What do you think of when you hear the word leader or leadership?
“Leadership is the constant pursuit to enlarge one’s capacity…”
A Pastor at one of the leadership conferences I attended last Fall opened his talk with this one line and what a powerful line it is…
This statement isn’t stiff or rigid, it suggests movement and active growth. What??? I thought leadership was about consistency, about expecting your team to produce and about actually doing the job. But with this one line I had ah “ah-ha!” moment. Leadership wasn’t solely about meeting a goal (numbers or dollars). True leadership requires having a vision and a passion, it requires investing in one’s own personal and professional growth and development. Leadership requires making connections and investments in the group you lead. Leaders are constantly learning, adapting and growing.
Tough leadership lessons from the field…
Communication: effective communication is critical to every organization’s success. Because it is so critical you should constantly be asking questions about this process…how are you communicating? are you constantly telling your staff what you need or what you want/expect or are you encouraging conversations when appropriate? what missteps have you made in the past and are you making the most of those mistakes and learning from them? Keep in mind that effective communication often requires a flow of information in multiple directions so you shouldn’t expect that because you’ve given instructions that you’ve effectively communicating with your team. Merriam Webster offers this definition a: a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior. You might want to note that effective communication requires AN EXCHANGE, not just directions.
Goals: Everyone in your company and on your team (including you) should have goals so setting goals should be a priority for your team and your team leaders. What is our goal? What is the companies goal? What are the companies core values and mission; these should drive goals and inform decisions. Make sure everyone has goals: have your goals, make sure your team leaders set goals for themselves and with their team on an annual or quarterly basis (depending on your business). Check in from time to time to keep everyone focused on their goals. It’s easy to get sidetracked when there’s so much work to do.
Flexibility: Is your company or organization expanding? Has there been a shift in management or ownership? Be prepared to adjust your mindset with change. If you’re expanding, be careful with the “it’s just us” mindset (this is especially dangerous when it’s only been “us” for a long time). Expansion means more space but it means more people too (outsiders). Expansion, change is management or ownership means a new culture will be introduced, a new set of people and a new set of values will be infused into your current environment. Give your team some space to figure out how global changes will impact them. Expect they will go through personal changes and be flexible while they do some reflecting and make adjustments. Remember, in most cases, whether you’re in an office or in the field, you spend most of your day with the people you work with, not your spouse or loved ones. Try to make the most of this time. Be invested in each other and without becoming their counselors consider the value in giving your team a safe place to go through life. Be prepared, flexible and ready to change.
Fear Factor: Always keep in mind that some people don’t tolerate change well. Whether your company is introducing a new concept or is changing (relocating, changes in management or ownership) your team will need time to adjust. Give everyone an opportunity to share their fears and, without wasting valuable time, try to address their fears with facts or reasonable explanations.
Time and Energy Management: Effective leadership requires a lot of time and energy. It requires energy to motivate, correct, and keep everyone together. Manage your time well. Set limits and be prepared to push yourself. Energy “lifts things, pushes things forward and moves things and energy can be transferred. Make sure your energy is positive or you can quickly pollute the energy pool at your organization. Humans refuel differently, find your source of fuel and make the most of it. Take time to refuel and be sure to keep some in reserve for those really tough days.
Celebrate! Humans need validation so accomplishments should be celebrated organization or company-wide. This will send the message “we are one”. If your child or spouse won an award you would surely share that with the rest of the family…so share the individual successes of your employees with the rest of the team. Share your companies successes with those who make it a successful organization or company…everyone from the front line to top management/decision makers. Remember, the achievements you find important enough to celebrate will typically be repeated.
Five Star Expectations: Maintain excellence! Everyone should have a five star experience at your organization; those you serve and those you lead. If you manage people at multiple sites be sure that the same experience is available to new team members at all of your locations. Take the very best of what you have and make the best possible experience for everyone. Place value on your greatest asset — THE PEOPLE! Treat your staff with excellence, treat the people you serve with excellence and respect and then you can expect the same of them. The Walt Disney franchise has invested time and money in building a customer service experience that is unlike any other. They go to great lengths to make sure that everyone has the same experience at any one of their locations across continents! Their reputation is unmatched because they are consistent in their training and maintain high expectations.
Watch your mouth and your body language: One of the speakers at one of the conferences I attended said, “our words have a positive or negative charge”, I guess I always knew this but I never considered the power of our words or that “charge”. Talk about each other, the company, its goals or vision with respect. Honor those involved in making the day to day stuff happen. Negative talk, harsh reactions to frustration and impulsive facial reactions are disrespectful and they influence those around you. Negative conversations about others will leave a permanent impression on your team. If you’re capable of speaking ill of one person then you become the person who is likely talking about everyone else. Negative talk, gossip and expressed frustration will likely cast doubt on everything you say and do.
Collaborate! Collaboration isn’t just a nice word or trendy term. True collaboration is critical and should be practiced! It’s not good enough to say that you collaborate but make decisions in a vacuum. While a good leader knows that it is necessary sometimes to make critical decisions quickly a good leader also knows that input from different levels of command are important in making an informed decision.
Assessments: Take the time to assess your staff, their successes and failures, and your processes. Be honest about what works and what doesn’t work without nit-picking and destroying your team. Prioritize when you assess your team; are the mistakes and missteps part of a larger problem or did someone just have a bad day? Consider the root of the issue before addressing your team and give your team a chance to explain in a safe environment when you ask about the misstep.
Make sure you have solid systems in place and that your leaders understand these systems and why they are in place. Take the time to review your processes and explain. Reassess your systems; if they are outdated or no longer serve the purpose for which they were created get rid of them. Involve the staff on the front lines in the assessment process. They will typically have great insight and would likely be the first to identify an outdated system that is no longer necessary. They are also the ones who can tell you if there are holes in your systems. Bring that front line in on the conversation with your leaders and together fill those holes. Functioning on a day to day basis, making large scale changes or expanding with a broken system will lead to more work and possibly failure.
Who matters? The people you lead and the people you serve matter the most. Maintain a healthy focus on them! Be careful not to make decisions that are in the best interest of the leadership and not the people who make it happen or the people you serve. Remember that everyone on the totum pole is critical to the success of your company or organization.
If maintenance isn’t cleaning your space well then that will send a message that you don’t care. If the books are not managed well, your company cant be successful very long. If the person who greets the people you serve with an attitude then you can’t be an organization that is investing in serving well. Understanding the value of everyone in your organization, celebrating them as an individual and valuing their contributions are all critical to your success. You can have a brilliant CEO but if the receptionist is rude and disrespectful then the people you serve may never know just how brilliant that CEO is. If your chef creates culinary miracles he may not have the opportunity to make those meals if your wait staff aren’t trained on how to properly take orders and make every customer feel welcome.
Develop your team and know when to cut your losses: Invest in multiplying your talented team players and capture their excitement, passion and knowledge. Know that you cannot do all things and be everything to everyone so find the gems among you, the potential leaders, and build them up. Bring those key players up along side you for a season but be careful not to keep them up on the mountain too long.
Sometimes its best to give people the necessary training and to let them dive in head first. Think about the biggest lessons you’ve learned, were they lessons someone taught you or lessons you’ve learned from your own personal mistakes and accomplishments?
Create a safe environment to empower your up-and-coming leaders but give them a safe place to land when they trip and fall. You want to be realistic about this because we all trip and fall at some point.
Know also that there will be some who, despite what you say or do, will never see the vision or catch the fire that motivates your organization. In those cases make sure you address those who shouldn’t be on your team as they’ll likely bring down the rest of the team. A good coach or team owner knows when its time to trade the quarter back and when to bring in someone new. Collaborate with your top leaders and once you are sure you’ve given them the necessary feedback on problem areas, and you’ve done all you can to help them correct the problem, go ahead and cut your ties. You have to preserve your team and keep the momentum going. Hopefully with the right feedback they’ll also know that they weren’t the right fit for your organization or that they’ve outgrown you. They might even end up discovering, via the feedback you provided, that they should be heading in a different direction altogether (i.e. another career, a smaller company etc). Honest feedback can be priceless.