Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Leadership and Concensus

There is a school of thought that tends to relate consensus with leadership. While you could define this as a completely democratic way of utilizing leadership, it typically increases bureaucratic issues and the time it takes to make decisions. This is especially true given that any one individual doesn't assume the responsibility for making a decision.

In my opinion a more effective approach is to utilize group discussions to uncover concerns, ideas, or opportunities for improvements prior to the final development of an initiative or making a decision. This way you can include ideas from your team when and where it makes the most sense in order to gain higher levels of buy-in. The rest of the process is in the leader's ability to effectively lead his or her team to the right conclusion by asking a series of leading questions. This way the group can come to their own conclusions via the path that is carved out by the leader. If done effectively your people will ultimately end up at the right destination.

While democratic leadership models have flaws, so do those that are autocratic in nature. I personally believe the right model is somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. I like to define our leadership culture at The Employment Guide and www.EmploymentGuide.com as "controlled autonomy." While this is an oxymoron, this terminology does a good job in defining the way we give our leaders definable parameters by which to make local decisions within the breadth of their authority. Anything that falls outside of this scope will ultimately need senior manager approval. This provides balance while keeping our organization nimble and flexible as to better deal with current and emerging competitive threats. You can use our leadership style at all levels in order to better improve performance while remaining engaged in your business.

Consensus can also work against a leader if they allow themselves to be lead more by their team than leading. If a manager becomes to dependent on their team to direct the business the leader then becomes more of a facilitator verses a true leader. Once a leader is removed from the navigation and ownership of the business they are likely to fail. The line between leading and being lead can occasionally become fine in nature. My advice is when you, as the leader feel that these lines are about to cross be sure to quickly review your objectives and the need to make decisions based on the needs of the business verses what is best for the individual. The most effective leaders have a way of creating the perception that both of these objectives are parallel and intertwined into an organizations culture.

How would you define your leadership style?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Bench Strength

A common trait among effective leaders is in their ability to attract, retain, and surround themselves with talented people. What happens when one of these most-trusted folks leaves? Well, another trait, although not as common is in the ability to successfully execute succession planning. While some companies live and die with this practice and make it a bureaucratic process, others leave this up to the individual managers to properly execute. Let's face it, if you are not developing your replacement you are going to make it a lot harder for the company to move you into a position of greater authority or responsibility. Yes, succession planning is key to one's professional growth.

Our company, The Employment Guide, has a structured MIT (Manager in Training) program that is executed through senior and local management but is administered or measured by our training department. This has proven to be effective since it frees up our leaders time to focus on the actual teaching part of the program verses the related paper-work. We are also very close to the introduction of a new senior manager developmental program which will allow for a more formal developmental process to aid in the future development of our most talented folks. These types of programs are key in setting a cultural direction for the entire organization to be open in embracing the development of our people. This is and will continue to be a critical element in the success of our organization. We understand that our people are what truly differentiates us from the competition. We have great pride in knowing that we are committing resources to aid in the professional development of our people as well as their overall knowledge level about the changing landscape of our industry.

Succession planning is very important to me personally. I have been the benefactor of some great mentors in my professional life that successfully instilled this practice into my core personal leadership philosophy. I, like those before me, will do my best to continue to be an active part of the process and steer our organization in a direction that is people development oriented.

Are you currently working with someone on their development into a leadership role. There is not a better way to gain a greater understanding for a subject than to take on the responsibility of a teaching it. You put yourself in a position to learn more just to stay one step ahead of your student. In fact, by focusing on the development of others you end up truly focusing on your own development. That is a great gift to give yourself, your people, and your organization.

Put yourself in a good position to compete for that next promotion. Get busy developing your replacement. Better yet, develop 3 or 4 people who could step in and do your job tomorrow. This way you can easily move on to assume greater responsibility.

Who on your team is your replacement? Is it a "no brainer" in terms of your boss making the same decision? What about their boss? If you cannot answer that question with certainty you have some work to do. If you do not have someone that is stepping up in terms of being your replacement you best get busy with the recruiting and hiring process.

Good succession planning is good for you as the leader, your people, and your organization. Take it seriously and it will set you apart from the crowd.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Leadership Repair

When times are tough leadership is more closely scrutinized. Once a staff or team feels the impact of a change in a local or office market, for whatever reason, it is up to the leader to lay out a course of action or alternative solutions to get their team back on track in obtaining success. Lack of such action by a leader results in a continuation of negative performance trends and ultimately loss of key personnel. Ultimately, this leads to a loss of confidence among personnel in product, company, and leadership. Once all three of these issues have been allowed to come to fruition it can be impossible to reverse negative trending and performance without new leadership.

By being completely engaged in their business effective leaders avoid these types of situations. Although it is true that some circumstances can be outside of a leader's ultimate control (economy, weather, etc.), quality leadership finds or create ways to overcome obstacles without allowing excuses to replace confidence or productivity.

How is the confidence level of your team? Do they believe in your cause? Do they believe that you can lead them back to being successful? Are they confident in the products and services, or suite of products your company is offering? Let's face it, especially in a sales oriented business, if you as the leader have allowed the confidence level of your sales team to become shattered your leadership ability will rightfully be called into question and might even be beyond repair.

If you are int his situation, my advice is to have regular meetings and discussions with your team to stay plugged in to what is and what is not working. Demonstrate that you will not allow current obstacles to overcome your success by working on the exploration of alternative solutions until you find the one that works. Work harder and smarter than anyone else in your organization. Become the example of how to deal with a difficult business climate. This could even lead to higher levels of recognition within your company. True leadership and legacies are usually defined when times are tough. When is the last time you read a best selling business book on turning around an already top-performing operation? Always be working on a plan to overcome any obstacles while incorporating the the thoughts and ideas of the leaders on your sales floor to elevate the confidence level of your team. Repairing the confidence level among your team will also repair the greatest obstacle to your success, and ultimately will restore your ability to once again effectively lead your team to success.

Monday, May 7, 2007

The Team Member

As you have been reading through Jeff's daily blogs, I thought it would be interesting for you to hear from one of his team members. Working with Jeff and then directly for him for the past eight years in an administrative capacity, I feel I have a keen insight into what it really is like working for a true leader. First of all, there is the absolute joy of working in an environment that acknowledges extra efforts and new ideas. You relish new projects and always enjoy those "extra-mile" efforts because you know your endeavors are appreciated. Leaders know how to express what they want and then will get out of your way so you can do it; they greet you with a smile, lean forward when they’re having conversations with you as if your every word was important, frequently ask your opinion and often inquire as to how you’re doing, laugh with you, empathize with you, give you those friendly, all-knowing looks that affirm that you are in their inner circle, praise you first and then give you their constructive criticism, allow you to fly like an eagle while still being able to rein you in so that your project stays within feasible parameters, increase your self-confidence, and instill in you such a passion for what you do for a living that each day in their employment is received by you as a gift. Each senior manager in this company to whom I have given administrative support has been such a leader. Why, because leaders at the very top raise up others to have the same leadership skills. What is not naturally ingrained in the team member is taught and personified by the leader. Work becomes fun and the stress and timelines of large-scale projects are alleviated by a cohesive effort, an old-fashioned team spirit and a little humor.

"The great leaders are like the best conductors - they reach beyond the notes to reach the magic in the players." -Blaine Lee

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Leading Up

Leadership responsibility is typically associated with leading followers. Two less discussed aspects of leadership is in the leading of peers and leading up (leading your boss). John Maxwell goes into depth on each of these subjects in his book tilted, The 360 Degree Leader. This blog post is based on my interpretation of his ideology.

In my opinion, the most difficult of the aforementioned three leadership propositions is in leading up. This requires effectively earning a very high level of trust and respect from your superiors as to gain greater influence over the decisions that are being made that will directly impact your part of the organization. Leading up is the equivalent of taking your thoughts and ideas and making them the thoughts and ideas of your superior. The way to pave the road to this high level of trust as to gain influence on our leader's decisions requires continued excellence across multiple areas of your performance including the following.

  • You must be completely performing your professional responsibilities.
  • Be a problem solver, not just the identifier.
  • Don't be a "yes man." Give your leader the type of feedback that will allow for better decision making.
  • Demonstrate an excellent work ethic (be a heavy lifter).
  • If privately you disagree with your leader's decisions (behind closed doors discussions), publicly you must present these thoughts and ideas as if they are your own.
  • Always, without conditions and in all situations, be supportive of your leader and never, ever speak negatively about who they are, what they do, or decisions that they make.

When you give your leader respect, even when you might not fully agree with their decisions you earn higher degrees of trust and respect from your leader. This in-turn will increase the amount of influence you will have over future decisions to be made that directly impact the direction your business is headed.

"I learned that a great leader is a man who has the ability to get other people to do what they don`t want to do and like it."
Harry S. Truman 1884-1972, 33rd president of the U.S.

How much time are you investing in effectively leading up? Are you regarded as a "heavy lifter" by your superiors?

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Confidence Counts

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."
Mark Twain 1835-1910, American Humorist and Writer

An important aspect of leadership is in the building of confidence among the individuals that you lead. This could be relative to their product knowledge, ability to successfully perform the responsibilities of their job, or in their ability to become a future leader within your organization. As a leader you can never, (figuratively) "knock someone down without picking them back up, brushing them off, pointing them in the right direction and giving them a nudge." You have to remember to rebuild the confidence of your people to go out and not only execute but excel. Leaders have to come to work each and every day with a goal of leaving the business in better shape than when walking through the door that morning. This includes the building of the confidence of your people. In fact, the more time you spend building the confidence of your people the more confident they will become in you as their leader. A perfect example of this would be in the ability of a sales representative to effectively sell a product that he or she knows inside and out verses one in which the emplyee has limited knowledge. The more confident your folks are the more successful they become. As a leader, you can build confidence.

How high is the confidence level of your staff? Is it equal to yours? Do they have a strut in their step, or are they less confident in you and your products today than they were a year ago?