The key to personal leadership

bannerJob descriptions, performance reviews, incentive schemes and recognition programmes are often box-ticking activities in organisations, which seldom lead anywhere. Overviewing these various systems and their execution may make managers feel that they are earning their keep, but are they really contributing all that much to the required outcomes?

Counting what the heads do and getting those heads to think are different challenges. The latter challenge necessitates cultivating people, which is the “new black” for managers, as they must move up and into leadership roles.

So, what is the difference between being a manager and a leader? Leadership is all about creating environments that influence others to achieve group goals, because people will willingly support a world they create.

Management is the creation, implementation and monitoring of processes. People will willingly comply with a process that helps them succeed.

Moving forward means designating the next level of achievement. In our busy lives, with a deluge of emails every day, spiced up with endless dreary meetings, we can sometimes forget what the point of work is, as we are totally consumed with activity.

We need to set a vision for the team of where we want to be and what the next level for us should be. It must be concrete, clear and well communicated.

I ran across one vision the other day: “delivering extraordinary customer experiences”. A rather ambiguous statement, as you could be delivering extraordinarily bad experiences to your customers! A bit more clarity is needed back at HQ by the look of that one.

It raises the point though, that clarity in communication is key if you want to get people behind you. Don’t kid yourself; semantics matter.

Where possible, get buy-in to the vision, so that it is a shared process. This may be difficult when “the vision” comes loftily down from on high, but there are always subsets of the vision for the work group that can take it to a further concrete stage, or which further clarify the main message for the reality facing the team.

With a successfully shared vision, the troops cease seeing their role as robotic task completion, and switch to a mind-set of results completion.

How about down at your shop—is there a shared vision (or subset of the vision)? Is the team focused on painting by numbers or on producing a group triumph? Do they know what the designation is for the next level?

We ask people to step up, but that also requires them to take on risks—of the new or the different. The outcomes must be totally defined and clear, and the team must buy in to achieve them in order to step out of their current mode and take on the risks of the unknown.

The fear that “there be dragons” is a strong gravitational pull away from innovation or anything shiny and new. It must be countered by you.

Leadership begins to include self-leadership when we have buy-in and clarity, because it allows the team to be more self-directed, handling their available resources without the need for micro-management.

We can all quote buzzwords such as empowerment and empowered behaviour, but actually realising such concepts is another matter.

The poor communication skills of people in charge are often the breakdown point. The “vision statement” penned by the CEO goes up on the wall in a nice frame, on expensive paper, safely protected behind glass and on view for everyone to completely ignore from then on. But, it has to live.

If staff cannot quote the vision on demand and from memory, the firm is not even on the first rung to having a real vision.

It is not a one-shot pronouncement and move-on affair. It always amazes me, how often you have to keep telling the team the same thing, for it to really permeate. It just points to the fact we are competing with a whole bunch of other stuff for the real estate of cluttered minds.

When you ask senior executives to identify the most significant personal characteristic needed by management, they will dutifully trot out “the ability to work with people”. Take a look at the expense line in your profit and loss statement—people are a huge component.

Yet, so many leaders are woeful communicators. They are often promoted into positions of accountability, on the basis that they count.

Leaders fall into certain categories: insular, brainy, technical experts; the chief financial officers, who can’t grow the business, but can watch the bottom line like a legend; and the idiosyncratic salespeople who do things “my way”, but can’t teach it to anyone else.

We need to educate these smart people how to be people smart—it is a different attitude and skill set.

The executive decisions get carried out by people, but how much time does a leadership team spend building people, as opposed to issuing directives, giving orders or providing technical guidance? These activities are all about the “how” and zero on the “why”.

Time to start work on some personal leadership: strongly communicate the why and get the team to create a shared vision of your organisation’s better and brighter future.