Leadership is learned. Whether it’s by experience, trial and error, books, mentors, bosses or coaches — we all have to learn it. There may be natural born skills and qualities that are befitting leadership, but we’ve still got to learn it.
I don’t believe in managing people. Maybe it’s just a semantical annoyance to me, but it smacks of manipulation and control. As a business builder I wanted to manipulate and control products and processes. Inventory control is an activity that includes the term, “control.” A business with inventory must manipulate that inventory to operate profitably. I believe in managing products, processes and work. But when it comes to people I believe in leading. That includes training, developing, supporting, serving and accountability.
Executives – organizational leaders – are most often dual-role workers. They have to manage work (all forms of it) and they have to simultaneously lead people.
The fundamental job of every executive is to make high value decisions. That means the decisions must be made quickly and accurately. But there’s a lot more to it.
Making good (even great) decisions requires:
a. due diligence in gathering valid information
b. wise discernment of the options and choices
c. sufficient speed
d. proper efficient execution
e. comprehensive follow-through and accountability
There are some smaller steps within each of these, but that’s the general overview of the decision-making process. This is the central activity of every executive and it’s where we provide value for our organization. We’re paid to make good decisions that bring value to the organization. The better our decision-making, the more value we can bring to the organization. The more value we bring to the organization, the higher our own value. Executive careers rise and fall based on our ability to make good decisions…and that includes our ability to execute. The execution is where our decisions are tested and proven.
All along the way people are involved. We involve people in the information gathering phase. Intelligence isn’t merely facts and figures – it’s insight provided by others. When I enter an organization I’m interested in finding out the collective experience of the team. These days it’s fairly common to encounter a top leader of a team with team members far more experienced in the organization or industry. That’s intelligence the executive can put to good use. The final decision may rest on the executive, but wise leaders will rely on the collective wisdom of others to gather information and explore the various options available before deciding. The more a leader can effectively use that collective wisdom to benefit the process, the better.
People are also involved in the execution of the decision. Leaders need strong, capable people with a high degree of willingness to carry the load of getting the thing done properly. The people doing the work need (and deserve) good leadership to serve and support them in their work.
Service and value are the two major drivers behind effective leadership. Not ego or control. Not ambition or promotion. Every leader’s worth is determined by the positive impact they have on the organization. It’s not merely about doing the work…or in doing the work well. Regularly I hear executives lament some team member whose work product is perfectly fine, if not excellent — but the person is difficult to work with, or alongside. They may have a caustic demeanor, or poor communication skills. It’s rare for such a person to remain part of any team because their value is diminished by their liabilities. So it is with an executive who may be able to make great decisions, but lessen their value due to off-setting negative behaviors.
Service and value are game changing ideas in the life of every truly effective leader. They characterize the very best leaders. Mostly, because they’re not self-serving. By putting the focus on helping others succeed, the effective leader finds new levels of personal success. It’s much easier to talk about than it is to do. But if you can find the path to commit to it, it can change everything and put your executive career on a new trajectory you may have never thought possible. It’s a competitive edge on two fronts: a) it’s uncommon and b) it produces positive results that are difficult to match.
Where’s your value as a leader?
It’s in your value to serving your organization by helping others succeed, or achieve results they wouldn’t otherwise. It’s in your ability to invest in good or great decision-making and in propelling others forward in the work. It’s not easy work. Nor is it work you’ll ever finish. Effective leaders can’t hide, lose focus or put their grow slack in the work.
What’s so hard about it?
All the constraints, hurdles and roadblocks that get in the way. And that’s just for starters. There’s also the hostility of the environments and circumstances. Maybe it’s a down economy, rising interest rates, restricted budgets, limited resources, broken machinery, bad weather and more. Then there are the unforeseen fire storms that crop up just when we thought we had things under control. Just to prove to us how fallible and vulnerable we really are. Humility makers.
These things – and more – provide excuses. Most of us have used one or more of them. Some of us rely on them often.
You hear it when a retailing company says that sales would have been better last month, but we had record rainfall. You hear it when a sale organization complains that an arch rival undercut pricing with predatory marketing tactics. And you hear it when a logistics leader complains that competent truck drivers are almost impossible to hire.
Managers must manage. Leaders must lead. Those are just short quips for the practical reality that every effective leader must eventually learn.
You must perform no matter what.
That doesn’t mean you do whatever it takes by cutting corners, compromising integrity, sacrificing ethics or breaking the law. Nor does it mean you do whatever it takes by trampling on people, alienating partners or cheating customers. It means that you perform acts of service and value regardless of the obstacles or circumstances.
No-Matter-What Is The Acid Test
Many people claim they’d do this or that if only something else were in play. “We’d have hit our quota if only the weather would have been better,” says a sales manager. “I’d be more decisive if my Divisional President would support me, ” says the VP. “If I just had a budget 10% higher I’d be able to execute a better strategy,” says the general manager of production.
These are examples of leaders who’ve yet to learn the “no-matter-what” way to effective leadership. Honestly, I think it’s the ONLY strategy to effective leadership. I’m not saying other styles or methodologies won’t produce positive numbers. I’ve seen autocratic tyrants produce record setting sales and profits. But they’re not sustainable over the long haul. You can cost cut your way to record profits only to find yourself fighting for your financial life just a few quarters down the line. Short-term success can be had by just about any method out there. That’s where the no-matter-what methodology trumps all the others. It’s uncompromising, unwavering and always does the right* thing.
* The right thing being defined as what best serves the organization and the people who help make the organization successful.
That doesn’t mean that all the people on the team of an effective leader agree with or are pleased with the decisions. It’s not about making people happy. It’s about helping people achieve and perform at their best…or helping them improve toward that end.
Suppose you’re feeling ill. You know something is wrong, but you’ve no idea what. You make an appointment with your doctor. You want to hear her tell you that everything is fine, but you know that’s not true. You’d be pleased to hear that you’ve got an inner ear infection, easily solved with antibiotics. But you’d only be pleased if that’s the truth. What if the truth is grim? Do you still want to hear the truth? Of course you do. It’s your life. It’s important to you. You need to know what’s going on and what options are available to solve this health problem.
You want your doctor to properly diagnose you and inform you no matter what. So it goes with your leadership.
Unfortunately, some leaders deceive their team. They withhold critical information that would help their team perform better. They sabotage the success of others by behaving poorly. Intentions don’t matter. Poor tactics, habits and behaviors are without excuse. And I don’t much care if ignorance is the cause. No organization that strives toward high performance should tolerate ineffective leadership. It’s the responsibility of the organization to hire, train and retain effective leaders. Part of that includes holding leaders accountable. Truth matters. Doing the right thing is always the highest value proposition. Just like the truth told by your doctor about your health.
I ask questions. Lots of questions. I listen. I prompt further discussion. It’s how I accomplish my work of helping – and serving – leaders.
I pay attention to details. Body language. Words. Phrases. Looks. Glances. Stories people tell. What isn’t said.
I’m very driven to help leaders improve because they impact so many lives. Men and women, young and old, are influenced by “the boss.” That makes the work of every boss crucial to the welfare of not just the organization, but of the lives of those they lead. Don’t take that responsibility lightly or casually because it’s important work.
Leadership is a high risk, high value proposition. Your failure will negatively impact many people. Your success will change lives. The value proposition of effective leadership gives bosses an opportunity to not available to just anybody. Many people are clamoring to make a difference. The leader is making a difference. For good. Or bad.
Go all in. Devote yourself to lifelong learning and improving. Learn how to help people more effectively. Commit to serving your team, your organization. Serve your boss. Serve your people. Serve your peers. Don’t be stingy. Or egotistical. Stop fretting about who gets credit. Focus on helping other people do their very best work. That’s where your value is built. It can’t be avoided. It’s apparent when a person is in charge who has that spirit driven by a “no-matter-what” motivation. Be that leader.
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