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CEO to CEO: Surviving and Thriving in the Interruption Age

Guest Author Blog: Leading In The Moment by Douglas R. Conant and Mette Norgaard authors of "TOUCHPOINTS: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments"

Touchpoints
Touchpoints

If you’re like most people, you find the inevitable interruptions in your jam-packed days troublesome.

The colleague who stops by without an appointment, the unexpected phone call, a team member seeking clarity on a project.

These interruptions are distractions from the real work you are trying to do.

We’re here to tell you that you’re wrong.

These so-called interruptions are actually the real work of being a true leader. A leader’s impact and legacy are built through hundreds, even thousands, of interactive moments in time.

We call this concept TouchPoints—and it is the fruit of a collaboration between Mette Norgaard, a gifted teacher of leadership, and myself, an experienced executive in the business world. It reflects more than 60 years of study and experience working with leaders from around the world.

We believe that these interruptions, and every other point of contact with people, are actually overlooked opportunities for leaders to increase their impact and promote their organization’s strategy and values.

The good news is that anyone can develop what we call TouchPoint mastery.

Such mastery in the smallest of moments can transform aimless activity in individuals and entropy in organizations into focused energy—one magical moment at a time.

Leadership is tough. As a leader, you must constantly meet and exceed targets. To perform consistently, you must be prepared to make decisions and mobilize others.

There is never enough time: there are customer issues, board issues, supplier issues, competitive issues and employee issues. The phone system malfunctions, the production line goes down, the Blackberry stops working, you have to fill in for someone at the last minute, and you are always on the go. Plus, you have to integrate your personal commitments into your day.

How can you manage to get anything done in a world where you are lucky if you can average four minutes of uninterrupted time a day?

That was the question Mette and I posed to each other one morning when we were a world away from such frenetic activity, strolling the grounds at SkyTop Lodge in the Pocono Mountains on the last day of a Campbell’s CEO Institute retreat.

"How can you manage to get anything done in a world where you are lucky if you can average four minutes of uninterrupted time a day?"" -Authors, "TouchPoints", Douglas R. Conant & Mette Norgaard

We had met years before, while I was at Nabisco and Mette was leading the Executive Development Program for the Covey Leadership Center in Utah. We had reconnected again when Mette was interviewing me for a book she was writing on leadership, which led to our collaboration on the CEO Institute, a two-year development program for a select number of high-potential leaders at Campbell.

Knowing we would soon have to leave the peace of the Poconos and return to the “real” world, Mette asked me, “Don’t you get tired of the ceaseless interruptions?”

After a moment, I said, “To me, they are not interruptions. They are opportunities to touch someone and improve a situation.”

As we talked further, we began to realize that while most people kept trying to minimize the countless encounters they experienced every day at work, I had come to believe that those encounters were the work—and that how I handled them would ultimately define my success as a contributor and as a leader.

During the next four years, we probed the nature of a leader’s scheduled and spontaneous interactions, drawing on our combined experience—mine as a leader of leaders and Mette’s as a teacher of leaders.

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Increasingly, we came to understand what it takes for a leader to stand in the stream of such moments and influence their direction in a positive way.

As our concept took shape, we came up with the name “TouchPoints” to describe the way that each of the many interactions leaders have with others during their workday gives them the chance to touch someone: to influence, guide, provide clarity, inspire, instill a sense of urgency, and shape the course of events.

TouchPoint leadership is not about running faster, working longer, or wringing more productivity out of every waking minute. It’s about being present in the moment and feeling confident that you can deal with whatever happens in a way that is helpful to others and, by extension, to yourself and your organization.

TouchPoints do not replace the leadership models that work for you. Instead, they infuse them with energy. They offer a way of working that is ideally suited to the vagaries and demands of your situation in today’s real world.

No matter what your current position or purpose, you’ll find embedded in our work ideas that will help you prepare yourself to work more effectively and efficiently in the interruption age.

They will help you lead in the smallest of moments and build your legacy one TouchPoint at a time.

About the authors: Douglas R. Conant was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of Campbell Soup Company in January of 2001. Mette Norgaard, Ph. D., MBA is an expert on strategic leadership and learning. She works with executives to design and deliver learning solutions that advance the company’s strategy. They cover all this and more in their new book TOUCHPOINTS: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments(Jossey-Bass; May 2011). You can learn more about Doug Conant’s leadership philosophy at www.conantleadership.com and Mette Norgaard at www.mettenorgaard.com

Email me at bullishonbooks@cnbc.comAnd follow me on Twitter @BullishonBooks

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