CEO Advising

I consult with CEOs and their executive teams to improve leadership and organizational performance. Senior leaders are like everyone else, of course, except that the consequences of your action – what you say, what you do, how you respond to challenges – should affect the actions of many others – sometimes hundreds and thousands of others.

The key skill for senior leaders is to get people moving in unison toward a clearly defined common objective, doing the right things with the right people in the right way.  Unfortunately, simply being clear about what needs to be done is rarely sufficient to generate strong organizational action.

Having a clear idea or strategy or vision is challenging.

But making choices about what to do and what not to, clearly communicating those choices to the rest of the organization, and getting key people – some of whom may not agree with you or may not even want you to succeed – to fully embrace those choices and lead their people in the right direction is far more challenging. And far more important.

That’s what I help CEOs and their leadership teams do.

I’ve asked a few clients to talk about the experience of working with me. They aren’t true “case studies” in the Harvard Business School sense; rather, they’re collages of challenges and responses, and they say at least as much about my clients as about me.

Whether you read them because you’re thinking of hiring me, or to discover what goes into a successful CEO/Outside Advisor relationship, or to explore ways to be more effective in what you do, listen on two levels.

One level consists of the things you can see that I do: advisory conversations, strategy offsites, one-on-one coaching sessions – the tools of my work.

The other level, invisible but arguably much more important, is the quality of the relationships my clients have with me, with their senior teams, and with themselves. I’m fortunate to have clients who recognize that in order to lead others, they must first work on themselves.

I’m privileged to work with great leaders and great teams, and I’m inspired on a daily basis by their dedication to self-growth, the growth of others in their organizations, and the difference their organizations can make in the world.

Here are some of their testimonials of our work together. Enjoy…

CEO, HEDGE FUND

When I reached a point as CEO when I felt like I needed direct help in guiding my firm to change, I hired Peter as my coach. I wanted someone I could talk to outside the firm, someone impartial.

Peter helped me implement 360 degree reviews that actually worked in the real world, for our firm, in our unique circumstances. He also supported me to develop a bold strategy about where to take the business.

What I value most about Peter is the fact that he never talks from a purely theoretical level, unlike lots of other consultants. He brings his vast experience to the current situation, and helps me see options through specific examples of what has and hasn’t worked for others in the past.

He’s also proactive in offering guidance. For example, shortly after we started working together he noticed that our recruiting and evaluation processes weren’t supporting our long-term goals. Based on his guidance, we plugged the holes and immediately began growing a stronger organization.

I can make much better decisions from within the context that Peter lays out for me. Anything that gets in my way is fair game for our conversations. I’ve found that as our business relationship has matured, I confide in Peter on a lot of levels beyond just business. And those other levels turn out to be helpful from a business perspective as well.

Every CEO knows the feeling of not being sure how to get to their goals, how to navigate the obstacles to success. As my trusted outside advisor, Peter helps me answers the questions I ask myself, so I can clearly think through my options and make the best decisions I can.

CEO, GLOBAL $800 MILLION TECHNOLOGY COMPANY

What I most appreciate about Peter is his insight, practicality and flexibility. I began working with Peter in 2005 to accelerate my own professional development. He helped me see myself clearly: what I was good at, where the gaps were, and the best path forward to become the leader I needed to be.

The individual work evolved into a more nuanced mandate. Peter guided me to build and manage a team, and communicate effectively with what had become a global company. Working with scientists, I had to create a culture where they accepted change as progress rather than resisting it. We’ve worked hard at turning me into an inspiring leader, which is not something I’m naturally good at, but which turned out to be crucial to my ability to lead the changes that needed to happen.

Peter collects 360 degree feedback on me twice a year, and I’ve found it so powerful that we’ve expanded it to include the entire executive team. Through these 360s, our executive team has gone from partially dysfunctional to mostly functional, and the business results have been significant.

360s generate a lot of data, which can be overwhelming to the individual and to the organization trying to cope with it all. Peter’s insight is invaluable here; he sees through the bluster and fluff – and identifies and forces us to confront the real issues that we need to work on. He also reminds us of the things that have been working well, so we don’t lose sight of our progress and accomplishments.

Peter is really effective face to face, with individuals and when moderating groups. He knows just how to draw people into important and difficult conversations to get us to the meat of the matter quickly. When Peter moderates a meeting, we know something important will happen.

We have a culture that tends to avoid hard discussions, so Peter helps us depersonalize the tough issues so we can grapple with them.

He’s an empathetic listener, but also confident and assertive enough to steer a group of high-powered, opinionated, arrogant executives to deal with the important stuff. He helps us work through difficult conversations so we come out stronger on the other end, aligned in our vision and committed to a sensible plan of action.

Every company needs a team of strong, aligned executives to drive the organization to success. Peter has been key in getting us to build that aligned team to achieve shareholder goals.

Peter is highly intellectual, but that never gets in the way of his practical approach.

Whatever works or fits the occasion is what he’ll recommend. He’s a great role model of a continual learner. He listens to us and drops all his preconceptions at the door.

Other consultants I’ve worked with come with a formula – “This is how I can help you” – like a doctor writing a prescription they’ve written thousands of times before. Peter is always willing to morph his idea and his role in the service of getting things to work better.

His motto seems to be, “Whatever it takes.”

He brings with him a formidable tool kit and sharp insights, but the ideas often come from us when he facilitates group discussions. I remember we were once having trouble depersonalizing an issue, and a lot of executives were firmly entrenched in their points of view. Rather than trying to override their opinions, Peter assigned discussion of the problem to another executive who wasn’t responsible for this issue. That bit of ju jitsu opened up the discussion and led to a breakthrough.

Peter’s flexibility means that he never pedals BS; he doesn’t have any particular formula or method to defend.

He’s very thoughtful and works to find solutions that fit our particular organization. Working with him is a highly satisfying experience.

CEO, FAST GROWING START-UP WITH INEXPERIENCED MANAGEMENT

When I met Peter, I was CEO of a rapidly growing company looking at some tough organizational issues. Unfortunately we were in crunch mode, so we found it too hard to justify the cost. (Looking back, I really wish we had found the money; Peter’s help would have been even more valuable during that tough period than it was later on.)

We stayed in touch and kept the dialogue going, and I knew that as soon as we “had the money,” I was going to hire Peter to coach me and several members of my executive and sales team.

Shortly after the crunch eased, we found ourselves in an aggressive growth period, facing all kinds of internal challenges. We had a young, inexperienced, and motivated management team trying to address big new opportunities, scrambling to organize themselves and execute effectively. We wanted and needed guidance that we couldn’t get internally.

That’s when we brought Peter in, to act as a sounding board, coach, and guide. He helped us navigate these challenges, and helped us determine if team members were meeting objectives. He quickly became the person they could go to when they faced tough issues, knowing that he would provide solid guidance.

Because he was working with the entire team, not only did individual performance get stronger, but we radically improved cross-silo performance as well. Everyone on the leadership team viewed him as a strong colleague.

Here’s why Peter was so effective: our team members were managing groups and budgets and revenue objectives substantially larger than they had ever done before.

The tools and ways of doing things that had gotten them to this point weren’t serving them any longer. The new tools and skills they needed were in the personal growth category.

With Peter’s help, a couple of the Team Leads significantly altered the way they went about things. They became more conscious of their impact on others, more constructive and collaborative.

For me as CEO, Peter’s greatest impact came in conversations that I just couldn’t have with individual team leaders. He helped me take honest stock of circumstances, and guided me to make good decisions through his insights and depth of experience.

What makes Peter effective is his ability to listen, to encourage, and to guide me to find my own way to the core of the issue. I think of him as a kind of “business therapist,” empowering me to navigate the people, process and execution challenges. He helped me sort out contributing factors and challenges, and got me to focus on what was essential to resolve the situation. Often, under his gaze, things that appeared to be OK turned out to be issues that needed our attention.

I’ve worked with lots of consultants who get brought in to serve a particular purpose, and everyone in the organization thinks of them as temporary outsiders. Peter has a way of building fantastic relationships. Everyone accepted him as a core team member, as one of their peers.

My company (since bought by Oracle) was a software company. Software is a people business; you can’t make, sell, or support software without talented, committed, experienced, mature people. Getting the people right is the only job; if you can’t do that well, nothing else matters.

The consequences of high turnover are disastrous. If you make a bad hire or lose a good one, it takes four months to find a replacement, four months to bring them up to speed, six months to figure out if you’ve got it wrong, and six months to try to fix it before you realize you can’t fix it and have to start all over again.

With Peter’s help, we improved how we hired and retained employees. We implemented efficient customer service processes so we were able to address new and complex customer problems effectively. We dealt with the escalating expectations of our customers, and lowered our risks and increased our capability for rapid and high quality execution. The ROI has been substantial.

Like I said, my only regret is not hiring Peter early on, during that crunch time when we were dealing with really big challenges. Given the right access and mandate, I can’t imagine a situation where Peter wouldn’t positively affect just about any organization.

CEO, NEW TO HIS ROLE, FINANCIAL COMPANY WITH $100 BILLION IN ASSETS

I hired Peter to help develop a new leadership team. At least, that was the plan. He started by interviewing me, getting a bit about my background and some of the challenges we were facing, and I said, “So, when can we get on to the rest of the people in the group?” Peter said, “Well, we’ve got enough to work on right here.”

So Peter hung with me for a while; I had some major challenges around company politics, which Peter helped me navigate. He was nothing short of brilliant. He has a very unusual ability to listen and capture important information in a way that I’d never experienced before.

He synthesizes things down to the pertinent information very, very quickly. And then somehow, he has a wealth of experience that guides him to practical directions towards what I would consider to be very difficult problems.

He’s been extraordinarily helpful to me in finding approaches and tactics that work. Peter calls me brilliant for executing them, but the brilliance really came from Peter’s insights in helping me think things through.

When I think about what makes Peter so effective, I keep coming back to his listening skills. They’re unusually sharp. The way that he listens and converts what he’s learned into strategy, tactic, and ways of thinking and ways of behaving, I’ve just never experienced anything like it before. His skills are so innate, you can’t train a bunch of people to do what Peter does.

As nice a guy as he is, he doesn’t sugarcoat anything. When he interviewed each member of the executive committee to give feedback to every other member of the executive committee, including me, the information was quite startling in its frankness, both on the good and negative sides.

There was no effort to sugarcoat it, which meant we were going to focus on it whether we liked it or not. Peter got us to see that confronting the truth was the real opportunity. He surprised most of the members of the executive committee with his level of frankness.

My team was made up of incredibly talented people, but most of them had issues that were getting in the way of their effectiveness. One was rubbing people the wrong way by clumsy communications. Another wasn’t being clear with direct reports and wasn’t managing people effectively. A third needed to be more proactive; he wasn’t having hard conversations that needed to happen.

Nothing that mattered was sacred. Peter even got into personal hygiene; we had one guy who was brilliant but sloppy, and several people commented on his sloppiness, so Peter coached him on his appearance.

I had brought over an outstanding salesperson – one of the best I’ve ever seen – and gave him management responsibility without realizing that he was a poor manager. So Peter coached him to look at the character traits that were stopping him from being effective in his new role.

These are things that feel awful, that people don’t want to take a look at. But Peter has a way of helping people see that these are real opportunities.

Most members of the executive committee realized that when they worked with Peter, they learned things about themselves that they wouldn’t have learned anywhere else. Never in a threatening way, but always in a clear way. He provides a genuine, unusual opportunity to make improvements that they might otherwise not have had a chance to do.

One of the most inspiring things about working with Peter is watching his introspection about himself. It’s pretty inspirational; he seems to be a guy who’s constantly working towards a process of continuous improvement in himself. He doesn’t sell or promote that at all, but you do somehow get to absorb that when you work with him over an extended period of time.

Watching Peter, his lifestyle, just his own character, inspires you to want to be better yourself. It makes you want to work with him. I just think he’s really solid.

GLOBAL HEAD OF HR, LARGE COMPANY

I hired Peter to help me build and mature the HR function of a growing company. We worked on team building and designing an optimal organization structure, and dealt with some interesting characters along the way.

Peter has been particularly helpful with the three offsite meetings he’s led. First, he’s so knowledgeable about best practices in team and organization building, he brings good content and valuable insights to the table.

Second, he spends a lot of time assessing needs, talking formally and informally with team members. He never comes in with a prepackaged course that ignores our real needs. He’s partnered with me to deliver the right program, course, discussion, or combination of all of the above, based on what’s needed at any given moment.

Third, Peter is incredibly flexible once he’s in the room leading the activity. He’s very good at reading people and flowing with the discussion. He covers the topics we planned to cover and always helps us achieve our objectives. But he often pulls something else equally crucial out of a hat.

Peter’s in-depth preparation allows him to be spontaneous, and he has a remarkable ability to combine training, coaching and facilitation into a single interaction. He goes well beyond being a trainer; he knows me and the other team members well, and he always asks useful and challenging questions.

Peter doesn’t dominate the offsites; he guides the discussions, steps back and gets out of the way, and doesn’t need to have the spotlight on him. He’s very active in keeping the discussions real, like he’s always thinking, “Let me pull on this string and see what’s really there.” He states things very bluntly, without spin, and people’s heads nod in recognition. Once he’s gotten us to drill down to the tough reality, he guides us to reflect and act on it.

He’s very good at hooking people to roll up their sleeves and see themselves as part of the solution. They get that he gets what they’re saying, because he’s such a good and thoughtful and insightful listener.

Peter is remarkable at honing on the highest leverage opportunities for growth. He’s helped us become much more effective as a company. When I look back at the short list of turning points that have moved us from good to great, Peter has been instrumental in all of them.

PRESIDENT/COO, NEW TO HIS ROLE

I’ve worked with Peter in two very different capacities. In my previous company, a multi-billion dollar hedge fund, Peter facilitated a strategy offsite for the senior team. The one-day session included team building, business planning, and communication exercises, and was very effective. He then continued to work with us on an ongoing basis.

We liked Peter’s style of moderation. He is very empathetic, and draws on both his own primary research and lots of other research and anecdotal support to make his points. He is effective at tailoring the message to different types of people, able to alter his style of delivery depending on the content and the people involved.

At my current company, a hedge fund we launched a few years ago, we had been using a different coach in a limited capacity to work with our management team. We decided to bring in Peter on a more comprehensive basis, to work with the CEO and myself on an ongoing basis. We’ve had Peter on retainer for two years now to advise us on a variety of topics, including strategic development. During this time he’s guided us to define goals and techniques to help achieve our desired corporate culture and solve problems as they arise.

Peter has become a very reliable and trusted expert.

For example, last year we made some fairly significant responsibility changes at the senior levels. We sat down with him and talked through all the considerations. He brought forward some organization theory and his experience with best practices in other firms, and was able to balance that with what was right for our organization and our people.

His familiarity with our reporting lines and personalities combined with his academic and real-life knowledge produced the right approach for us.

Peter added real value to our thought process.

His ability to relate well to people is one of the cornerstones of his effectiveness. He pays close attention to both verbal and non-verbal kinds of communication, thinks deeply, then offers his thoughts and analysis. He’s easy to talk to, and knows how to deliver feedback perfectly tailored to the individual.

The longer he knows the person and the more he understands them, the more this factors into his analysis and feedback. While our engagement was originally project-based, what we really value is Peter’s insight over time.

Peter has consistently helped the CEO and me to understand the cultural and human causes of business problems so that we can address them in a way that moves us forward as an organization. He’s helped the CEO shape messages and anticipate the implications of each potential course of action. Now we’re more likely to design reactions rather than deal with repercussions.

Thanks to Peter, we’ve become a more thoughtful company.

Time and again, Peter has helped us find a path out of a difficult situation. It’s gotten to the point where we now hear his voice in our heads when we consider a situation. We’ve incorporated his approach into our own thinking. We’re always asking ourselves, “What’s the root cause of this situation? What’s the best way to take it forward given the people involved and what makes them tick?”

Every situation is different: Sometimes you need to sit back and let someone learn a hard lesson. Other times you need to intervene. Sometimes a managerial approach is appropriate, and other times a collaborative approach works better. I believe we’re more likely to get it right by involving Peter in the thought process.