Effective leadership has always been a passion of mine and I‘ve been thinking a lot about it lately. Specifically the leadership skills necessary for the next two decades.
I see a definite lack of abundance in leadership skills in the hamlet I now live and play (as compared to the hamlets I used to live and play in) and too frequently I want to reach out and yell loudly, hello, stop all your go along to get along behaviours. You are NOT doing yourself, your business, your employees and your community any favours! Pick up your socks now else you simply will continue to fade into oblivion. Sigh.
Today, there seems to be an abundance of people who are quite taken with the ideas of Simon Sinek. I admit he puts forth some very solid thoughts. For my taste, I find them rather rudimentary. I prefer to dwell on the “what do we need to do differently today if we are going to survive and thrive tomorrow” issues.
So, when I do meet the leaders today who seem to have the right stuff (i.e. leadership skills) or at least the right level of appreciation to achieve the right things for tomorrow, I have three questions to gauge their readiness.
1. Where are you looking today to anticipate the next change to your business model or your life? (Hint: it is on your calendar)
2. What is the diversity measurement of your network? (Hint: besides the usual, it should also include a cross-section of physical, functional, political, cultural, and socio-economic.)
3. How courageous are you? (Hint: enough to abandon a practice that made you successful in the past?)
I know you can see these are very compelling questions and frankly, they sometimes take the asked person back. But the ensuing discussions delve quite deep and eventually get to the heart of the most significant issues of the business. (It is not a 30-minute one and done dialogue either.)
Businesses which falter, fail or never seem to fly on all cylinders generally do so because of a poor or no focus attitude. The very successful enterprises are laser-focused on NO MORE than three strategies, goals, objectives or ‘things’.
Those three strategies or ‘things’ get subdivided into many different tasks which are then spread, cascaded or assigned throughout the entire organization. One of the many tasks of an excellent leader does is to make sure those strategies, goals, objectives, or ‘things’ get done within the time frame and the budget determined.
However, a formidable 21st-century leader will simultaneously shepherd his/her team through the complexities of the new world, see around ALL the corners, and shape the future TOGETHER with his/her team.
And if we dare to admit it, there seems to be more of this kind of leader in the huge multinational corporations rather than in the small and medium-sized space. Seriously, there just aren’t too many with a business of less than $100 million in sales who seem to do this at all.
Which got me thinking …
First, some interesting factoids. Generally most North American SME today are declining in their ability to implement and then execute their strategies, goals, objectives and ‘things.’ (This is supported by reams of studies and data points from Harvard Business Review, the Boston Consulting Group and other top think tanks.)If you were to ask most of the senior leaders of small and medium-sized companies what they think their success rate is in implementing their ‘things’ annually, the statistics would range between 25% and 30%. In other words, 70% to 80% are NOT making their objectives and plans. The singular reason for that is they do not have that prime leadership skill of a laser focus.
Worse, when the employees of those same companies answered a few standard questions about working at that company — this is what they say
2 out of 3 employees do not understand what the organisation is about,
4 out of 5 employees do not feel connected to the organisation and,
9 out of 10 employees don’t particularly care about being energised and committed to contributing.
YOWZA! That is some very real, very scary, very depressing data. No focus and precious little employee engagement. This is what technology, the sonic pace of life, the collapse of the industrial age, and the rise of AI and digital has done to the small and medium-sized businesses.
In order to be a successful leader for today and tomorrow, the SME leader must now take a massive leapfrog jump. They must continue to do the impossible as quickly as possible — better than last year. BUT simultaneously, they must also learn and perfect the fundamentals, then become Superman, leap tall buildings AND see around all the corners. (What a stack of leadership skills, eh?)
And frankly, anyone who has been around for more than twenty years in business knows that successful leadership is near impossible when you DON’T have a laser focus on just three ‘things’.
Sadly, too many small and medium-sized business owners and leaders are not to blame for this state of affairs, have unwittingly been set up for failure and don’t even realize it.
I have a solution. It is not easy. But it does work.
Are You a Parent?
Are you a good parent? If you said yes, how did you get that way? Yes, that is a serious question.
Leadership is very similar to parenting. None of us is born with the skills. The position does not come with a manual. Yet, if we want to and are keen to, we can learn the basic skills – from books, from watching others who are excellent at it and from classroom exercises (or video and practice). In other words, a whole bunch of leadership skills can be learned!
Some of us will deliberately choose to do the opposite of everything that was ever done to us because we learned or saw all the wrong ways. Some of us will just leave the work to others because well, that is just so much easier. And others of us will throw ourselves at the job — simply to prove to ourselves or others that yes we CAN.
Each of us will tackle parenting and leadership based on what our hearts and our heads tell us. Because for some of us, parenting comes naturally. For others of us, parenting will never be natural. For some of us, leadership is the furthest thing we should attempt. For others, leadership is the most natural thing we can do.
And just like being a parent, not everyone is born to be, is suited for, has the aptitude for or should be a part of leadership. Most of us did not have perfect families; neither did we have perfect bosses. But I do want to draw your attention to one truth.
ALL of us have seen men who were terrible fathers become amazing grandfathers. ALL of us have seen women who were passible mothers become exemplary grandmothers. Maybe you had a parent who was less than stellar to you but has proven simply outstanding in the grandparent department.
Maybe you know someone who has become that way. We have ALL seen and been awe-struck by massive changes between grandparents and parents – in the same person.
The reasons for that massive change are many. The typical first three though are —
1. Guilt (at being so horrible the first time around),
2. The accomplishment of the first set of goals. (Traditionally one reaches the apex of one’s career by age 55)
3. A change in priority or lifestyle. (Which means there is more time available to devote to one’s family)
What happens is the grandparents have a bit of an awakening. They realize they have limited time left and maybe just one opportunity to make it all count.
With a newfound urgency, they develop a reputation for sharing the complexities of the new world. In the process, they straddle the old world and embrace the new. They leap tall buildings and see around the corners. They shape the future with the grands. First by LISTENING to them, then by asking their opinion, then by valuing their input and finally by actively learning with them.
The phrase Business Is Personal — is the cornerstone of my belief system. What if we invested ourselves in our people and our teams like we were the grandparents — irrespective of our ages? Treat everyone like family. Listen. Share. Help them succeed so we can ALL succeed. And change our focus from me to we. That would shake things up, wouldn’t it?
Yes, I have done it. Guess what? Profits, employee engagement and joy goes through the roof. Targets get surpassed. You create an extraordinary impact.
How is it done?
Here is a simple start —
- 1. Get out of the business of directly managing people. That does not add value anywhere. Instead, raise the expectations of everyone and allow the teams to govern themselves.
- 2. Inculcate cross-functional team problem-solving. Break down the silos and allow more across the organisation input.
- 3. Reward on results, never on seniority or position.
Notice I said a simple start; not an easy start. Truly, this can be overwhelmingly scary for some and liberating for others.
However here is what happens. Your ordinary people start to generate extraordinary results. You have simple processes which can easily be followed. They free you up from your daily time-sucking fire fighting activities.
You then fill that time with thoughtful pondering on my three questions. And take the necessary actions on the weaknesses you discover. Which means as a Leader, you strengthen your overall position. And enable your team to meet all the challenges the 21st Century will throw at you.
You will be ready to survive and thrive. I promise.
To your success!