Leadership – The Five Keys
Organizations today face huge challenges: intensifying competition, increasing costs, finding, developing, and retaining people, utilizing new technology for more efficient operations and decision making, among others. In order to most effectively address these challenges there is a basic and fundamental issue to consider-the way top management, the senior executives, leads the organization. If the leadership is effective, these challenges are easier to address. If leadership is not, then the leadership itself may act as an impediment to addressing challenges confronting the business.
The best leaders foster quality work, commitment and superior results over the short and long term. They create an environment where people take on the challenges, pull in the same direction and build for the future. Effective leaders are neither permissive nor meeting-happy; their mission is not to make everyone feel good. They do believe communication and empowerment are elements of good leadership but there is more to it. There are five keys to effective leadership.
1. The best leaders steer primarily by strategy, not by the seat of their pants.
Their strategy spells out the vision, goals and sharp, focused priorities. Then a business plan explains how the goals will be achieved as well as the measurements, and timetable. These serve as the platforms for decision making and actions in the organization. The strategy is anchored in an honest assessment of the organizations strengths and weaknesses. as well as an objective analysis of the competitive threats and opportunities. In contrast, ineffective leaders make plans without honest assessments or based upon how they wish the organization would be, not the realities of what really is.
With plan in hand the best leaders widely communicate the vision and direction of the organization. Clear statements give people focus, targets and “hills to charge.” Recognizing this, good leaders seek opportunities to communicate the direction and goals. This also helps people in all parts of the organization to recognize their interdependence. They are bound together by shared company goals and shared rewards. Furthermore, priority setting and limit setting – two required activities in successful businesses – can be communicated most effectively in the context of the organization strategies. Most people are more likely to accept priorities and limits when clearly explained in terms of the purpose and viability of the organization.
2. Effective leaders upgrade their staff through careful selection and deliberate development; compromise is for bargaining, not hiring nor managing performance.
Effective leaders recognize the importance of having people with the right knowledge and skill sets on board. Notice we said right knowledge and skill sets, not people. We find almost every person can make a contribution when their natural talents match the job and organization structure. A good leader considers the following actions important:
o Careful screening and hiring of people whose skill sets match the position requirements.
o Providing timely and relevant development support -mentoring, coaching, training — to upgrade the skill sets of the people on board.
o Offering advancement with increasing, challenging responsibilities to people that builds upon their strengths and their skill sets.
o Ensuring the culture and values of the organization are spelled out and are used as criteria in hiring and promotion decisions
3. Effective leaders insist on accountability; people know what is expected and they know their score.
Accountability works only when people know and understand what is expected of them and their team and how it will be measured. Otherwise well-meaning employees are reduced to guessing and confusion. Leaders recognize their job is to make certain that the roles, responsibilities and desired outcomes are clearly defined and bought into by people throughout the organization. Also they grasp this fact: the key to understanding and buy-in is involving people in a meaningful vision and goals. The best leaders encourage their team to participate in setting their goals.
Good leaders recognize goal setting is one half of the accountability formula; the other half is to holding people responsible for achieving results. When subordinates do not perform, a leader assesses the situation and takes appropriate action. Because a good leader insists on accountability, it is absolutely critical to have in place information systems and procedures for tracking and reporting performance. Conditions might change, plans and goals may have been misunderstood, and unanticipated events occur. Therefore timely, accurate, and relevant information about their performance must be available to employees. Otherwise they are not able to respond quickly nor decisively. Without feedback employees become ineffective-just like their leader who blames them for the lack of performance!
A sure sign of a poor leader is one who blames subordinates for “not getting it” or “unwillingness to change.” Our experience shows that good leaders do not go around finger pointing at others but look within themselves asking “how do I tap the talents and energy of the people around me?”
To sum it up: ineffective leaders have it reversed-they try to manage numbers and report people. To be effective, leaders must manage people and report numbers.
4. The best leaders focus on building trust and performance; weak leaders focus on getting acceptance and approval.
We believe the centerpiece of effective leadership is trust, that is, demonstrating confidence in others’ ability to contribute, make decisions and to perform. To a good leader, trust is the “currency” to be exchanged for high performance. Leaders find their people willing to exercise initiative, accept responsibility, and put forth their best effort when they know they are counted on and trusted. Trust encourages openness, questioning, creativity, and commitment, the essentials needed to achieve the best results. Without trust, people focus on preservation, not performance.
Empowerment is one way to build trust and performance. Used properly, three conditions are met:
o Leaders make certain everyone understands the plans, priorities and measures
o Leaders at every level appropriately delegate
o Employees at every level are given more say in relevant matters
A note of caution; empowerment is not simply a matter of giving employees more say. If that is all you do employees are confused and frustrated – what we call “aimless empowerment.” An empowerment process without structure, direction and limits will be certain to fail. Empowerment must be built upon goals and high performance expectations, a clear understanding of the situation and good performance reporting. In other words, it must be led!
Some managers may think empowerment involves abdication, permissiveness, overlooking poor performance, lack of accountability, relaxing standards or soft management. Done properly it is none of these. These are deficiencies of ineffective, aimless empowerment and poor leadership.
5. The best leaders listen to others and make the time for two way communication; weak leaders listen to themselves and take time for one way communication.
To be a successful leader, two-way communication is a must. The core of problem solving and creativity is encouraging people to exchange information and voice opinions. Further, only through people sharing ideas do you arrive at better ideas. Effective leaders know, when time permits and more often than not, “two heads are better than one.” They know the communication process is not just sending the message-communication is not complete until the receiver understands the message. Therefore effective leaders check for questions and are skillful listeners.
Lots of meetings are NOT the earmark of a good leader; planned, well run and productive meetings are. Whether with staff or the Board, it is a matter of efficiency. Time is wasted dealing with each person individually in matters common to all. Furthermore, meetings, structured properly, offer opportunities for two-way communication and encourage creativity as well as ensure that everyone hears and discusses the same thing.
In spite of all the new management buzzwords we believe that these five factors are the important building blocks of sound leadership. Without them an organization cannot effectively address the many challenges it encounters today. Consequently, the real value and proof of this-or any other leadership prescription- must be demonstrated in the same terms as the organization itself – how well the leader and his or her organization cope with challenges and achieve its goals over the short and long term.
Dr. Mark Frohman, president of Frohman Consulting Corp., http://www.frohmanconsulting.com is a recognized expert in developing high performing leaders, teams and organizations. He has a proven track record; having helped more than 500 client companies address key issues impacting bottom line performance, growth and customer satisfaction.
Dr. Frohman has consulted with nonprofit and for-profit organizations ranging from start-ups, small and many family-run businesses to international companies and members of the Fortune 500.
Much of his work is with executives and business owners developing plans and the action steps to carry them out, strengthening management, leadership talent and teamwork. Consulting often involves executive coaching, workshops, training and planning sessions.
After receiving his PhD, Mark worked in several executive positions in industry before founding Frohman Consulting Corp in 1985. He is on several boards, has served as an Associate Editor of Industry Week magazine and currently writes a business management column.