Change Management Leadership: 5 Insights from a Rockin’ CLO

By Emerson CEO, Trish Emerson

Woman holding lightbulb in hand

A dear friend of mine is Chief Learning Officer of a prominent, widely admired company whose lawyers asked us to mask his identity. We’ve worked together since 2003, so he was naturally one of the first people I interviewed when I decided to write a leadership book. In fact, as a direct result of his interview, I hired an EA (yay, Michele!), applied his system for reducing my email inbox to zero (here’s to you Sally McGhee!) and prioritized ways to create the life I want.

One of the questions I asked him was, “What advice would have prepped you better had you received it early in your career?” Here are five insights he shared with me.

  1. Be clear about your strengths. As an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs, I’m naturally reflective rather than reactive. I need to process and come back. I learned to create a window of opportunity to do that, to be aware in the moment and say, “I’ll get back to you.” If I had learned that as a younger person, I would have made better decisions.

  2. Face the thing you don’t want to do. If you don’t, it will only harm you. There was a colleague I worked with years ago who was smart, extroverted and, frankly, we didn’t get along. I began to avoid that person. Our lack of communication escalated to the point that it actually contributed to a job change. Recently, I had a similar situation, but by then I had learned to face the hard work. My reaction? I scheduled regular meetings with my coworker. Getting to know each other has made things easier. We might not be best friends, but I have learned to focus on this person’s strengths and use our complementary styles to create good work together.

  3. Don’t overschedule. So many people allow the day to control them. If you start the day fully booked, you are in trouble. You have no bandwidth to assess, respond, and shift priorities. Twenty-five percent of the day should be unplanned. The more senior you are, the more unplanned your day should be.

  4. Understand the power of a great admin. The right assistant is someone you can trust and someone who knows you well enough to help focus you on your goals. My admin helps me be successful, with ease. She reminds, reschedules, and facilitates. She puts both contracts and birthday cards on my desk to be signed. She helps bring my intent to reality.

  5. Over time, increase bandwidth or capacity. How are you aligning others around you to magnify your impact? As the years go by, it’s less about what I do and more about how much I accomplish through others. If I can get more done while maintaining expectations and standards of excellence, I feel I’m growing my company and myself.

There’s a thread through my friend’s observations that we can learn from. For me, it means challenging myself before taking on a task and asking, “Will this investment of time result in something that expands or does its effect end when I stop doing it?” It’s a true-north question that helps prioritize. As leaders, our common limitation is time. Our effectiveness is directly related to how we shape our time to create the ripple we want.

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