Becoming an effective leader demands hard work and commitment on your part
In two past blog posts on leadership, I shared with you a number of key traits that are common among effective leaders. In the first post entitled (“No trust = No Leader”, and “7 Steps to Make Leadership Simple”). When combined, these two posts covered a great deal of territory found on the leadership landscape.
If you’re like me, you recognize that becoming an effective leader demands hard work and commitment. It requires more than just reading but actual “doing” and learning from your experiences. Sometimes when we are in the “doing” mode we forget some of what we have read and then realize after the dust settles that there was a different or additional technique that you should have tried. At times like this, I wish that I had a “pocket reminder” so that when it gets confusing I would have a simple guide to help me. Having said this, I am not suggesting that there is either a simple or “one size fits all” approach to developing your leadership style. As I said several lines up – “becoming an effective leader demands hard work and commitment on your part. It requires more than just reading but actual “doing” and learning from your experiences”. But, if a simple pocket reminder helps you on your leadership development journey, then so be it; as the title of this post reads, “let me give it to you as straight as I can”.
I looked back over my 35+ years of corporate experience and every leadership position I have held and have come up with these five traits that, when all else failed, helped get the leadership job done each time:
- Being in the game 100% of the time
- Have an open mind
- Challenge the team
Here’s some additional info that will help you understand better how to apply them to your style.
Listening – one of the most important standards I set for any team I lead was that it was impossible for them to “over-communicate” with me. I let my teams know that I hated surprises and that I would let them know when they gave me too much detail. I wanted my team to get into the habit of telling me all that they could. In this way I could keep my eye on how we were doing on achieving the vision and goals I had set. At this point, you might be thinking that my approach was a classic case of “TMI” (too much info) and micro managing. Nothing could be further from the truth! I found that when my team could see that I was genuinely interested in what they had to say, the quality of their communications improved. They also knew their role and where they fit in to the big picture – i.e. the vision. This also improved the quality and timeliness of their communications to me. As for micro managing, unless it was absolutely necessary, I never told them what to do. Rather, I asked them to show me how they would do it. Always be listening.
Being in the game 100% of the time – wherever I was, regardless of the topic or situation, I was there 100% or as some would say, “I was in the present”. Nothing would distract me from the task at hand. Some would say “Come on Chris, get real! All leaders have lots on their mind”. That’s true but multi tasking at the wrong time can be “multi dumb”! Missing one key element in a situation could prove to be a disastrous surprise later on. And guess who would be responsible for it? You! Another reason you want to be “in the moment” is the example you set. If your team sees you as being 100% involved, then they will act the same way. This will improve communications and productivity. Be in the game 100% of the time.
Preparation – this is the simplest of all leadership traits to develop, yet it is the one that most “would be leaders” fail to properly address. The ability to prepare is one of the most important habits you can develop, nurture and maintain. You would be amazed at how simple things become when you take the time to prepare for what needs to be done. For example, knowing what you want to achieve in the simplest terms possible; the resources you will need and where and when to get them; knowing what each person’s role will be and so on. These might seem like a lot of things to do but if it helps you be successful, isn’t the time needed to prepare a worthwhile investment? Do you start your meetings by just walking in and trying to wing it? Or, do you either publish an agenda in advance or ask for one to be published, that states what will be discussed and the goals to be achieved? Without the necessary preparation you will be doomed to doing things over and over again until you get it right. This approach costs you money, time and leadership credibility. Be Prepared.
Have an open mind – I found that I was most effective when I would try to identify other relevant options. It was my job to choose the right option or course. To do that, I had to keep an open mind to all of the factors involved, some of which I initially might not be aware of. By keeping an open mind, I was also able to be effective in another key leadership role – staying ahead of other potential problems. By looking at the options, I could see which might cause other issues down the road. This at least gave me a chance to develop a plan to deal with these if I took that particular path. While I knew that keeping an open mind was important, I also knew that at some point I had to make a decision to keep us moving forward. Keeping an open mind to all options, does not mean you have to listen or act on all of them. To do so could literally paralyze you. I knew that as a leader, I had to make things happen. By keeping an open mind, I was better able to consider the most important factors to help me make a decision with incomplete or not so perfect data. Keep an open mind, but don’t let it paralyze you.
Challenge the team – the first, and one of the most influential business mentor I had, was a gentleman named George Hoffacker. He had the unique ability through reflective questions, to challenge me to find the answers on my own. When I was stumped, he challenged me to identify the resources that would help me keep moving forward. To this day, I believe that his leadership approach to me – to challenge to be better – laid the foundation for many of the successes I experienced in my career. He was always there to help me or guide me but, most importantly, he helped me learn the real measure of my full capabilities. During our discussions, again through reflective questions, he also helped me learn to deal with any obstacles or barriers I might face. He showed me that the solutions to my challenges were well within my grasp. While he could have easily told me what to do, he knew that approach would “short change me” in terms of my executive development. From my experiences with him, I created one of my own leadership approaches – when my team member wanted to see me about a “problem” there was one of two ground rules they had to follow. First, they had to be able to tell me what they had tried (that did not work) to solve the challenge. Or, secondly, they had to come in with recommended courses of action they wanted to brainstorm with me before they took action. This approached helped me to help my teams learn how to think and see their full capabilities which in turn positively impacted their professional growth as well as the growth of the business. A quote that I recently came across says it best “Leadership involves inspiring others to be greater than they believe they can be; to help them see how they can exceed their own self-expectations”.
So, what should you do now? Simple…conduct your own self examination to evaluate how well you are leading your team. Ask yourself how well you stack up against these 5 points.
Conducting this type of business self analysis can be challenging. Sometimes it’s hard to be objective when you are looking at yourself and your job performance. Not sure where to start? Let me give you the answer – call me. Let me help you create the plan that gets you the best results in the most reasonable timeframe. Maybe we can discuss how I can help you through a leadership coaching program or through some focused executive coaching. Whatever we do, it will be designed to teach you how to improve your leadership skills and, at the same time, improve your company’s profitability by boosting your team’s performance.