Often, leadership is overlooked in M&A. Everyone is caught up in the deal that they don't notice the importance of leadership. But make no mistake, a successful deal is largely attributed to leadership, much as it is when the deal fails.
To cover this issue, I interviewed Scott Hile, Senior Director, Corporate Strategy & Development at Enviva. We talked about how to develop good leadership in M&A.
"The reality is, whether you acknowledge them (your weaknesses) or not, other people see them. So getting the feedback, understanding where you have blind spots that we all have, is the key to really rounding out your ability as a leader." - Scott Hile
According to Scott, good leadership starts with self-awareness, which includes recognizing your vulnerabilities and understanding that you don't need to know everything. You need to lean on your abilities and strengths, mitigate the weaknesses, and help the team achieve the goals. If you want to build trust with the people around you, self-awareness is key.
Asking and embracing feedback is the first step to developing self-awareness. Fostering an environment where your team is comfortable enough to give you feedback is a sure-fire way to get people talking. Once you have achieved that, make sure that you know how to accommodate feedback adequately. Embrace your vulnerabilities and work on them, rather than denying they exist.
When it comes to M&A, empathy is crucial. Whether you are trying to lead your internal people or negotiating with the target company, empathy plays a huge role in the success of a deal. Understanding the other party's position will help you understand their drivers better. Also, it will help you gain their trust faster.
While some people have the natural ability to be empathetic more than others, it doesn't mean that you can't practice empathy. Understanding both sides of the table and bringing their visions together is an invaluable skill in M&A, especially in integration.
As a leader, you need to take accountability for your entire team. You need to have the mindset of "everything is my fault". Only then you will be able to step back and think about the things that you could have done better. You have a higher chance of repeating failures if you don't take that time to understand what you could have been doing better as a leader.
"We have so many new ways to communicate with each other, but in so many ways, we don't actually communicate" - Scott Hile.
Communication and listening is paramount for any leader. If you don't know how to get your message across to people or don't know how to listen to your team, you will not reach very far.
One of the worst things you can do as a corp dev leader is to walk into a room and assume that everyone will understand your message. Instead, you need to walk in there and take your time to communicate and fully answer your team’s questions.
One of the things that Scott does is to give out pre-reads. This helps his people prepare for the upcoming meeting, formulate questions on the things they don't understand, and better comprehend the meeting.
If you want to keep your people engaged, make sure that they are heard. If you don't let your people have a voice in anything, they will start feeling disengaged and eventually lose motivation. Recognizing their accomplishments is also an excellent way to keep them motivated. After all, who doesn't want to get noticed at work?
Lastly, try and create an enjoyable environment for your people to work. If they feel like they are working amongst friends, they will perform better and be motivated to finish the project.