A BOLD Leader with a Sense of Urgency: An Interview with Ezra Ernst

While there is no single profile of a Bold Leader, I’m struck by the number of bold leaders we have interviewed thatEzra Ernst have a resume of short, intense engagements. Perhaps I look for this profile as it mirrors my own. As I often say, it isn’t easy building a 35 year business career – 3 ½ years at a time. But, when I reflect back on the most impactful organizational transformations that I have been involved with – that change often largely occurred within a fairly condensed time frame (9 months to 18 months).

I recently spoke with Ezra Ernst, a bold leader who shares this career profile of short intense engagements. Ezra has been with 8 different organizations over the last 24 years, often as a Division President or GM. Most recently he accepted the position as CEO for Physicians Weekly.

My conversation with Ezra focused on what he does to drive transformative change in these relatively short time periods. Here were some of the highlights of our discussion:

1. Move quickly to define the needed change. When joining the organization there is often a performance challenge that needs to be addressed. Ezra stressed the need to move quickly to create a unifying vision of the new direction and some of the early key initiatives (without waiting to have the complete plan defined). Ezra noted that he begins by listening to the staff to get their ideas and speaking with customers to gain their insights. Often, those constituencies have a clear idea of the needed change – but previous management simply wasn’t listening or wasn’t willing or able to accept the need for change.

2. Make some initial bold moves to help drive the change. First, be willing to replace the “consistent resistors”. Ezra stated that he is willing to give people 90 days after the change has been defined to fall into line. However, those who simply won’t get on board need to be replaced. These individuals simply dissipate too much of the organization’s energy. Second, create some early, quick wins. Ezra reinforced that these early wins help to energize the organization about the change and help create alignment with various stakeholders about the work ahead. Early customer wins can become viral as other customers and prospects learn about the success that early adopters are experiencing.

3. Sustain the change. Stay constant in your focus on the direction you have set. Encourage your staff to share new ideas and empower them to act. Ezra indicated that it is important to be tolerant of failure if your staff followed a sound process. He celebrates those “failures” as part of creating a learning environment within the organization and to encourage risk taking.

4. Seek the next change. Ezra stated that if you find change reinvigorating – then you are always looking for the next change challenge. Often that may be within your current organization (either in your current or a new role). However, sometimes the events that created the burning platform for change have been eliminated and the future work is focused on reaping incremental improvements from the change already executed. In those cases, Ezra has found himself gravitating towards new change challenges with another organization.

Does the change plan at your organization have a burning sense of urgency? What can you do to convert 3-5 year plans into 9-18 month transformations?

Duane White has a proven track record of driving positive change in a wide variety of settings, from large Fortune 100 companies to smaller start-ups. He possesses excellent problem solving skills and a unique ability to marry strategy development with superior execution, focusing on the few really critical elements that are the performance drivers.