Real Leaders

The Instant Leadership Process – What’s Really Holding You Back

Photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash

In a previous post, I wrote that there is little to no evidence that our attempts at leadership development over the last 50 years have resulted in better leadership. That’s right, although there has been literally thousands of books written on great leadership, armies of leadership consultants, and millions of dollars spent on leadership development, we don’t seem to have a critical mass of great leaders.

Looking at employee surveys from the 1960s to the present, there’s no data to support that employees today have any better opinion about their leaders’ abilities than employees did 50 years ago.

I’m not suggesting we give up on training and developing leaders, but what I am suggesting is that we get ‘real’ about its effectiveness. 

And the problem that we have today is that the demands of leadership have radically changed in the last 10 years. Leading a company with a hierarchical structure is vastly different than leading an organization which gets work done though networks. In fact, it’s much harder to lead a network of people with varying skills and abilities to achieve goals than it is to cascade your leadership influence through a chair of command.

What’s needed is a radical new approach that gets work done by having people follow a leadership process.

I believe this is far more realistic and effective than depending on developing individual leaders to be great. I do because I’ve had direct experience with it, working in some outrageously competitive business situations and highly resistant cultures.

This is how simple it is.

When a leader of a team or an organization is trying to accomplish anything, this process must be followed.

WHAT: A leader must create focus by clearly articulating the goal.

WHY: People become creative and innovative and understand the purpose behind the goal. A motivating goal will have two dimensions – a human purpose and a business purpose. If your only purpose is to make money or win market share your people will quickly become exhausted and disengaged.

This step is essential with today’s workforce… it’s usually skipped by most leaders.

HOW: Everyone must collaborate getting to the best ‘HOW.’ This demands new disciplined processes that create universal engagement that breaks down silos and creates a continuous strategic-tactical conversation. When this doesn’t occur the law of unintended consequences destroys execution.

DO: Leaders must drive goal-focused action constantly. Team members should always be looking for the next smart thing to do and initiate.

REVIEW: Leaders and teams must swim in a stream of feedback. You cannot wait for formal after-action-reviews to make important changes. Action reviews informally take place in three-minute hallway conversations and constant communication. (Formal after-action-reviews are also vital when critical milestones are either met or missed.)

The power of this process is that everybody can already do these things.

They just need to get into a habit of doing it. It needs to become embedded in the leadership culture. Of course individual skill makes any of these five steps better. So no-one is off the hook for individual leadership development.

However, in my experience without a common leadership process organizations are simply held back by the lack of skills of their poorest leaders rather than by the abilities of their best ones.

The biggest challenge to implement the systematic leadership process is that bad leaders say, “I already do this.” When they do, I say, “oh yeah?” Then I simply go one or two levels down and ask, “What are your most important goals and why are they the most important?” I continue, “Do these goals and the purpose behind them inspire you or discourage you?” Most often the answers I get reveal that people feel confused, pessimistic or cynical about success.

That’s why they’re on the lookout for another job. That’s why they are disengaged. That’s why it’s so damn difficult to get much done.

See for yourself. Use 5-STAR and ask your teammates or your leader or your employees if they are clearly focused on your most important business goal. Ask if they know why it’s important… both the business purpose and the human purpose. Then ask if everybody has been involved with the execution process so that glitches are minimized and important changes are made on a timely basis. Then ask…

“Are we getting better at executing our most important priorities or are we repeating the same mistakes we usually make?” So go ahead, give it a rip… and tell me what you find. The bottom line is that we are no longer playing football where coaches call in the play from the sidelines.

Business has become basketball. Everyone plays offense. Everyone plays defense. Action is a continuous flow where players are always trying to make it easy for each other to succeed so the team can win. Is that how your enterprise runs?


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