Rich Tallman is immersed in the world of top-level leadership. For four years, Rich worked with senior executives through CCL’s Leadership at the Peak (LAP) program. Now, he takes an expanded view as manager of CCL’s “leading the organization” portfolio. In short, that means Rich steers CCL’s understanding of senior-level leaders (through formal and informal research), makes sure we are meeting their current needs, and anticipates future directions and challenges.
What does CCL offer C-level and other senior leaders?
Leadership at the Peak is our open-enrollment program, but it’s just one part of what this audience may need. LAP is important because senior leaders need a venue to be able to spend time thinking through what they are doing and how it’s working.
The next part is, how do I execute what I’ve thought through and worked on? What do I do about my challenges? What do I do for myself and how do I take some of these ideas and implement them in my organization? Often, a CEO or CFO or EVP will say, “I think my team needs to do some work in order for us to start these changes.” So that opens the door to talk about other leadership solutions, or the organizational leadership perspective.
I think CCL’s function is to be a trusted advisor to senior leaders. When they have an experience with us — though LAP especially — leaders get a sense that we have their best interest at heart. We create a space for them to do their best work and build trust. Later, they may call us back and talk through an issue or a need. Our responsibility and role at that point is to help them figure out the best course of action, which may be working further with CCL, or it may not.
What are some interesting things CCL has learned through its research about top-level leaders?
For a few years, we studied the challenges senior leaders faced pre-economic meltdown versus the challenges post-meltdown. Even though everybody was thinking, “It’s a whole new world!” the challenges were not qualitatively different. Many of the same things were said, so the “new normal” isn’t quite as new as we like to think it is.
We are also learning more about the similarities and differences among senior-level leaders in various countries. For example, if you talk to an audience of U.S. and European executives, you’ll find people have gone through a lot of leadership development during their career. But talk to leaders in the Asia Pacific region, you are likely to find people who have a lot of experience and have a huge span of control, but have not had a whole lot of formal leadership development experience. So we are looking at the informal learning — how they learn and what they learn.
What are some of the challenges top leaders experience?
Challenges are mostly about the speed at which things are moving. Also, there’s so much focus on complexity but we need to remember that operationalizing takes place at a very mundane level — some basic things have to happen. Globalization, for example. Everybody talks about it, but what does it entail? What actually happens when you open operations in Dubai or in Delhi or Singapore or Australia?
Similarly, senior leaders are really good at thinking through a possibility; they come up with all kinds of grand plans. But what often gets left out is how to move other people along. It’s the idea of leading change versus leading transition. I include myself in this. I will make a decision about something that’s been in my head for a while. I still expect other people to move a little faster, even though I know it’s new, and I say, “You probably need some time.” So this is a challenge, too.
What’s great about your job?
It’s all about possibilities. How do we make organizations function at the level they are capable of? Being a part of that is pretty important. Working with senior-level folks — they have such a huge capacity to influence the rest of the organization — I think we are really living the mission of CCL and making a great impact.
What would you do if you weren’t in the leadership world?
I don’t have some interesting hobby or sideline that would become my job. I like to do what I’m doing, but if I wasn’t, I’d probably be in a coffee house. I’d be the person who hangs out and people stop by and chat — not the guy with the laptop or the headphones. I like to think that when I leave conversations with people, we are both better for it!