A to Z of Leadership Qualities

Leadership Qualities

Great leaders come in all shapes and sizes, genders and cultures, but they all possess many of the qualities I’ve highlighted below in the Think Oak A to Z of Leadership Qualities:

A – Agile

In today’s economic climate, it is more important than ever for leaders to be agile. Agile leaders are not only exceptional at coping with change, but also in driving it, anticipating the markets, or even creating new ones. They have high tolerance for ambiguity and are actually energised by the possibility of creating something new and different.

B – Balanced

Balanced leaders effectively juggle the importance of meeting their business objectives – sales, revenues, margins and cash flow, and the importance of looking after the needs of their people – committing to their success, motivating their people to be the best they can be and caring for their safety and wellbeing at work.

C – Communicator

Great leaders are great communicators. Regardless of whether you’re talking about business, politics, sports or the military, the best leaders are first-rate communicators. Their values are clear and solid, and what they say promotes those values. Their teams admire them and follow their lead. Likewise, if you want your company to reach new heights of achievement, you must master the art of clear communication and employee engagement.

D – Decisive

Making decisions is the defining aspect of leadership. There has never been a leader who made only right decisions. An effective decision made at the right moment is far better than no decision at all. A decisive leader carefully weighs the potential effects of each option and chooses the opportunity that works best for his or her organisation. To be decisive, you must also feel comfortable taking responsibility for the results of your decisions.

E – Energetic

Energy, and specifically positive energy, is hugely important for successful leadership. Having a reserve of positive energy has a tremendous impact on your ability to navigate to success with less stress.  Positive energy attracts people for better networks and recruitment, motivates and inspires people in your organisation, and enables you to thrive and overcome any obstacles that may come your way throughout the day.

F – Focussed

Leaders have the potential for numerous distractions. The tougher the times, the more you have to focus. Leaders must choose wisely what to focus on and they must judge the context of any situation well enough to decide what to drill down on and what to ignore as background noise.

“Disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and take disciplined action: this framework captures much of what separates greatness from mediocrity”Jim Collins, Good to Great

G – Genuine

Effective leaders are honest. Be upfront with your people and trust them enough to communicate openly and authentically together. It’s important to build a level of mutual trust within your team so that each person feels comfortable addressing his or her concerns with you. People will very quickly see through leaders that say one thing and do another.

H – Helping Others

Investing in the success of others – your people, your peers and your customers is a quality found in the greatest of leaders. They recognise the importance of investing precious time and energy in supporting growth of other people, helping them to be the best they can be. They see potential in others and want to create opportunities for them to grow and advance, and they seek opportunities to empower them to succeed.

I – Inspirational

Great leaders believe that people determine a company’s success or failure. It is not the size of the building, how cool the product is, or even the best equipment or process that determines success. What propels and sustains a successful organisation is its diverse team of talented, motivated people.

The ability to inspire people to reach great heights of performance and success is a skill that leaders need. Passion, purpose, listening and meaning help make a leader inspirational. The ability to communicate that passion, purpose and meaning to others helps establish the inspirational culture of your organisation.

J – Just

Great leaders can be just or fair and still make bold and decisive leadership decisions quickly. Being just is perhaps the trait most noticeable in great leaders and that which separates them from the ordinary, old-fashioned status quo style of leadership. If people perceive a leader to be unjust or subjective in his or her judgment, the inspiration to follow will slow the entire leadership process to a snail’s pace.

K – Knowledgeable

Leaders must have a large range of information and knowledge at their disposal.  This means they read widely and communicate this knowledge effectively to the people they lead. Great leaders never stop learning about their industry, themselves, their team, and how to best motivate their people. They realise that there is never a point when you know everything; there is always something new to learn. I’m not saying you have to know everything and do everything. No one person should do it all — and if they are self-aware, most people will realise that they really aren’t capable nor knowledgeable enough to do it all.

L – Listener

Great leaders understand the 2:1 ratio—two ears and one mouth. Leaders don’t just give orders. They listen to their team, their customers, their peers, and their competitors because they know it is the best way to understand a situation so they can make the best decision possible.

“We should never pretend to know what we don’t know, we should not feel ashamed to ask and learn from people below, and we should listen carefully to the views of the cadres at the lowest levels. Be a pupil before you become a teacher; learn from the cadres at the lower levels before you issue orders.”

— Mao Tse-tung

M – Motivated

It’s possible to teach someone to be a leader, but truly effective leaders are already passionate and motivated about what they do. Your enthusiasm and level of commitment can inspire your team members and motivate them to do better work. Modelling the attitude you want each person to have is one of the most effective ways to lead your team toward a successful destination.

N – Nurturing

There’s a big difference between managing others to success—and teaching others to find success themselves. Great leaders find satisfaction not only in teaching others but also in nurturing them—in showing others how they can become more than they ever believed they could. These types of leaders have a strong drive to invest in people not for the return it will give them but for the rewards it will bring to people personally.

O – Open

Leaders don’t always have the answer. They need to understand that they may not always be right and know that at times they will be wrong. It is important to stay open-minded and to consider the views of others.

In today’s fast-paced, globally hyper-connected business world in which we live, an organisation’s successes and failures can be tweeted across the internet in a matter of seconds. A knee jerk reaction of many leaders is to clamp down on the amount of information shared internally, with hopes of minimising risk to the organisation. Many times this backfires and ends up creating a culture of risk aversion and low trust. For organisations to thrive in today’s competitive marketplace, leaders have to learn how to build a culture of trust and openness.

P – Personable

Personable leaders are responsive to the needs, feelings  and interests of others. They enable, empower and challenge followers. The mutual relationship is equitable and considerate, showing genuine concern for others. These types of transforming leaders provide support, and they are helpful to others, including coaching and mentoring. In addition, because they challenge followers to stretch and take reasonable risks, these leaders are forgiving when efforts do not succeed as expected.

Q – Questioning

Leaders question. Even when they think they know the answer. Questions can be used to facilitate discussions. Questions can be asked about how people are feeling about change, what contributed to a recent success, what customers want, how to support diversity, how the world is changing, what might be needed in the future and so on. Questions are also a great way of challenging people to take a fresh look at an issue or problem, and helping them to think about the outcomes they want.

R – Results Driven

Whether you work in a public, private or voluntary organisation, great leaders need to produce results. Whatever leadership role you’re in you will have objectives and / or goals that you need to meet to be a success. Ensure you build a good team around you, build and communicate and enrol them in your strategy, set the right objectives, measure and manage performance and be prepared with plan b’s and c’s to ensure results are achieved.

S – Strategic

All leaders must set time aside on a regular basis to think about the future – the marketplace of the future, your future customers and their needs, your competitors and what they might be doing and the wider economy. As we have seen with several UK companies in the last few weeks – Comet, Jessops, Blockbusters and HMV, a failure to anticipate and change at pace, in light of the changing face of the retail marketplace and the ways that consumers purchase, has led to businesses entering into administration and putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk.

T – Trusted

Trust is the cornerstone of a healthy, positive, productive organisational climate. Without trust between leaders and those whom they lead, progress is slowed and even simple processes can become politicised and approached with caution. Risk-taking and innovation, is reduced, and collaboration is rendered difficult or impossible. Within a low trust environment, change is often approached with fear, not curiosity or hope. The actions or behaviours of leaders set the tone for trust within an organisation and once trust is broken it becomes difficult to build again.

U – Urgency

As I have said in previous posts, a sense of urgency is crucial for leaders engendering change in their teams or organisation. ‘Sense of Urgency’ by John Kotter is a great read if you want to find out more.

V – Visionary

Jack Welch said “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” Although he talks about business leaders, this leadership characteristic is far-reaching across all dimensions of leadership. Without a vision of where you want to take your organisation and the ability to communicate it effectively, you will struggle to drive any form of significant change or growth.

W – Work-Life Balance

Getting a ‘Work-Life Balance’ is important. All great leaders work hard and sometimes have to put in long hours to deliver results. Take it from someone who knows – Working ridiculously long hours on a sustained basis, is not good for you, for your family, for your relationships, for your health, for your productivity and for your people and ultimately your organisation. Find a balance that works for you and stick to it.

X – X Factor

In his book, ‘Great by Choice’ Jim Collins states – “The x-factor of great leadership is not personality, it’s humility”.

Great leaders direct their ego away from themselves to the larger goal of leading their company to greatness. The dictionary defines humility as modesty and lacking in pretence, but that doesn’t mean humble leaders are meek or timid. A humble leader is secure enough to recognise his or her weaknesses and to seek the input and talents of others. By being receptive to outside ideas and assistance, creative leaders open up new avenues for the organization and for their people.

Y – Yardstick

As a leader, your behaviours, values  and actions will be monitored by your people, whether you like it or not, and they will become the yardstick of measurement for your team or organisation.

Z – Zest for Life

Leaders enjoy what they do. They get a buzz when they hear of their team’s success – a new customer, a great sale, a customer compliment, a team winning an award or someone getting a promotion. If you don’t enjoy what you do and get a thrill from achieving great results, I would suggest it’s time for a change!

I hope you enjoyed the A to Z of Leadership post. As always would love to hear your views and other suggestions….

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THE Key Performance Indicator – Keep People Inspired

Keep People InspiredBusiness is all about measurement. Peter Drucker was an influential writer, management consultant, and self-described “social ecologist” and his quote – “What gets measured gets managed” is never more true than in today’s tough economic climate. The use of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are at the heart of most high performing businesses. However, there is often one important KPI missing,  and that is Keeping People Inspired.

That might sound trite, but without measuring the motivation of your teams in your business on a regular basis, understanding and addressing the root cause of any areas of low morale, you could be setting yourself and your teams up to fail.

An easy and cheap way to measure the motivation of your employees is through observation of how enthusiastic they are about arriving at work, interacting with colleagues and engaging in tasks they are given. In addition, the level of motivation among the work force can also be measured by the improvements in performance appraisals, and the quality of work performed. For those people new to the work force, the motivated employees will likely be the ones who demonstrate initiative by asking for additional work or more challenging assignments. For seasoned employees, their motivation is obvious in the ways they offer assistance to new employees, and seek ways to improve company processes and procedures for better efficiency and effectiveness.

A more formal and effective way to measure how your team is feeling is to survey them in some way on a regular basis. This could take the form of an online or paper survey. There are numerous examples online to help you shape your survey and ask your managers and team members to input into questions. Alternatively you can use survey agencies to help you create, compile, collate and analyse the results. Surveys should be anonymous and the questions unambiguous to get the best results. It’s important that you understand the results fully and take note of even the smallest shift backwards in team motivation. Play back the results to your team and ask them for feedback on how areas can be improved. The most important element here is to ACT on agreed changes and ACT quickly. Not acting to improve areas for improvement will decrease morale and motivation further in your team.

Assuming you’ve got measurements in place and are acting upon the results, how do you personally Keep People Inspired (assuming they were inspired at all in the first place!)?

  1. Lead by example – Practice what you preach or don’t preach at all. Be the change you want to see in your business or organisation.  If you really want to inspire others to do something, then this should be a big part of your life.  You don’t necessarily need to be an expert, but you do need to be passionately involved.
  2. Be authentic – Find the courage to keep being yourself. It won’t always be easy.
  3. Be passionate – Passion is something you must be willing to express if you want to inspire others.  You can gain a lot of influence just by publicly expressing that you are excited and passionate about a topic.  Expressive passion is contagious because of the curiosity it stirs in others.  You’ll get people wondering why you love what you love so much.  Naturally, some of them will take the time necessary to understand what it is about the topic that moves you.
  4. Be great at what you do – People watch what you do more than they listen to what you say.  Be someone worth emulating.  Most people are inspired by GREAT musicians, writers, painters, speakers, entrepreneurs, engineers, mothers, fathers, athletes, etc.  There’s only one thing they all have in common: They excel at what they do.
  5. Genuinely care about people – Most people can see through a colleague, manager or leader that doesn’t genuinely care about them as individuals. Spend time talking to your team and be genuinely interested in who they are as people.
  6. Challenge people to be the best they can be – If people know we expect great things from them, they will often go to great lengths to live up to our expectations. You are letting your people down if you do not try to develop them and help them to meet their potential.
  7. Speak up for your people – We are very connected to each other in various ways, the most important of which is our thoughts.  Out of fear, or shyness, lots of people hesitate to articulate their thoughts.  If you take the risk and say the things others are holding back, you become the glue that brings people together.
  8. Make people feel good about themselves – People will rarely remember what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.  Start noticing what you like about others and tell them.  Go out of your way to personally acknowledge and complement the people who have gone out of their way to excel.
  9. Share your Lessons Learned – When you can, be a resource to those around you. Mine the experiences of your life and share the lessons you have learned in your career.  Be vulnerable.  Be willing to share your failures as well as your successes.
  10. Keep your promises – If you say you’re going to do something, DO IT!
  11. Listen intently to what others say (and also to what they don’t say) – Make people feel important, and inspire them by showing them that they are.
  12. Communicate, communicate, and communicate clearly – Keeping things to yourself does not inspire.  Share your vision and ideas often with those around you.

I’d love to hear your stories of how you’ve been inspired and what motivates you?

The Oracle – Leadership Styles – Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of Leadership Styles – The Oracle

The late, great and inspirational Steve Jobs (Founder of Apple)  made a statement that neatly introduces The Oracle leadership style:

‘Leaders are fascinated by the future, you are a leader if, and only if, you are restless for change, impatient for progress, and deeply dissatisfied with the status quo. As a leader you are never satisfied with the present, because in your head you can see a better future, and the friction between what is and what could be burns you, stirs you, propels you forward.’

The OracleBusiness leaders do not generally have a crystal ball to predict the future of their business and guide them in their leadership decisions. The Oracle creates his / her own future vision for their business, organisation or people. Whereas some people look at the future and ask ‘why?’, the Oracle sees things that do not exist and asks ‘why not?’. They have the ability to see social and market trends and create a future. They literally can see things others cannot.

The Oracle is also capable of enlisting large numbers of followers through their passion and use of language. They are generally gifted speakers and have high levels of charisma.

If you haven’t heard or read Martin Luther King’s – ‘I have a dream….’, or JFK’s – ‘We choose to go the moon…‘, or Winston Churchill’s – ‘We shall fight on the beaches‘, you really should! Three hugely visionary speeches that instil passion, emotion and desire to be part of something big. The power of The Oracle.

The Oracle leadership style is often most effective when an organisation needs to make a step change in direction.

They often portray the following characteristics:
  • Creates an inspiring vision of how the future will look.
  • Inspires people to understand the larger purpose of their work.
  • Creates an environment where people feel pride in belonging to the organisation.
  • Operates from an inspiring set of shared core values and beliefs
  • Engages people in working towards a shared vision
  • Encourages people to innovate, experiment and take calculated risks in pursuit of the vision.
  • Aligns performance and strategy with the vision.

The Oracle is most effective when:

  • A new vision or clear direction is needed, e.g. when in a period of change – at an individual or organisational level.
  • The leader believes in the vision; and sees it as being in tune with his / her own values and those of the organisation.
  • The leader is self-confident, self-aware and empathic to others.

The Oracle is least effective when:

  •  The leader is not regarded as credible, i.e. others feel they know more about the organisation than the leader.
  • When overplayed, i.e. if trying to steal power from a team-based approach.

Summary

When effective, the Oracle motivates individuals by focussing their attention on the long-term goals of the organisation; and how each individual contributes to its delivery. When not used effectively this style fails to take into account the natural talents and experience of the knowledgeable team members.

The Oracle is the most charismatic of Leaders and comes in many forms and contexts. According to the many books and blogs on the topic of leadership, The Oracle is the person who, to a large extent, single-handedly formulates a winning vision of where and how the organisation is to be in the future and who takes prime responsibility for ensuring that the organisation’s people ‘live’ the vision.

Would love to hear your feedback!

Be sure to read part 4 of Leadership Styles – The Collaborator

Other posts in the Leadership Style Series – The Terminator and The Coach

An Elephant in the Room Part 2 – Leadership Breakthroughs

Word Cloud - Elephant in the Room

I see two distinct types of ‘Elephant’ in my line of work…and two ways of tackling them. The Management Elephant and the Leadership Elephant. This blog focusses on the latter.

If you missed Part 1 – An Elephant in the Room: Management breakthroughs, and are wondering what on earth I’m talking about, please click here

The Leadership Elephant

The Leadership Elephant is an entirely different animal to the Management Elephant. These Elephants often appear in Senior Management or Leadership Teams and are more difficult to fix.
I’m a firm believer that if you have a strong team that is truly focussed on the same goals and vision, plus believing in and displaying the same values you can be successful in any market, anywhere.
Easier said than done! And the larger the business or team you lead, the harder it can become.
By virtue of their position (but not always), Senior Managers are competent in their own field – Marketing, Finance, IT, Engineering, Sales, Manufacturing, Product Development, Human Resources etc. However, many of these managers have had limited or no development  / experience in Leadership and certainly not in creating or being part of successful Leadership Teams. They also tend to operate day-to-day in isolation to the other senior managers as they have their own teams, challenges, and budgets to worry about and so many Leadership Teams are not teams at all, they are a collective of Senior Leaders with the same boss.
The ‘unsaid’ or Elephant in the Room, within a Leadership Team can have a profound impact on the rest of the organisation, if left uncecked.Leadership Elephants centre around a few key areas:
  1. Clarity of Vision
  2. Positive conflict
  3. Accountability
  4. Honesty
  5. Commitment to each other’s success
  6. Delivery of results

1. Clarity of Vision

As a team, what are you leading for? Not as Marketing Director or Sales Director or Head of Product Development….As a TEAM, what are you COLLECTIVELY leading for?
When Leaders are pulling in different directions, the results are a tug of war and wasted energy. When everybody is pulling in the same direction, that creates forward momentum.
Lack of an agreed, cohesive vision can result in poor orientation, competing agendas and misunderstandings. Teams function much more effectively when working with one vision and one set of goals within a strategic plan.
If you haven’t got a clear vision and goals as a team – this has to be your first job. Full Steam Ahead by Ken Blanchard and Jess Stoner is a great book to help you get started!

2. Positive Conflict

Conflict can be useful. When used correctly and depending on the attitudes and perspectives of those involved, conflict can:

  • Diffuse a more serious conflict.
  • Spark action to search for more facts or solutions.
  • Increase team performance and cohesion.
  • Find out where you and the rest of the team stand on a particular topic.

So how do you get to a point where conflict can influence and help facilitate positive outcomes?

  • Accept conflict as helpful
  • Stay focused on defeating the problem, not each other
  • Be prepared with facts to solve dilemmas
  • Consider the main issue, circumstances and relationships involved
  • Remain open about the other people’s position (remembering anger is often natural reaction of conflict)
  • Be respectful, professional and focus on outcomes

Don’t over simplify things and falsely resolve a situation by avoiding the source of conflict. Avoidance is often seen by withdrawing from a situation to save the fight for another day, or smoothing the situation saying “let’s not argue,” or “It’s not really that important.”

You’re more likely to succeed if you identify the real issue, the circumstances and relationships that factor in to the situation, and consequences of the resolution.

3. Accountability

When we fail to hold others accountable, we reap the consequences. While everyone is busy pointing fingers at each other, deadlines don’t get met, work remains below standard, or customers continue to be dissatisfied. Worse yet, things won’t get better until people stop trying to affix blame and start addressing the issue that caused the problem in the first place. This cycle will continue until people take accountability for their contribution to the problem and focus on seeking solutions.

In my view, the greatest impact of not holding others accountable is that it creates a negative perception of the leadership team. When other members of your teams see you letting someone get away with not producing the agreed output or keeping commitments, they begin to wonder why they are working so hard. They wonder why you don’t take action to address a poor performer who is creating problems for the rest of the team.

Failing to hold others accountable reflects on you as a leader. It raises questions about your willingness to hold everyone to the same standards and creates the perception that you don’t treat people fairly and equitably. Pretty soon others on the team get the message about “what it takes to succeed around here” and the extent to which they can count on you as a leader.

Lack of accountability creates and reinforces a culture of blame-which, in turn, generates other problems. You may notice increased evasion and avoidance as well as a pervasive “don’t get caught” attitude. Innovation plunges as people become less willing to be creative and think out of the box. Employees take fewer risks (or stop altogether) because no one wants to be blamed if something goes wrong. Finger-pointing sessions proliferate, creating a cycle of blame that ultimately shuts down communications.

4. Honesty

If you want to receive honest feedback, start by giving it. As the people on your team observe your honesty, this will make them feel more comfortable being honest themselves. On the other hand, if you don’t practice what you preach, it’s much tougher to influence others to practice that same thing.

Where I find that most leaders have the biggest problem related to honesty, is in saying those things no one wants to hear: the bad news, the opposing opinion, the refusal, the negative feedback. This is why I think the trick to becoming more honest is becoming more courageous and talking about these kinds of things. When you can honestly talk about the sensitive stuff, being honest about anything else is easy.

People often get defensive when they hear something they don’t like. They start to deny, blame, explain and criticise others. This may lead to other team members restraining themselves from saying all they intended to say simply because they don’t like the reaction they’re getting. If you want your leadership team to speak freely and honestly, it’s essential that every time one of them starts saying something difficult, instead of getting defensive, you do something much more constructive: you get curious and ask questions. This way, you prove that you are not afraid of the truth and that your main interest is to understand facts and opinions, not save your own skin.

5. Commitment to each other’s success

Sounds easy doesn’t it? Why wouldn’t you want to commit to your other Leadership Team members’ success? Well you would be surprised…or maybe you wouldn’t.

Great business people are naturally competitive. They want to win in business. Some are quite happy to win at the expense of others in their team and even the success of the business.

To build a truly great business, I’m a firm believer that if each of you is truly committed to one another’s success you can achieve so much more, especially through the tough times.

I’m sometimes amazed at the tricks, lies, back-stabbing and U-turns that people perform to try to get themselves ahead in business. Maybe I’m naive, but I think this can only lead to longer term issues – lack of respect from your peers, your teams and no doubt your customers will suffer too.

If you want to take your business into significant growth, you need to support your team and they need to support you. You don’t need to be best friends with everyone, but you do need to watch everyone’s back, be there for each other when they need support and focus on your collective goals and vision.

6. Delivery of results

A team that is not focussed on COLLECTIVE results fails to grow, loses it’s best people, is easily distracted and focuses people on their own careers or internal quarrelling.

Every Leader has an obligation to deliver – for their stakeholders, their people and their customers and not just in financial terms.

To avoid distractions, leadership teams need to prioritise the results of the leadership team over their individual or department results.

All sounds straight forward and easy doesn’t it? Well there are a few things that tend to get in the way – Self-promotion, Career Progression and Money to name three. The ironic thing is that all three of things are likely to happen anyway if you are in a high performing leadership team, all working towards one vision, one set of values and collective results.

Most senior managers naturally focus on the results of the teams they manage, not the teams they’re members of. They spend more time with their own people, they probably get bonused on the performance of the teams they manage and they probably don’t invest as much time in building relationships with their peers. Imagine the possibilities of having really powerful relationships with your peers, where the team is accountable for the whole and not the part and when you collectively focus on your customers and positive outcomes in your marketplace….

None of the above can be fixed overnight, and needs a huge amount of collective energy to get results. But when the results come, your competitors better watch out!

Thanks for reading!

Mark Conway

An Elephant in the Room Part 1 – Management Breakthroughs

Listening for the unsaid!To paraphrase Wikipedia – An “Elephant in the room” has become a management saying meaning an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes unaddressed. It applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss and based on the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook; thus, people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there have chosen to concern themselves with tangential or small and irrelevant issues rather than deal with the looming big one.

I don’t know whether it’s because elephants are now protected by law or not, but I’m coming across many more of them than I used to!

Tackling the difficult topics in business life is hard, really hard, especially if you’re not used to having these sorts of conversations. You can choose to ignore difficult conversations and still survive in business and many do! If you’re thinking, yep that’s me, then I’d advise you to think again. If you want to be the best you can be, then you absolutely need to read on. If not, this post is not for you.

The breadth of difficult conversations is huge, so I’m not going to be prescriptive. There are so many examples, but I’ll name a few, so that we’re on the same page:

  • Poor performance or capability
  • Discrimination
  • Bullying
  • Indirect aggression
  • Actual aggression
  • Sabotage
  • Poor relationship
I see two distinct types of Elephant in my line of work…and two ways of tackling them. The Management Elephant and the Leadership Elephant. This blog will focus on the former.
The Management Elephant
The Management Elephant tends to be when you have a member of your team that is exhibiting behaviours that are not what they need to be. I was going to write ‘behaviours that are not acceptable’, but therein lies the fundamental problem. Because these behaviours are often ignored, because the conversations that need to happen to change the behaviours are hard, and therefore don’t happen, makes the behaviours acceptable….that bit is your fault!
You owe it to your company, yourself and, if you want to be a good manager, your employee to have these conversations.
Below are some steps that I have found will help you to get the most from these often tough conversations:
1. Prepare
Whatever the conversation, don’t just turn up to the meeting without preparing, especially if you are angry about the situation. NEVER lose your temper. Believe me, YOU will feel worse about it afterwards, not them. Think about as many of the potential reactions and outcomes as you possibly think of and prepare your response.
2. Privacy
These sorts of conversations can often lead to the recipient being upset. Respect their privacy and ensure that the meetings are conducted in private and that they can exit the meeting into a safe environment.
3. Be direct
Get to the point, but talk about behaviours and impact. Be direct AND sensitive
Example:
Direct and Insensitive – You’re passing the buck. You have to change
Indirect and Sensitive – Have you thought at all how you interact with others?
Direct and Sensitive – Working with other departments is key to our success. I received feedback that others are having difficulty working with you and we need to explore how to improve these relationships.
4. Discuss consequences / impact
Depending on the issue being addressed, there could be a whole range of consequences from mild to serious. The fact you are trying to tackle the issue means that this is at least important to you and your relationship.
Many larger businesses have policies for capability / competence / performance etc and obviously there are potential legal ramifications for other more serious offences such as harassment or bullying.
Obviously if you are having the conversation early enough and in the right way, you can hopefully sort the problem before any of these consequences are invoked.
The key here is for you to convey the seriousness of the issue and what may happen if the behaviours are not altered.
5. Discuss action
Ensure that you work with your employee on an action plan  to rectify the behaviour and ensure this is time-bound and you have one or more follow-up conversations to ensure the issue is resolved. If it isn’t in a timely manner then you start to apply the consequences outlined above.
6. Be supportive
For some people, unacceptable behaviours may have been tolerated by previous management or they may be completely unaware on the impact their behaviour is having on others or the organisation. As a good manager you have an obligation to help them through the process and if you don’t feel equipped to deal with the situation, take advice from peers or a Human Resources expert (internally or externally).
Obviously if someone is breaking the law or in serious breach of their employment contract, then serious consequences must be considered and invoked immediately.
Be sure to read part 2 – Leadership Breakthroughs

Top Leadership Challenges – The Results

Mark Conway

Thanks to those of you who took the time to complete the recent Top Leadership Challenges poll. The top 3 challenges as voted for by Gung Ho! readers are:

1. Creating a high performance culture

How leaders believe things should get done is a key driver of culture. Leaders establish culture consciously, or unconsciously, through their own personal motives and actions. Leaders care about what it takes to succeed, and their perception of those needs will impact their behaviours and expectations.

External forces can forge culture change, also. The most obvious external impact today is technology. Nothing is going to impact how we behave more than the current transformation brought on by the internet, unified communications, collaboration tools and other advanced forms of technology emerging in our homes and workplaces.

In the UK today, huge spending cuts are transforming the Public and 3rd sectors, forcing these organisations, some for the first time in living memory, to make radical changes to work practices and their interactions with the public. The result of this new pressure is that government leaders are coaching and teaching their people to run their programs competitively, measure results, build business cases for change, plan strategically, create customer value and so on. There are clearly impacts on the culture, and therefore, the management systems and practices.

Culture provides consistency for an organisation and its people, a critical need in organisations where leaders change due to the marketplace, mergers and acquisitions and down-sizing. Knowing ‘what matters around here’ and ‘what I do is important’ helps people feel they are working with some stability and predictability in a changing workplace.

Since the idea of change being constant is becoming more and more evident, people need help in understanding the vision and their part in it. They also need to be involved in making the change happen. At KC we’ve invested huge amounts of time and energy involving our people in our vision and values and this is not a one-off activity. Every member of every team needs to understand and be engaged in your vision, understand how they can contribute to it and what support they’ll have in getting there.

Two of my favourite brands are Walt Disney and Innocent. Just read a couple of their ‘Corporate’ statements to understand culture and what sits at the heart of these very successful businesses.

Walt Disney

“From the beginning, starting with Walt Disney, we have had five things that make me proud to be part of this Company: high-quality products, optimism for the future, great storytelling, an emphasis on family entertainment and great talent, passion and dedication from our Cast Members.”

 Marty Sklar, Vice Chairman and Principal Creative Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering

Innocent

Purpose: ‘Make natural, delicious food and drink that helps people live well and die old’

Vision: ‘The Earth’s favourite little food company’

Values: ‘Create a business we can be proud of – be natural, be entrepreneurial, be responsible, be commercial and be generous’

Changing a culture in an established business as opposed to creating one in a new business is arguably much more difficult. Maybe that’s the shift in mindset required – collaborating on creating a new one could be a better course of action!

2. Reducing costs and increasing revenue

Every business leader that I’ve met faces this challenge and at a detailed level the actions you take as a leader will be different dependant on your business market, your product / service portfolio, your position in the market and the cost profile of your business.

Developing a cost-reduction strategy that maximises efficiency without compromising growth potential is not straight forward. You have to resist pressure to make indiscriminate cuts or slash headcount across the board. You need to identify core competencies where efficiency can be improved, trim and consolidate non-core functions, and reinvest the savings in critical business assets. And before you start, you need buy-in from your employees, especially those in senior and middle management.

Outsourcing might seem to be an easy answer. In many industries, contracting out non-core business functions such as human resources, billing, or payroll to third-party providers is gaining acceptance. Many companies outsource parts or all of their operating processes. But once a company decides to outsource, it also exposes itself to new forms of risk. For example, an inferior supplier of outsourced services can, overnight, inflict lasting damage on a company’s relationship with its suppliers and customers, that is to say its brand.

A strategy for driving profitable revenue growth is much more complex than controlling your costs. (That’s just my view – I’m sure all the commercial accountants will disagree and the Sales and Marketing people will be 100% behind me!)

I’ll keep it really simple. Focus on delivering the best possible experience you can afford for your customers at every stage of their time with you. Every interaction a customer or potential customer has with your brand is an opportunity to change their buying perception of you. Customers can share information about your products and services in a ways unimaginable 10 years ago. Fortune 500 and FTSE businesses have seen >10% share impacts of influential customers through social networks – Positively or Negatively.

3. Keeping employees motivated and focussed on results

I’ve listed a few thoughts below, but read Gung Ho! if you really want some great insight into employee motivation.

  • Lead by Example – NO EXCEPTIONS
  • Involve them – when people are involved in fleshing out visions, plans and projects, they buy-in faster and resist less. This means you can implement the change(s) more quickly and easily.
  • Set challenging goals. My experience has taught me that people strive to achieve what is expected of them. If you set challenging goals your team will work hard to accomplish them, providing of course, they are realistically attainable. It is amazing what people can accomplish when they are given the opportunity to perform.
  • Communicate – Your people need and want regular updates on the progress of the business and their personal performance. Talk to your team members regularly, letting them know if the business is on / off track.
  • Celebrate individual and team performance. Catch people doing something right and focus on recognizing excellent performance.
  • Give people the tools to succeed. No team will stay motivated if they do not have the necessary tools required to do their job.
  • Manage poor performance. While poor performance and conflict are seldom enjoyable to deal with, you have a responsibility to your team and the company to manage it.

There’s no ‘I’ in Team…but there is an ‘M’ and ‘E’

Building Strong TeamsI’m not sure who came up with the phrase – ‘There’s no ‘I’ in team’, and I’m sure it was meant with good intentions – focussing everyone on team work and collective goals and not individual egos. I’ve always used the hugely clever and witty repost whenever anyone has said the phrase in my presence…’Ah yes, but there is an M and E’ – Hilarious!

But, and I’ve been thinking about this a bit recently, I still think there is significant value in focussing on the individuals in a team – their individual strengths, skills, experiences and accountability as well as the interactions between team members. This is especially true of senior teams or teams where individuals within it have ownership of their own teams.

In larger businesses, teams come in all shapes and sizes, from an Executive Board, Senior Management Team, Divisional Team, Sales Teams, Customer Service Teams, Cross-functional Project Teams and so on. Teams are created for both long-term and short-term interaction. A product management team, an executive leadership team, and a departmental team are more often long-lasting planning and operational groups. Short term teams might include a team to plan the annual company event, or a team to respond to a specific customer problem or complaint. Not all teams can be treated or thought about in the same way.

When teams are getting results – all is good. People celebrate together, don’t really need to worry about improvement and feel they are at the top of their game.

What happens when things aren’t so great?

I’ve found that there are 4 key reasons that prevent teams from being optimal – ‘The best that they can be’

1. Goals and Objectives are not clear

In short, not everyone  on the team gets it! What’s the vision? What are the team striving to achieve? What metrics are used to measure team performance? What milestones are to be achieved by when….and crucially, why is what the team is doing important.  AND where do ‘I’ fit in?

2. Roles and Responsibilities not clear

How many times have you heard the phrase – ‘Oh no, that’s not my job, that’s ….’ or ‘Well I can’t do anything about that until Dave’s done his bit’ or ‘We were waiting for someone to make a decision’? Heard any of those recently? Symptoms of lack of clear ownership and accountability!

When building a team, it’s hugely important for everyone to know the boundaries they have to work within, what their key responsibilities are and what decisions are required of them in their roles.

3. Relationships – Non-existent or not strong enough for a successful team

Without powerful relationships, no team can truly achieve their potential. Fact. This requires work, honesty, straight talking, generous listening and a commitment from every team member to support each others’ success. At worst, you’ll have saboteurs in your team, actively striving for the downfall of others. With the best relationships, people will coach and support each other, represent each other with projects and play to win!

4. No Leadership

I’ve worked with some fantastic managers in my time, but few leaders. Great leaders inspire teams to be greater than the sum of their parts. Great leaders anticipate potential futures and plan from there, not from today. Great Leaders cheer the progress and not just the results. Leaders do think about the ‘Me’ in team. If they didn’t, I’m not sure they would get the best out of every individual…and certainly not the team.

Been run over by a bus? 15 qualities to spot in your successor…

Succession PlanningBusiness people are often very poor at thinking about who would take their place, should the proverbial bus hit them. Who should you be starting to coach to be your second in command? Well, here are some thoughts on the kind of individual you’re looking  for (not in any particular order of importance).

The list below excludes job specific qualities as these will differ widely depending on your industry or specialism.

1. They consistently deliver results – On time, at the right quality and budget.

2. They continuously demonstrate growth, flexibility, and learning better and faster than their peers.

3. They seize the opportunity for challenging, bigger projects, to increase their skills and experience.

4. They are good judges of character, spotting talent and finding ways to nurture good people.

5. They come to the point quickly, are clear thinkers, and will always have a point of view – even if it’s a contentious one.

6. They ask incisive questions that open minds and encourage thought in others.

7. They perceptively judge their own direct reports, have the courage to give them honest feedback so the direct reports develop; they do something about it if a direct report is failing.

8. They know the non-negotiable criteria of the job of their direct reports and match the job with the person; if there is a mismatch they deal with it promptly.

9. They make good decisions, quickly. They gather as much information as quickly as possible, and more often than not, the decision they make is usually one that you can stand behind.

10. They are Change Catalysts, initiating change and getting behind cultural changes happening inside your business.

11. They have a passion for work and are high energy in nature. They aren’t slaves to the company, but they give 110% while they are working, and they are willing to go the extra mile and pitch in to help out when help is needed.

12. They are marketing savvy. They understand the trends in the marketplace, know how to help the company extend the brand so that customers are clear about your company and receive the best brand experience.

13. They anticipate. Leaders need to be able to think ahead, to spot trends and be able to build plan ‘B’s before they’re needed.

14. Emerging leaders need to be able to communicate their message effectively in many ways – Face to face, video / audio conference, presentations, written and via social media.

15. They must be a team player and collaborator. They need to be able to seek out the opinion of others and enrol the team in the direction of established goals and the vision for your company.

I’m sure you can think of more, would be great to hear from you . . .

Top 3 Qualities of a Leader

Thanks to all of you that contributed to my recent poll on Leadership Qualities. The results are in, and the top 3 qualities voted for by Think Oak! followers are:Leader, Leadership, Qualities

1. Great Communicator

Great leaders know how to deliver their message in a way that will create a lasting impact on the people who are listening to them. They are also great listeners. I’ve met many ‘leaders’ that really haven’t grasped the ability to listen effectively. They are too busy thinking about what to say next and they fail to grasp the valuable feedback and ideas that are given to them. Poor communication nearly always results in a poor decision and the end result is a poor outcome.

Powerful, effective leaders know when to talk, when to listen, when to observe – and use all the vital communication skills of leadership well.

“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” –Ken Blanchard

2. Visionary

Visionaries who are successful at delivering their goals base their leadership on a new positive future they have created within their mind, as well as a clear sense of direction as to how to get there. A visionary leader is good with actions as well as words, and so can bring his/her vision into being in the world.

Steve Ballmer (Microsoft) once said that shortly after he joined the company, he was having second thoughts. Bill Gates and Gates’ father took Ballmer out to dinner and said he had it all wrong. They said Ballmer saw his role as that of a bean counter for a startup. They had a vision of putting a computer on every desk, in every home. That vision — a computer on every desk, in every home—remains consistent to this day.

3. Integrity

As a leader, you only can prove your integrity by the actions that you take and the decisions that you make. Integrity speaks by itself and it reflects on all your actions and decisions.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes on Leadership by Peter Drucker:

‘Leadership is not magnetic personality, that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not “making friends and influencing people”, that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.’

Leadership Poll

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes. What qualties make a leader? I’ve given a few options, but feel free to add your own. I’d be really keen to get your input!

Thanks in advance….

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