Bill Cornwell understands what makes senior leadership tick. Throughout his 30-year career, Cornwell has mentored, coached and enlightened leaders of global corporations, international law firms and successful professional firms, transforming their perspectives and reshaping their responses to common leadership challenges and responsibilities.
His recent book, “Activate the Third Space: How to Align, Communicate and Lead in a Hyper-Competitive World,” addresses the disengagement pandemic, misalignment-inducing communication crises and leadership burnout, through the eyes of a fictional company, Cascade Trading and its leadership team.
Although fictional, Cascade Trading’s stories and struggles will resonate with every C-suite leader tasked with growing a business, guiding employees and setting the stage for future accomplishments. Other parts of Cornwell’s book identify different kinds of leaders, the Enterprise Leadership Model and the difference between the First, Second and Third Spaces within a company structure. Cornwell creates a field guide for those who want to implement change in a real and sustainable way.
Cornwell also knows a thing or three about executive search, having worked with The Alexander Group in the 1990s. That experience and proximity to senior leadership laid the foundation for not only his career in executive coaching, but also as a strategic planner and business development expert across various industries.
“I fell in love with coaching. To some degree it’s similar to executive search in that there’s a beginning to it, an introduction and then research. The middle of it, “Are you the right candidate?” and in coaching, "What’s the real issues you’re facing and how do we put together a plan?” Cornwell said. “The end of executive search you’re on your own, but I’m here for you, just as with coaching."
His experience working in the C-suite space gives him a real-time perspective on the evolving role of leaders, so we took the opportunity to sit down with Cornwell and discuss a vast array of topics, including mistakes a new leader can make and some of the best traits of a visionary leader.
Q: As an adjunct at the Human Capital Leadership Institute, you have worked with individuals and teams to master the concepts of action learning, leading change and understanding their personalities within the context of their organizations. What are some of the mistakes you have seen new leaders make in their elevated roles?
A: Believing they know all the answers. A new manager coming in from another company saying, “this is the way we did it in the old company.” It alienates people. And not asking enough questions. Asking questions and then really listening.
Q: You have worked alongside and coached C-suite leaders across the globe. What traits stand out to you as the most important?
A: First trait—most importantly today and not just the first 90 days, is the ability to ask the right question at the right time creating a psychologically safe space. that’s not hierarchal.
Good leaders listen. Active listening is a practice to thoroughly absorb, understand and retain what is being said by another person. It requires being present, withholding judgement, consciously listening, restating what you’ve heard, seeking clarifications and summarizing a speaker’s key points. It’s a back-and-forth process.
And just importantly, tell people they are doing a good job. Show gratitude and thank them.
For more information about Bill Cornwell, visit his LinkedIn profile. To order a copy of his book, Activate the Third Space: How to Align, Communicate and Lead in a Hyper-Competitive World, co-written with Michael Switow, visit on Amazon.