more concerted effort. Then this idea of optimize. Well that's how do we keep it going? One of the things I've noticed about, well, CEOs and teams in general is we're great at getting things started. We love to push through a new initiative. Can you relate to that?

Tim Leman: Oh yeah.

Jim Canfield: What about keeping it going? How do we finish strong? How do we hit that finish line with gas in the tank, at a sprint instead of just dragging across? I think we have to build that into the process, or left to chance, oftentimes it doesn't turn out as well as we would like. Those are the three things that I typically talk about and we usually give them tools within each one to make sure that they're setting the direction, keeping their team aligned, and then delivering those final results.

Tim Leman: Jim, you touched on something there that I think is really interesting. You said, okay, so a lot of CEOs like to get things started and then it's kind of like," Squirrel, what's next?" You laid out a lot there for in that acronym for CEO. Is that one job, one person? Or is this a partnership between a visionary type and an operator type?

Jim Canfield: Yeah, I think it's way more than that. I think trying to divide CEOs into two groups would be like assuming that all people are the same and that it would be easily divided into two groups. In fact, I think it's even more important than that, Tim, because I think that different stages of growth require a different type of leader. In those early stages, startup and then build up, when the organization is really just getting its footing and it's really trying to decide and figure out if it's really a sustainable organization, it needs a really directive leader, someone who says," Here's where we're going. Follow me." But then it's really interesting. As we move into that stage three, where the organization is bigger and more successful, all of a sudden the leader's role shifts to one that's much more collaborative. I describe that role as being a leader of leaders. You've got other people who you really think of as being right there with you, peers, if you will, as a team leading the business. I think everyone has to step up. There's less telling, more asking questions, more collaboratively coming to solutions and then implementing them. I think yes, the role of the CEO is always important, but the role of the team really rises in those third and fourth stages of growth.

Tim Leman: Yeah, sure. Yeah. That thing that it's that old," What got you here may not be the things and tools and skills you need to, over the long haul, that shift from player, to player- coach, to full- time coach."

Jim Canfield: Yeah. I think that's a great way to say it.

Tim Leman: Talk to me a little bit about some of the teams that you've been involved with personally, and maybe what's the best team you've ever been on, Jim?

Jim Canfield: I really think one of the best teams I ever participated on was when I was a C- level executive at Vistage, a peer group company. Our CEO at the time was Richard Carr. He assembled an amazing team. I think what made that team work so well is everybody brought their own strengths to the table. There was a fair amount of, I would call it positive, competitive energy around it. Everyone wanted to really achieve, and yet knew when to pull together and not be too individually pulled away from the rest of the team. That team seemed to be able to achieve things that were just outside of the range of what I saw other teams able to do. It was the right mix of people. It was the right leader who had, as we were just talking about that, that more leader- of- leaders approach to things versus being highly directive. It was a really, really amazing team to be a part.

Tim Leman: What are some examples of some of the things that you guys were able to accomplish during that timeframe and because of being a great team together?

Jim Canfield: There were two or three big things that really took the organization through one of its strongest periods of growth as we began to grow exponentially. I think the first thing was we accomplished what is difficult for a lot of organizations to do. We made a business model shift. Those kinds of shifts are not easy to accomplish successfully. It was really a shift from a acquiring- members orientation, to a hiring, training, and deploying chairs who ran the groups orientation, and really putting them in place to build the groups. That was a major shift that occurred. We took the organization from being just beginning to have a digital presence to one that was really digitally based, in terms of both its infrastructure and its public face. I mean, it was just right at the time when those things were coming to fore and we had an amazing IT team that was led by a guy named Tory Getty. He just did an amazing job of really accomplishing way more than a team with that level of resources should have been able to accomplish, but he was able to do it. I think it was an amazing period of growth. In fact, as I travel around and speak to Vistage groups, there are many chairs who still refer to that period of time as one of their fondest periods to be involved in the organization, with the exception of what they're doing today.

Tim Leman: Yeah. Those special teams like don't seem to come around all that often in somebody's career. I've been studying some of this. It doesn't mean you aren't on a lot of great, really enjoyable teams, good teams and all that. But those really special moments, maybe several times in your lifetime almost.

Jim Canfield: Yeah. It's interesting. One of my favorite books about teams, it's gotten a little old now, but I think it's still a seminal work, is The Wisdom of Teams by Jon Katzenbach. I'll paraphrase and I probably won't get it quite right, but I love the way he describes teams. Teams are groups of people who have complimentary skills, yet they have a shared purpose, shared methods, and shared results. There's this," Even though we have disparate gifts, we're bringing to the table, we're all focused on the same culture, the same outcomes. And we're willing to say,'All right, well, I may have done it differently, but let's go your way this time.'" They were able to focus on a shared method to make it happen. I remember that actually in that team very specifically. But I think too often, we went through that period where everything got labeled as team building, even if it was just a night out at a bar. Look, there's always a place for social activities to bring teams together. There's a place for that. But I think we got so far down that road, we forgot that the real orientation of a team is to deliver more as a group than we could have delivered as individual contributors. I think that's what gets lost sometimes. I think when people think about those great teams they were a part of, it was because that team was focused on delivering something that, frankly, the individuals, even individuals working their hardest, probably wouldn't have been able to accomplish otherwise.

Tim Leman: Yeah. The whole sum of the parts is worth more. Jim, you touched on some important things. You've been living in a virtual world for years. How do you build those teams and shared purpose virtually? We've all spent last year and a half trying to figure that out, getting better at it. As somebody who's been doing it a long time, what words or advice do you have for us?

Jim Canfield: What I saw over the last 12 months or so, Tim, is the need for all the basic... Go back to the basics and deliver on those in a really robust way. Things that we were doing, I was coaching every one of the CEOs I was working with to ask themselves two questions every morning. Number one, is there a message that my team or my organization needs to hear from me today? Is there something that I need to do or say today to get a message across that would be important? Now I'm not suggesting that every organization or every leader will have a message each day, but you never want to miss that opportunity when you look back and said,"I probably should have said something about that." Whether it's something that's going on in the social fabric of the world or business oriented or results that we saw, making sure that everybody's hearing the same message. The second question I asked them to ask themselves every day is what kind of leader does my organization need me to be today? What do they need from me? We have a little matrix that we talk about in CEO Tools. How much of the time each day do you spend as a leader, a manager, or a doer. I believe we all spend a percentage of our time in each of those three categories. There's two ways to think about this. At the end of the day, I can look back and say," All right, how did my day go? Was it a productive day? I felt like I got a lot done. It was one of those days where I felt like I was spinning my wheels and I can look at how much time I spent in each of those three categories. Then the next day I've got a choice to make. Where should I place my time today to be most effective for the organization, instead of just letting it happen. I see most people are a little too complacent and they just assume that given any situation, they'll apply themselves properly. I think it really requires being a little more intentional than that.

Tim Leman: That was exactly the theme I was hearing there, that intentionality, purposefulness of what is needed today. Yeah.

Jim Canfield: The other is if communication is important, it's really important when we're remote, because it's so easy for people to feel disenfranchised, to feel like they slipped away or maybe even that no one cares. Making sure that the messages we're getting across are coming in different mediums, different voices, different ways, but basically making sure that we're getting an ongoing and regular communication style, because I believe that trust and communication rise and fall together, and the level of engagement we have... Simply put, I'll only engage with you up to our current level of trust. If you want to increase engagement, you must increase the level of trust. How do we do that? The quality and the quantity of our communication, making sure that we're not just assuming that everyone knows, we're actually speaking those words.

Tim Leman: So Jim, what's up some real practical examples of how you mix up your communication with your team?

Jim Canfield: Yeah. I think that part of it is making sure that there's a mix of mediums. So making sure some things are verbal, some things are written. I like to make sure there's also a mix of... when it's written, that literally words and numbers, but also some graphic displays of things. I think charting is one of the most underutilized methods of communication that most leaders forget about. I like to make sure that other people are bringing some of the messages forward. It doesn't always have to be the leader at the top. Let's make sure that some other voices. We did a project with a group recently, Tim, where they redesigned the way they described their values in the organization. We're now in the almost third year of introducing those values by having first the leader, the CEO, every week repeating one of the values, told the story about what it meant. Then we had the leadership team do it. Now we have individual contributors, other employees in the organization talking about them, then we'll probably cycle back to the CEO. But I feel like they need to hear it from a variety of people so it's not just repeating the message, it's hearing it from voices that I might perceive it differently when I hear it from one of those other voices.

Tim Leman: Jim, one of the things you've talked about is how important the leader is in making some of the great teams are helping drive that and so on. You also talked about evolving along the way that's necessary. Do you subscribe to people, CEOs in particular, can shift and change their styles and evolve along the way. Or is it one of those things that every so often you need a change in coach, you need to change in CEO, at those different stages?

Jim Canfield: I think like a lot of things, some people are more available for that than others. But I think a lot of times it's just a lack of awareness about the necessity. In other words, they think that because something's worked before, they just keep using it, even in the face of results not being what they had expected. There are three parts of leadership that I look at today. I look at classic leadership, decision- making, being able to set direction, those kinds of things. Then I look at more modern leadership styles, like collaboration, team building, the ability to let go of some of the things that were so important in classic leadership. The other one I'm looking at now are emerging leadership characteristics. So how do we consider diversity of thought? Are we agile enough in our thinking, or do we get tied to a position and won't let go of it? Now, what about social consciousness inside the organization and social capitalism? Are we evaluating the impact that our organization does or can have on the broader society? I think that sometimes it's just making CEOs aware that there are other styles available to them, rather than just relying on the same one that they've used over and over.

Tim Leman: Jim, in your work with CEOs and what you've seen in peer groups and so on, what are you most concerned about, or for CEOs and their ability to evolve in the longterm, their ability to be good leaders and so on? Where are your concerns at?

Jim Canfield: I would say there's two that I see that that caused concern for me. One is assuming that there's a generational divide. In other words, making assumptions about other generations, normally younger, but not always, sometimes it's older, that because they are that age, that generation, that there are characteristics that they just automatically put in place that are going to be true. I mean, we've heard all of them. Some of the younger generations aren't as focused on work as others might've been.

Tim Leman: Yeah. I had a friend. He uses this Millennial term. He'd been using this for so many years and throwing it out there. Friend said this the other day, and I said," You realize that Millennials have hit 40 years old now. I think you're actually talking about Generation Z, or maybe you're into this alpha generation now. What are you referring to? Not the 40 year old."

Jim Canfield: Right. Well, and the same thing happens going up, too. We can assume that once people are too many years older than us, they no longer have a contribution to make that their wisdom isn't valuable. I think that's a big misnomer. I think everyone has a gift to give and that our role as leaders is to find out not only what those gifts are, but also what motivates those people. Because I think that's the big difference is that not only is the gift different, the contribution, it's that they just have a different way of looking at things. I would say the other one that I see, Tim, is too many leaders get stuck on their own idea without really being rigorous around soliciting opinion and feedback from others in the organization. Again, it's one of those things that work really well in the early stages of the business. I think it can be quite the problem and sometimes even a death knell later in the organization when they're unable to allow others to contribute in a way. I think it's one of the number one reasons that really strong team members end up leaving, is they just don't feel like their contribution is being recognized in a way that's meaningful.

Tim Leman: Yeah. It gets back probably to some of that being agile in your thinking and critical thinking and those types of things too.

Jim Canfield: Yeah.

Tim Leman: Jim talk a little bit about peer groups. You spent so much time over the years with Vistage and executive forums and so on. How important are peer groups for leaders to be in? I guess that's a bit of a softball. I'd love to hear your perspective.

Jim Canfield: Well, and I'll expand it a little bit since it was. I think every leader who wants to be better can benefit from some outside feedback. Sometimes it's an individual coach who can really stand side by side. Sometimes it's a coach who's been there and done it. Other times, it's someone who has more of a theoretical knowledge and really finding and really looking at what would benefit me as a leader. Then the group settings, I find that to be really valuable for two reasons. Number one it is nice to be able to take an issue and get direct feedback from others who have been there and done it also, nothing wrong with that. But the one that I find really amazing, Tim, is what I'll describe as indirect feedback. In other words, they're looking around the room going," Wow, that person's running a really great business. If I ran my business more like her, I'd run a better business." It's almost like modeling or emulation that drives some benefit in addition to the direct feedback that they might get about their issues.

Tim Leman: That's great.

Jim Canfield: I just spoke to a group in Orange County last Thursday. One of the members had been in that group 35 years. Now can you imagine anything else that someone would feel like 35 years later they're still benefiting from that association? He claimed it was just because he was a slow learner, but I could tell by the way he ran his business that that wasn't the case. He was getting an ongoing benefit because situations change, people change, the feedback changes. I think of the nice things about peer groups is they seem to evolve in such a way that if I'm paying attention, the answer's there every time. I just have to listen for it.

Tim Leman: Jim, I always appreciated Tony Hutti's approach to all that, too, really abundant mindset. Of course, I enjoyed my five or six years in executive forums with him. But he was always of the mindset of," I just want you to be in a peer group and if there's another one that works differently or better for you." At that time, I ended up joining YPO. It's just been awesome for me, all the things you just talked about. I just, I always appreciated Tony's approach to that. It wasn't about any particular specific one. It was about being in one. I think too, that so much of it, beyond even the business side is the personal side too, of all the extra struggles that come along with being in leadership roles and pressure and so on that it puts on families, marriages, friendships, all those things. It's just been huge too. Talk about that a little bit too, maybe on the personal side. What you are observing and seeing from CEOs these days? Are they taking care of themselves or not? What do they need to be doing?

Jim Canfield: Yeah, I've said for a long time, Tim, but behind every business issue is a personal issue. We just have to understand what it is. Yeah, you know what? I think it's all over the board. I think some people have figured out how to make some of these remote situations work in their favor. Others are struggling a little bit with how that works, both from a leadership and a personal perspective. A lot of people have found themselves in a different environment every day. They didn't expect to be at home, whatever that means, and what that looks like and how that shifts your style. There's a ritual that I think we go through as leaders where we head to an office and it's almost like going back to the castle. You know what that role looks like. Redefining that role, when you're sitting at your office at home, or maybe even at your kitchen table, how do you get that same feeling of being a leader? I think you have to really look deep down inside and go," What's the essence of my being a leader?" It's how I communicate. It's what I say and don't say to my people. I believe a big part of leadership is celebrating successes, make sure that people are getting ongoing rewards recognition and appreciation for their contributions. I believe it's more intentional when you're remote. You don't have the opportunities, as often, for what I call those casual drive by meetings where you just stick your head in and say," Hey, I just want to say, thanks Tim, for that work that you did on that project. Absolutely amazing. I was looking at it again this morning." You have to make sure that you're engineering those when it's remote, instead of just being able to walk down the hall.

Tim Leman: What would you say is your edge in life or business? What's made you successful over the years?

Jim Canfield: I think what I've always been able to do well, Tim, is assimilate a large body of information and sort it out and then bring it back to other people in a way that's simple and straightforward and that they seem to really appreciate. I think it's always been something that's been a gift for me. Whenever I've used that, in a way it's always been beneficial, not only for others, but also for me to really think about what those concepts mean and how they might be applied.

Tim Leman: Now it's time for my favorite part of the podcast, rapid fire. We'll start easy on you here. What's your favorite color, Jim?

Jim Canfield: My favorite color is blue.

Tim Leman: How about your first car?

Jim Canfield: Oh, my first car. It was a van, it was red and white. We painted blue across the bottom, ended up putting flames on it. I shared it with my mom for a period of time until she finally said," I just can't drive this thing anymore. Everybody thinks I'm a hippie." I can date myself a little bit there. Then the first one that was all mine was a black Dodge drag race car called an Aspen RT with a big engine in it. I've always been a real car fan.

Tim Leman: I love it. That's awesome. What's your most memorable concert?

Jim Canfield: I think I saw ZZ Top live in Memphis. It was about the fourth time I'd seen them. I'm from Memphis originally. It was just an amazing show and I was just so blown away how three people standing on the stage could generate that kind of energy.

Tim Leman: Yeah. Oh, that's great. ZZ Top in Memphis. I love it. What are you streaming right now on your devices?

Jim Canfield: Music for me, I've been really in a Tom Petty mode. So and on Sirius a lot with the Tom Petty channel, realizing that it's amazing that an individual artist could turn out about 200 songs, which is not a bad catalog, but as I listened for sometimes hours on end on a plane, I just don't tire of the sound. It speaks to me in a way that I can relate to. There's enough diversity. Lately, that's what I've been listening to.

Tim Leman: Love it. Speaking of songs, you're getting ready to come up to bat. What's your walkup song, Jim?

Jim Canfield: Centerfield, by John Fogarty. Put me in coach.

Tim Leman: That's right. Put me in coach. What's something about you that very few people know that know?

Jim Canfield: I think there's a softer side. I've played guitar in my life and written a lot of songs. I write poems sometimes, sometimes that doesn't come through in the work that I do. But I'm pretty reflective in a lot of ways.

Tim Leman: Acoustic or electric or both?

Jim Canfield: Got both, but acoustic more than electric.

Tim Leman: Yeah.

Jim Canfield: I never played in a band, just played on my own. So it was just for me.

Tim Leman: I am getting this new picture of you, Jim. I see you out on the beach in your Captain America van with your guitar, singing songs and writing poems. I love it. Jim, three people that you'd like to have dinner with.

Jim Canfield: I was thinking, I went to business since our conversation today is about business. I went to Richard Branson, and then if I get to bring someone who's not living, then I do Steve Jobs. Then I had a long- term mentor, guy named Red Scott, who ended up owning and selling over 150 companies, some small other... They owned Pier 1 at one point. I'd invite Red to that because he asked more interesting questions than anybody ever knew. With those two and Red, I know it would be an amazing conversation.

Tim Leman: Sounds like a great lineup. And then last one, something big you want to do before it's all over?

Jim Canfield: Right now, I'm focused on CEO Tools. I really want this content to be a major force and have us add to it. I'd like for us to be 2 or 300 coaches out there around the world and be able to move from... What I do now is I still provide a lot of the work. I'd like to be running that organization, be really proud of the team that I had assembled, that one last time to build an amazing community and an amazing team.

Tim Leman: inaudible speaking of all the music, that always reminds of that line in Journey there, giving anything to roll the dice just one more time.

Jim Canfield: Absolutely.

Tim Leman: crosstalk I love it. That's fantastic. Jim, it's always a lot of fun, engaging and interacting with you. Keep up the great work out there. Appreciate all you're doing for leaders.

Jim Canfield: Tim, you've done amazing work at Gibson, I mean, just the team and the organization you built is amazing. We love featuring it and CEO Tools 2.0. Thanks so much for having me.

Tim Leman: Thank you for tuning in today. I'm Tim Leman, and remember to own your edge. Subscribe to The Edge podcast on Apple, Google and Spotify.


Jim Canfield, President of CEO Tools by Aprio, joins Tim in this episode to talk about what it takes to be a great leader! Jim discusses the CEO's role in communicating, executing, and optimizing. He talks about dynamics of an amazing team and what the real orientation of a team truly is. That is only the tip of the iceberg, tune in now to hear all of Jim's insights!

Today's Host

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Tim Leman

|Chairman & CEO, Gibson

Today's Guests

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Jim Canfield

|President of CEO Tools by Aprio