Sunday, December 28, 2008

Preparation for succession

Ever heard the saying, "we're all expendable" or "everyones' replaceable"? I'm sure you have heard this or something similar, and like it or not it's pretty true.

As leaders of our teams it is up top us to ensure the team will survive even if we are not the one leading the team. Are you prepared? Has someone been acting as your second in command.

If all of this is something you haven't put much thought into, perhaps it should be one of your goals for 2009.

Make an action plan so that by the end of the year you will have a a replacement for yourself, someone who knows the team's strengths and weaknesses, understands all the processes. Someone who can help develop the strategy and continue to steer the team towards the goals.

Like all good project plans set up some general goals and timelines maybe along these lines:

1. Identify likely candidates,
2. Document all processes,
3. Select final candidate, - End Q1
4. Develop a mentoring relationship with candidate to work through the processes,
5. Allow some responsibilities to transfer to candidate, - End Q2
6. Involve candidate with strategy plans for the following year, - Q3
7. Take leave and allow candidate to run team - end Q3
8. Evaluate result

Hopefully by the end of the year you will have a new team leader in place and ready to fill your role. Perhaps it will be for nothing but then again maybe it will ensure your team can survive the turmoil of change of leadership.

While this may seem a strange topic it is important for a leader to prepare a legacy so the team can continue to perform strongly well into the future.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Delegation as a Leadership Tool

How do you view delegation? Is delegation a tool you use every day to ensure your team gets the results you need? Delegation is the art of directing someone to do tasks for you.

The chances are you can do most jobs and tasks within your team, however that doesn't mean you should do them. By carefully delegating appropriate tasks to your team members, you will leverage their skills and time to complete the tasks your team need to meet.

When tasks are delegated it is important that you follow some basic rules:

1. Explain exactly what the task's outcome is,
2. Outline any limitations placed on how the task is to be completed,
3. Specify the timeline for specific milestones and the completion date,
4. Highlight any progress reports, their details, and period, and
5. Explain to the person doing the task how they are suitably empowered.

It is often assumed that once you have delegated the task your job is done, this is very wrong now is the time for mentoring as required and some subtle supervision.

When I say subtle supervision allow the person some freedom in how they complete the task and only step-in if asked to, or to stop a pending disaster. When we are new at tasks we may head in the wrong direction for sometime before correcting the issue and getting back on course, the lesson will be much better learnt if corrected by one-self rather than from an over-protective leader.

One important thing to remember, while we can delegate the task to others, we as good leaders cannot delegate the responsibility to a team member. The eventual outcome belongs to us, not our team members.

By leveraging the skills and efforts of our team-members we will have a more productive team.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Good leaders keep an eye on Quality

Invariably around the world at present we see the fallout from the financial crisis. With much of this, have been the inevitable job cuts. While it's one thing to be losing members from your team, it's another for your product and services to be diminished due to this loss of a member.

When the crunch time happens you need to be in a position to know what is going to suffer, will it be people have to work longer hours to fill the other role, will it be less products are produced - what will it be in your case?

Take a view from the customer side and be sure that the quality the customer experiences is absolutely perfect, as is dealing with your company and team. The odds are they too are struggling with less people while trying to maintain the same level of their services, so they want to find what they want easily and they want the transaction and the product to be flawless - because they don't have any time to deal with you and your team if it's not perfect.

Don't be tempted to cut corners as it will damage your team's future. Take the time to address what the impact will be and to find a way to mitigate it.

You're the leader for a reason and now is the time to make sure you show true leadership for your product and the chance for your team to prosper into the future.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Your Leadership Communications

One of the skills great leaders master is the ability to be accepted by their team members, their customers and their suppliers, yet how many of us work on making these communications better than they are today? Think back to the last time you were in a group meeting when your boss addresses you as a group, how did you feel and how did you respond, contrast this with the last time your boss addressed you by name. Why did you feel different? More than likely it was because this was at a more personal level.

When we are meeting people and maintaining our friendships and acquaintances we should follow some basic rules, these will help us to remember the person and also will make the person we are talking to connect at a more personal level with us.

What are these basic rules? Always say hello and always say goodbye, if this is combined with using the persons’ first name it has the most affect. By doing this, you have established a connection to the person, and by them acknowledging it, they understand you want to talk with them.

Now you are in communication with this person you must concentrate to listen to the message the person is conveying, this includes the words, their body language, their actions etc are they engaging you 100%. Wait for your turn to speak and maintain the thread of the conversation don’t be too quick to turn it to your topic as this will appear to the person as if you don’t care for their views.

When you are in a conversation, do your best to remain positive to the theme, people get sick of the person who comes to them constantly complaining, so maintain a positive air about the topic. Add in responses to the conversations to show you are listening and evaluating the ideas flowing back and forth, put forward your considerations in an open manner to allow the person to further contribute and so build more on the topic.

Use time carefully, make sure you turn up on time to meetings, be neat and calm and most of all be as prepared as you can. Don’t make meetings drag on as it shows a lack of respect for the other person’s time. Think before you speak and be sure to communicate your thoughts in a clear an unambiguous manner.

If you can follow these basic steps, your communications with your team will improve and this will improve the overall operation of your team.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The leaders' inner strength

We have spoken at length over the last few months about being the best leader we can by using all our skills to energise and enthuse our teams. Your skills depend on your strength, the strength to evaluate, the strength to communicate in a clear and unambiguous manner. The strength to maintain your vision for the team is paramount to your success rather than follow the pack.

When you determine your vision for the team, you will find many times that you'll need to test your inner strength to remain focused. Do you have the strength to paint this vision, to remind your team why they are important, how the team contributes to the goals. When people disagree are you strong to argue your case and support it with facts and your vision of success.

When morale in your team wanes due to internal or external pressures are you available to your team members to help them see that what they are doing is positive and helps the whole team to move forward. Are you there to create some team building ideas and maintain the morale. Obviously this can be tough, if you looked at the current gloom and doom from the financial fallout many of our team members will be effected and their morale will be dented, again we need to draw on our strength to examine the facts and maintain the team morale.

When communicating with your team are you careful to deliver your messages in a positive manner, do you draw on your inner strength to raise your team up. Should your team members argue and fight, do you stand strong and fair to ensure issues are dealt with the animosity is arrested.

When tough decisions need to be taken are you fair and consistent in reaching your decision, when you need to deliver bad news are you straight and honest with your team members. You will need every once of inner strength to work through these issues, however if you stay strong, true and honest with your team they will respect you for your strength in dealing with them.

Great leaders are strong people who rely on their strength for the good of their teams. As you develop as a leader take the time to look and develop your inner strength and your team will appreciate it and follow you willingly.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The leader's Passion

Are you passionate about what your team does? With lots of doom and gloom in the press, it's important that we as leaders stand up and demonstrate our passion for our team, our job and especially our people.

The more you demonstrate your passion for the team's efforts the more this will rub off onto your team members and help them maintain their passion. It's too easy for everyone in the team to pickup the negative vibes and start believing they apply to them. This will have a serious impact, as once the passion is gone, then the desire to work hard and push through any challenges is also eroded away.

Take some time to assess your product, your output levels, the quality of your products and services. Be sure to rekindle your passion for all the aspects in your workplace and then most importantly share that passion among your team. Remember to be genuine in how you demonstrate your passion and don't give the impression of just blowing smoke or you risk some damage as you may be seen as being less than honest.

As leaders we need to be passionate about our team's jobs and we need to show this passion to inspire the team to greater results.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Good leaders don't over promise

Guess we've all seen the press in the last six months, and notice there have been quite a few countries running elections. Now the financial mess is starting to be better understood it will be interesting to see who made promises they cannot possibly keep. The voters of many countries in the next year may reflect and wonder what happened to some of these promises.

But more importantly as leaders of our own teams, are we vigilant when we make promises to our team members??

Before we make any promises, we need to check, do I really need to offer this? Am I absolutely certain I can fulfill my side of the bargain? What would be the difference in the outcome if I didn't make this promise? When we stop and assess the impact before we make any promises it will allow us to appreciate what it is that we are proposing.

Personally I know over the years many of my previous managers have promised certain things, yet as it transpired they did not have control to make the promises good. What was the result? Obviously some frustration, but the more damaging outcome was that their credibility was eroded. The next time such a promise was offered I was in no way as obliging to accept the challenge.

As good leaders we need to be sure that we can deliver on what we offer, because failure to do so will damage us greatly in the long term.

So next time you start to promise something take a moment and think - will this be a positive experience for all involved.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Goals and Roles within your team

We have talked about setting a vision over the last few posts, today I want to move on to what do we do with this vision. You may recall I suggested that its a good practice to write your vision out so it's straight forward and succinct.

Given you have the vision for your team what's the next step?

Next we need to define the roles each team member plays within our team, some members will naturally fall into various roles - some productive and some not so productive.
Roles relate to the position or major task and often different roles maybe allocated to the same person. Don't be afraid to recognise some roles that are not strictly job related, such as the person who is the organiser, the person who explores their environment looking at the way things are done and so on.

There is a great chance that as the leader for this team you will have several roles, you need to ensure you recognise these. Perhaps in addition to leading the team you also have to ensure the invoices and receipts are done. Another of your roles is to maintain and promote morale within the group.

Now you have defined all the roles each member in your team plays you can start to look at assigning goals to each role so that the team can move in line with the vision.

Take care with people who have multi-faceted roles to not over-burden them with to many corresponding sets of goals. Aim for the main points. If you can get each role within your team aligned towards your vision you will have a great team result.

Set goals for yourself and your team members, it is OK to openly relate your goals to your team members as this way they will feel that they are aiding in the accomplishment of these higher order goals.

Some goals will be personal whilst other will apply to the team, it tends to be best to concentrate on the team goals and only have 1-2 individual goals. If the team feel they are all pulling together then they will respond in a more cohesive way.

Now we have taken our vision and extrapolated it out to a set of goals for each team member and all the business roles your team needs to support. Take stock and look at what the cost is for each member to fulfill their goals, take a moment to have a sanity check on:

  • time it will take - particularly the individual goals,
  • effort on their behalf - is this within their capabilities,
  • productivity effects when you ask members to concentrate on a goal, and
  • how will it affect the team morale when viewed by the other members going about their efforts towards their goals.

Goals and roles are a critical area for us to consider as we move to better align our team towards achieving the vision.

Have you been through this process with your team, its a lot harder than it sounds, but definitely worthwhile, maybe you have some tricks and tips to share?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Improve your leadership, improve your business

Some interesting times ahead as we watch the outfall of the financial crisis spread around the globe. I hope you've taken to time to see if you are future proofed or if you need to turn your hand to a new job or even a new career. We have all heard for years that it is important for us to invest in our own skills so we can be versatile and in a position to take on whatever life throws at us.

An area that appears to be catching a lot of attention at the moment are those people who have been laid off and have decided to build their own business, some have opted for a bricks and mortar business while many have moved to a web based business. So we spent some hard time, effort and money to get things up and running, now it comes down to our leadership and business skills to keep it moving and generating cash.

One of the critical areas to consider is our leadership skills. I hope you have been spending some time over the last year to consider your skills and to work on areas of deficiency.

On top of the list for your skills should be you ability to create, develop, maintain and especially articulate your vision. You may have heard of the term your elevator pitch. Only with this vision will the small tasks fall out at you to gain the momentum and move things along in line with this vision.

Where would we be if Bill Gates hadn't envisioned a PC on every desk and every home?

If you can formulate a great vision, then write it down, hopefully one sentence says it all, because the clearer the vision the easier it is to focus.

Now your vision is set it's time to consider what are the steps you need to take to get there. These steps need some time restraints and maybe there needs to be some interim steps along the way. Such as obtain 100 repeat customers within twelve months, so this will translate to a sub task that should be in the order of get ten customers each month. From this the support task will fall out such as marketing, business process - how do I quote? how do I invoice etc.

Allocate the jobs you're expert at to yourself and delegate the other tasks to those around you who have the most appropriate skills.

While running a business is all about selling the products and services to customers who want your products, it's your leadership skills that will keep the focus while building and maintaining your business.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Is your team built for Speed

I was just reflecting on how business has changed over the last 30 years. I would have to say the major change in all things is the speed we do things. Think of the last time you contacted a supplier and asked them a question about their product. Some time ago we would have to wait for some info to be sent by post, then a few years later we got the info by Fax, now its info by email or the web. We expect this, and so do our customers.

Now consider your team and all the ways it interacts with your customers. Do you offer the speed that everyone craves? Can you offer the product description the moment the customer asks? Can you accept their purchase order and validate it? Once the purchase order is accepted, are the goods and services scheduled and programmed for delivery? I sure hope the answer of these types of questions is a resounding YES.

If you are like the rest of us there's a fair chance that some areas of your product cycle could do with an increase in speed. Lets look at how our team interacts with our customers, suppliers and our own team. Which areas could do with some streamlining? Lets list them all and then prioritise.

My rule of thumb in this area, is all tasks that touch people need to be given a high priority especially your customers and your own team members, don't let these very important people ever be in doubt. Set up your systems so you can act with speed.

If you can concentrate and improve the speed with which you act, people will see your leadership flow through and want to continue to do business with you.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Spend some quality time to build your team's Morale

In the last post we looked at maintaining your team's profile. Building on from that, now is the time to spend some serious time maintaining morale. Just stop and consider for a few minutes all the bad press of late. It's enough to get you down, so think on the effect on your team members.

The time's right for you to take some pro-active action and boost up your teams morale. Have your ear to the ground and get a feel for how the group mood is.

You can't afford for the morale of you team to get too bad, so i suggest when you hear the first grumblings you take some affirmative action. Now is the time to consider some ideas before it gets to desperate stakes.

Why not consider a family Bar-B-Cue on Friday after work, you don't loose any work time and all you have to come up with a venue and some food. But consider the outcome the families and your workers will feel how much you value their efforts. Maybe its an afternoon at the bowling alley.

The venue and activity is not important, what is important is that every member of your team knows they are a valued member and that they belong.

The morale of your team is a very important factor in your team's performance. It can take a deep blow and destroy you if you allow it to wallow. As a good leader it is important to keep an eye on the team and act swiftly to keep morale high it will certainly pay-off in the future.

Have you been through this either as a leader or a team member? How did it go?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Maintaining your team's profile

I guess we've all been keeping an eye on the financial situation around the world. I hope you've stopped and taken some time to consider what is the implication to you and your team.
As the leader you need to take some steps to protect your team the best you can.

A few weeks ago we talked about maintaining a scorecard, I hope you have been on top of this. With the knowledge from your scorecard you know what your team is doing well at. Be sure that your boss knows about these high points.

As the leader your job is to keep the profile of your team in the mind of the work hierarchy, the better your team is understood the better they will be justified should the dreaded layoff discussion begins.

The economic phases of business dictate that the company is looking to protect itself for the long haul and at some stage, particularly if this financial crisis is prolonged cuts will happen.

Like it or not there are lots of people feeling stress about their job situation. As the leaders of these teams we need to do our best for each member. Be positive and talk-up your team's strengths, work hard to minimize any errors all this will help to maintain your team's morale.

Do your best to keep your team productive and be sure to feedback your team's performance so the team get a fair hearing if things get worse.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Time Management within your Leadership

Your leadership requires you to have a fine understanding and skills in the area of time management. At the different stages of your business you will be the pre-sales, sales, post-sales, production and financial person doing the work in all these areas of your business.

Many books will espouse the value of multi-tasking, personally I find it doesn't work except for completing the most mundane chores. When it comes to serious thinking and decision making it is so much better to fully immerse your self into the problem and issue and work it all the way through to its conclusion.

The use of some tools may help you, some people love "To Do lists" while others hate them. Some of my friends have great success with Mind-Maps, while others like the fish bone diagrams based on the "why" or "so what" questions to explore all avenues.

So if you can come to a fully considered solution minding all angles, then you can consider that problems solved and move onto the next. Should you try to do ten or twenty things at the same time, odds on none of them will be well done at all.

I've found the best way to do this is set up a schedule, so that you set time aside to do the admin things, time for briefing and supporting the team, and time for strategic thoughts and actions.

Be mindful of interruptions and consider:

  • Does you team need some directions right now?
  • Can I afford the time?
  • Can I ask the person to come back at a better time?

Maybe you should set some times up when your free, and advise your team that is the best time to meet with you for routine matters.

If you're still the one-man show then you need to allocate time for each of the various functions such as pre-production, production and marketing. Make your plans and be sure to follow-through.

With the efficient use of your time you will be able to spend more time leading your team and improving your leadership skills to better empower you and your team.

What do find to be the most beneficial idea with your time management?

What's your favorite time management tool?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Co-ordinating your Team

Spent some time travelling this week and had the joy of observing a number of teams in action. These teams all belong to a large organization with great leaders who had their teams working against tight schedules. Each team leader had a good grip on where all their members were, the projects they were working on and when the next milestones were due.

I was lucky enough to spend time with each leader as they talked about their teams. They both had a vision for what was considered a good outcome for their own group and each had a great understanding of their team member's strengths and weaknesses.

I then moved on with each team leader and probed them about how the teams worked together. Here we detected some differences, each team leader had a different set of priorities. This showed up when it came to the sharing of resources across the two groups. The two groups often shared specialists between the various projects. When we discussed this in more depth I got the impression they both shared resources when it suited them.

Later with the two leaders I popped the question, do you sit down and plan the priorities of the projects across both your teams. Do you throw the priority setting up the food chain when clashes are obvious?

As a leader who needs to work across groups do you make part of your planning a section on co-ordination between the other teams you interface too. By doing this you'll keep a lot more people informed about your team and how your resources can and are shared to meet the companies goals.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Leadership and knowing your team

How well do you know your team? When was the last time you spent some quality time with each member? Do you know and understand their motivations, their anxieties, their goals.

As the team leader it's time to put a plan together or revisit your previous plan.
Work through your schedule and find some times you can set aside to spend with each member of your team. Some people like to do this in a formal setting others may do it over lunch, the how and when is not important. What is important is to focus solely on the person and get to know them more fully.

Do you know:

  • Why they work for your team,
  • What they want to achieve this year,
  • Where do they think they will be in two years time,
  • Do they aspire to take your position when you get your promotion,
  • What are their ideas to improve the workplace, and
  • Do they expect a raise this year.

As a leader it is our responsibility to counsel and mentor our team members, when we know each member better we can understand why we all act the way we do. We can make our position known. While we may not have things to say they want to hear if you deliver the message in an honest and supported way, at least it's all out in the open and neither party is set-up for a surprise.

Together you and each team member can set out your individual and combined goals and plot your course to achieve them. Now with a good understanding of what makes each of us tick, you can see what will motivate and what will deter all your members.

If you've taken the time to do this, how did it go? I know it's always worked for me.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Leaders need Creativity

As leaders of our teams, we need to devote time to planning out the future and looking at issues we need to solve. To achieve this we need to utilize our creativity. Being creative involves:

a. Immersing yourself in a problem;
b. Looking broadly for connections—in the past, what other organizations do, brainstorming with others;
c. Letting your ideas incubate;
d. The breakthrough which usually occurs when you are distracted or in a relaxed state;
e. Picking one or more to pilot.

We are all capable of being more creative than we demonstrate. Many of us are or have been taught to be restrained, narrow, focused, hesitant, cautious, conservative, afraid to make errors, and unwilling to make a fool of ourselves. This background often stifles the creativity inside us. There are research-based and experience-tested techniques that will produce a more creative process from a person. Creativity is a valued skill because our organizations need innovation in our products and services to succeed.

Defining the problem. Studies show that defining the problem and taking action occur almost simultaneously for most people, so the more effort you apply on the front end, the easier it is to come up with a breakthrough solution. Stop and first define what the problem is and isn't. Since providing answers and solutions is so easy for everyone, it would be nice if they were offering solutions to the right problem. Keep asking why, see how many causes you can come up with and how many organizing buckets you can put them in. This increases the chance of a more creative solution because you can see more connections. Look for patterns in your data, don't just collect information. Put it in categories that make sense to you. Ask lots of questions. Allot at least 50% of the time to defining the problem. Once you've defined the problem, studies have shown that on average, the most creative solution is somewhere between the second and third one generated. So if you tend to grab the first one, slow down. Discipline yourself to pause for enough time to define the problem better and always think of three solutions before you pick one.

Remove the restraints. What's preventing you from being more creative? Being creative operates at well below having everything perfect. Worried about what people may think? Afraid you won't be able to defend your idea? Being creative means throwing uncertain ideas up for review and critique. Being creative is looking everywhere for a solution. Are you too busy to reflect and ruminate? Being creative takes time. Get out of your comfort zone. Many busy people rely on solutions from their own history, they rely on what has happened to them in the past.

Value added approaches. To be more personally creative, immerse yourself in the problem. Dedicated time—study the problem deeply, talk with others, look for parallels in other organizations and in remote areas totally outside your field. Think out loud. Many people don't know what they know until they say it out loud. Find a good sounding board and talk to him/her to increase your understanding of a problem or a technical area. Talk to an expert in an unrelated field. Talk to the most irreverent person you know. Your goal is not to get his/her input, but rather his/her help in figuring out what you know—what your principles and rules of thumb are. Creative people are more likely to think in opposite cases when confronted with a problem. Turn the problem upside down:

Unearthing creative ideas. Creative thought processes do not follow the formal rules of logic, where one uses cause and effect to prove or solve something. Some rules of creative thought are:

  • Not using concepts but changing them;
  • Imagining this were something else
  • Move from one concept or way of looking at things to another, such as from economic to political
  • Generate ideas without judging them initially
  • Use information to restructure and come up with new patterns
  • Jump from one idea to another without justifying the jump
  • Look for the least likely and odd
  • Looking for parallels far from the problem, such as, how is an organization like a river?
  • Ask what's missing or what's not here

    Apply some standard problem-solving skills. There are many different ways to think through and solve a problem more creatively.

  • Ask more questions. In one study of problem solving, about 10% of comments were questions and about half were answers. We jump to solutions based on what has worked in the past.
  • Complex problems are hard to visualize. They tend to be either oversimplified or too complex to solve unless they are put in a visual format. Cut it up into its component pieces. Examine the pieces to see if a different order would help, or how you could combine three pieces into one.
  • Another technique is a pictorial chart called a storyboard where a problem is illustrated by its components being depicted as pictures.
  • A variation of this is to illustrate the +'s and –'s of a problem, then flow chart those according to what's working and not working.
  • Create a fishbone diagram
  • Sleep on it. Take periodic breaks, whether stuck or not. This allows the brain to continue to work on the issue. Most breakthroughs come when we're "not thinking about it." Put it away; give it to someone else; sleep on it. Once you've come up with every idea you can think of, throw them all out and wait for more to occur to you. Force yourself to forget about the issue.
  • A straightforward technique to enable creativity is brainstorming. Anything goes for an agreed upon time. Throw out ideas, record them all, no evaluation allowed. Many people have had bad experiences with brainstorming.

    Selecting a cross-functional group. During World War II it was discovered that teams of people with the widest diversity of backgrounds produced the most creative solutions to problems. The teams included people who knew absolutely nothing about the area (i.e., an English major working on a costing problem). When attacking a tough problem which has eluded attempts to solve it, get the broadest group you can. Involve different functions, levels, and disciplines. Pull in customers and colleagues from other organizations. Remember that you're looking for fresh approaches; you're not convening a work task force expected to implement or judge the practicality of the notions. Believe it or not, it doesn't matter if they know anything about the problem or the technology required to deal with it. That's your job.

    Experiment and learn. Whether the ideas come from you or a brainstorming session, encourage yourself to do quick experiments and trials. Studies show that most innovations occur in the wrong place, are created by the wrong people (dye makers developed detergent, Post-it® Notes was a failed glue experiment, Teflon® was created by mistake) and 30-50% of technical innovations fail in tests within the company. Even among those that make it to the marketplace, 70-90% fail. The bottom line on change is a 95% failure rate, and the most successful innovators try lots of quick inexpensive experiments to increase the chances of success.

    The Bottom Line on creativity.
    Creativity relies on freedom early, but structure later. Once you come up with your best notion of what to do, subject it to all the logical tests and criticism that any other alternative is treated to. Testing out creative ideas is no different than any other problem-solving/evaluation process. The difference is in how the ideas originate.

    The more we can stop and employ creativity into our teams and their challenges the more we will see our teams moving forward with innovation ideas for products and our services. Have you tried this with any success? What approach was most successful for you?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The art of Team Building

As Leaders we need to be able to bring our team together and strengthen the teamwork to improve the whole team output. As the leader it is important for us to drive the team building to ensure the dynamics of the team keep moving towards the common goal. Employees look to their leaders for basic company goals. By clearly laying out goals, everyone begins in the same place and understands where the business is going.

Allow Power to the group. Give decision-making power to the people working in the team. Ensure they have the authority necessary to get their job done, observe the process to make sure they're using this power for the good of the group outcome. Great team members can make decisions without fearing consequences, and good employees will value that trust and seek to make the best decisions.

Responsibility. Teams operate best when everyone clearly understands their responsibilities. Ensure each employee has a clear definition of his or her own responsibilities, both individually and as it relates to group projects. This eliminates confusion over who is accountable for what, and allows employees to relate without struggling over responsibilities.

Feedback. Don’t make your team second-guess your opinion of its work. Be clear not only in your initial expectations and assignments. Take time to give your opinion of the work. Clear and open feedback, where employees are clear on where they stand, will help them feel more secure and willing to work together.

Deadlines. Reasonable deadlines are often subjective, and timelines vary based on need. But you can build team spirit by dividing assignments equally, providing compensation to employees who are working additional hours, and reworking less important deadlines to allow for a little more time.

Regularly meetings. Whether it’s a lunch meeting or an organized meeting with specific agenda items, it's critical to keep the lines of communication open. The best way to understand your team and to let them know they're not alone is to meet regularly with them. This allows you to gauge not only their needs and productivity, but will also help you assess any further team-building concerns that need to be addressed.

Rewards. Provide rewards to the whole team. Whether it's an award, a luncheon, or some other treat, providing the team and a group with an encouraging reward for hard work will build team spirit and bring your employees back in with renewed enthusiasm for their jobs.

Take some time to look at each of these aspects and see how you can incorporate these into your workplace. By implementing these ideas your leadership will move your team in the right direction.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Customers the center of your universe

In our free-enterprise system, we say the customer is king. Those who satisfy the customer best win. This is true with external and internal customers. Those who satisfy their customers most will win. Great teams are always customer-oriented and responsive.

Maintain a touch. First you need to know what your customers want and expect. The best way to do this is to ask them. Then deliver what they want in a timely way at a price/value that’s justified. Find ways to keep in touch with a broad spectrum of your customers to get a balanced view: face-to-face, phone surveys, questionnaires, response cards with the products and services. Pleasing the reasonable needs of customers is fairly straightforward now we know what they are after. When customers contact us get them to the right person in the minimum number of steps.

Customers complain; it's your opportunity to delight them. Customers will usually complain more than compliment; you need to not get overwhelmed by the negative comments; people who have positive opinions speak up less. Be ready for the good news and the bad news; don't be defensive; just listen and respond to legitimate criticisms and note the rest as this is you opportunity to please them and make your self standout from the crowd.

Put yourself in your customer's shoes. If you were a customer of yours, what would you expect; what kind of turnaround time would you tolerate; what price would you be willing to pay for the quality of product or service you provide; what would be the top three things you would complain about? Answer all calls from customers in a timely way; if you promise a response, do it; if the time frame stretches, inform them immediately; after you have responded, ask them if the problem is fixed.

Design your work and manage your time from the customer view. Your best will always be determined by your customers, not you; try not to design and arrange what you do only from your own view; try to always know and take the viewpoint of your customer first; you will always win following that rule. Can you sell an experience, not just a product or service? A small firm took on larger firms through its easy access to no-charge expert information. Customers could turn to internal sources for free consulting, taking from a few minutes up to an hour.

Anticipate customer needs. Make a habit of meeting with your customers on a regular basis. Customers need to feel free to contact you about problems and you need to be able to contact them for essential information. Use this understanding to get in front of your customers; try to anticipate their needs for your products and services before they even know about them; provide your customers with positive surprises; features they weren’t expecting; delivery in a shorter time; more than they ordered. Show your customer you’re in it for the long run.

Plan to Succeed. Consider your business from the customer viewpoint – what are the three best things about dealing with you, now consider what are the three worst things. Now develop a plan to be rid of these poor performance issues and see if you can turn them into advantages.

If you can centralize your business experience in line with your customer’s expectations you will improve your business no end.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

How to improve your Decision Making

One of the major attributes of a good leader is our decision making skills. Good decisions are based upon a mixture of data, analysis, intuition, wisdom, experience, and judgment. Making good decisions involves collecting the available information, being able to ask for other people's opinions and thoughts and then making the decision. No one is ever right all the time; it's the percent of good decisions over time that matters.

What can we do to improve our decision making skills?

Do you hesitant to make a decision. Play out the consequences in your head to see how the decision would play in real life. Test out a number of scenarios to support your decision. You may be hesitating because your little voice in your head is telling you something isn't right. Good decisions are usually somewhere between the second and third decision you come to, as you explore the options.

Are you biased. Do you play favorites, deciding quickly in one area, but holding off in another? Do you drag out your favorite solutions to often? Be clear and honest with yourself about your attitudes, beliefs, biases, opinions and prejudices and your favorite solutions. We all have them. The key is not to let them affect your objective and cold decision making. Before making any sizable decision, ask yourself, are any of my biases affecting this decision?

Common mistakes in thinking: ? If sales are down, and we increase advertising and sales go up, this doesn't prove causality. They are simply related. Say we know that the relationship between sales/advertising is about the same as sales/number of employees. Do you state as facts things that are really opinions or assumptions? Are you sure these assertions are facts? State opinions and assumptions as that and don't present them as facts. Do you attribute cause and effect to relationships when you don't know if one causes the other. Do you generalize from a single example without knowing if that single example does generalize?

Analyze the situation? Thoroughly define the problem. Think out loud with others; see how they view the problem. Figure out what causes it. Keep asking why. See how many causes you can come up with and how many organizing buckets you can put them in. This increases the chance of a better solution because you can see more connections. Look for patterns in data, don't just collect information. Put it in categories that make sense to you. Then when a good alternative appears you're likely to recognize it immediately.

Learn from your history. Take an objective look at your past decisions, and what the percentage were good choices. Break the decisions into topics or areas of your life. For most of us, we make better decisions in some areas than others. Maybe your decision-making skills need help in one or two limited areas, like decisions about people, decisions about your career, political decisions, technical, etc.

Slow down. Life is a balance between waiting and doing. Life affords us neither the data nor the time. You may need to try to discipline yourself to wait just a little longer than you usually do for more, but not all, the data to come in. Push yourself to always get one more piece of data than you did before until your correct decision percent becomes more acceptable. Instead of just doing it, ask what questions would need to be answered before we'd know which way to go

Sleep on it. The brain works on things even when you are not thinking about them. Take some time, do something completely different, and get back to the decision later. Let a good night's sleep go by and re-assess the problem in the morning.

Use your network. You’ve taken time to create your network of colleagues, experts and task force, present the problem and all you know about it, and let the group help decide. Delegate the decision. Sometime others above, aside, or below you may be in a better position to make the decision.

Study great decision makers. Which great decision makers do you admire? Steve Jobs? Winston Churchill? Read the biographies and autobiographies of a few people you respect, and pay attention to how they made decisions in their life and careers. Take some notes on ideas they used that you could apply.

With some effort on our behalf we can improve the way we make our decisions to help us better develop as leaders in our environment.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Do you have plenty of Busines Acumen?

One of the skills we need to have in our pocket is business acumen. Do you know what is expected? Do you know what the business rules are?

As leaders we need to have a good understanding of business, so we can make the right choices with our team.

Below are some ideas how to improve your business acumen.

Read periodicals. These publications will help you for what you need to know about business in general:

  • Wall Street Journal,
  • Business Week,
  • Fortune,
  • Barron's, and
  • Harvard Business Review.

Look to see any items in each issue that relate to your business. Then look to find any parallels, trends that affect business now, emerging trends that may have a future impact, and general business savvy about how business works.

Study some business books. Go to any business book store and pick a couple of books on general business principles, one with a financial slant, one with a marketing slant and one about customer service.

Read them through and look for their themes that you can apply.

Watch the right sources. Watch the business channels that carry business news and information full time. They have interviews with business leaders, reviews of industries by business experts, as well as general reviews of companies.

Figure out the rules of the game. Reduce your understanding of how business operates to personal rules of thumb or insights. Write them down in your own words. Use these rules of thumb to analyze a business that you know something about. Then pick two businesses that have pulled off clever strategies—one related to yours and one not. Study what they did; talk to people who know what happened and see what you can learn.

Now apply these rules to your business

Need to know more about your business? Study your annual report and various financial reports. If you don’t know how, the major investment firms have basic documents explaining how to read financial documents. After you’ve done this, consult a a senior person in the company you know and ask him or her what he or she looks at and why. How does your team have an affect?

Broaden your knowledge within the company. Volunteer for task forces that include people outside your area of expertise. Work on some Total Quality Management, Process Re-Engineering, Six Sigma, or ISO projects that cross functional or business unit boundaries to learn more about the business.

Get close to customers. Customer service is the best place to learn about the business. Arrange a meeting with a counterpart in customer service. Have him or her explain the function to you. If you can, listen in to customer service calls or even better handle a couple yourself.

Learn to think as an expert in your business area. Take problems to inside experts or external consultants and ask them, what are the keys they look for; observe what they consider significant and not significant. List your data into categories so you can remember it. Devise five key areas or questions you can consider each time a business issue comes up.

Obviously this is not an easy set of learnings to accumulate. So set yourself a goal to tackle one each month and plan to review your progress in six months and see how well you've done. Do you have the persistence? I'm sure when you stick with this strategy to improve your knowledge you'll start to manage your team in line with the business for great results!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The strength of maintaining a scorecard

We have all heard lots about the balanced scorecard, for those that have them, however it is quite often so far detached from our day to day work that people find it difficult to understand in the context of what we do.
So what is the real world option - how can we make sense of it? How do we tell if we are leading our team in the right direction?

Try this for a few months and see how you go.

1. List the three major things your team does.
2. List every department internal and external that touch your team.

This should result in list of 7-12 items.

Now write a short statement that reflects perfection for each of these items. This will be your score of 10.
Write another sentence that reflects a fair result/action for each item. This will be your score of 5.
Write another sentence for barely acceptable. This will be your score of 1.

Now you have the framework for your own scorecard.

The next piece is the most difficult, take an hour to reflect on your list and give yourself a score. Look for any low scores and develop an action plan by the end of the week.
By the end of the month you need to solicit feedback against your list of items and confirm your score was realistic.

Next month review your scores and look for areas to improve.

The beauty of maintaining your scorecard is that you will have no surprises. Your scorecard also gives you a ready reckoner to describe the important aspects of what your team's job is all about.

If you can do this and keep it up-to-date with real scores your team and your leadership will flourish.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Is your leadership talk supported by your actions?

Had lunch with my friend Wilson this week and he recounted what was happening at his workplace that could happen to us and the terrible side effects.
The workplace was doing their annual list of compulsory courses, such as equality, harassment and such. Wilson and his friends sat through the same class as last year and completed the same assessment as last year and were dutifully sent on their way.

The following week coincided with annual salary reviews. The company has been struggling of late and cash-flow was somewhat of a problem. It was no surprise when most employees received a very modest salary increment. I guess we have all been in this situation and are prepared to take it on the chin.

So this week Wilson and his friends were subjected to the final course in their yearly compulsory quota, Ethics - again they went through the usual course and usual assessment and off they went.
Much of this sounds pretty typical and most people went on their way. What the leadership hadn't counted on was the mood of the workplace. Pretty soon the conversation within the workplace got to talking about the leadership's action versus their talk. Soon the questions and statements were flying back and forth, typical of these were:
Why did we put our prices up in line with inflation, yet our salary didn't go up in the same ratio.
Why have we moved so many staff to contract positions but the staff don't have a written contract.
Why do I get asked to constantly do more yet I get no more reward.
Why do we talk about ethics but don't seem to act ethically with our own people.

While many of these questions were a little selfish and short-sighted, the mood of many of the workers was drifting away from the leadership. Funny the leadership team were patting themselves on the back for having completed the new price book and completing the workplace regulatory training.

So my question to you - do you follow your words with supporting actions? Does your team know that you do what you said you would do? Sometimes we need to ask an observer for the feedback to be sure we get the real answer and not the one we want to hear.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Leading Change a Balancing Act

One common task for us as leaders is to lead change in our workplace. While it may seem that this is a straight forward activity, when done well it will lead to positive changes for our team. However if this is poorly done it can create havoc in our workplace.

The obvious first step is to identify what and why a change needs to be implemented. This is best done through a consultative approach. Take care when raising the situation to also note the parts of the process that are working well and need to be continued in the current way they are done.

In your leadership role it is up to you to drive the changes and engage your team. While this may seem obvious the risk you run if you do not identify the good aspects in the current situation is that the team will feel that their previous efforts have been wasted or not appreciated. So now having identified the good points that need to be continued and where the changes need to be completed. The next steps can be started.

The positioning of yourself towards the team must be one where you are part of the change and not one of the boss pushing the change down to the team. Should you push the change down in an authoritative way, there is some risk of two negative outcomes. Firstly the team may feel very off-side even if they outwardly say yes to the change. Secondly the team may feel dis-engaged in that they have this task thrust on them with no support.

Ideally you will engage with the team and be a large part of the change, when your team see you involved and they see you changing in-line with the change, they will better engage and assist with the change. Take your time to keep the team appraised of the continuation phase along with the changes and their progress.

By working with your team your leadership stands a much better chance of success than pushing a change onto a team and walking away.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Leadership and your self awareness

One of the aspects we need to address every so often is ourselves and what leadership skills we have at this stage of our leadership journey. This is quite confronting for many of us, however the better we do this the better we can understand ourselves and make good decisions based on this awareness.

Often in business we talk about conducting a SWOT, Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It is essentially the same for us when we look at our leadership skills. We need to stop and assess where we stand and how well we are doing in each of the areas of leading our team.

So how should we do this? Not easily, take a list of the main areas we have been concentrating on in the improvement of our leadership. Then we need to work through each skill area on our list..... and the hard part, take a good honest look and evaluate our standing. Let's take a sample.

Engaging: How well are we engaging with our bosses, our critical stakeholders. How well are we engaging with our team? Do we know their strengths and weaknesses, have we worked with them on how to improve one of their areas of opportunity? How do we score our efforts here, should this be considered one of your Strengths, or a Weakness? Are there some opportunities for us to improve in this area? Are we very poor in this area so much so that there is a threat to our leadership position.

Our Leadership is dependent on us doing this every year or so, helping us to focus on what we're doing well and what needs to be better. Sure this will take some time just consider this another step in your leadership journey.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Leadership and the art of Engagement

We have spent time before about talking with your team. Know your team, their strengths and weaknesses and you can help everyone in the team to meld and become the energised team, ready to work towards the team goals. Our leadership success will depend on it.

So as the leader one of the arts we need to master is the how to engage with the various members of the team. Take the time to ask to initial question and follow it up some small idea of your own then build more questions to probe further. But engaging is more than just asking questions, at times we need to be the counsellor demonstrating apathy and understanding towards our teammates and at other times we need to also show our team members a part of ourselves.

While I've said we need to show part of ourselves when engaging with our team we also still need to maintain a certain distance, this is a very tough line to balance. The main game here is to establish boundaries and not be flexible about crossing these lines. I'm sure you know someone who is a bit too familiar with their boss and all of a sudden its difficult to see who is the leader and who is being manipulated. Leadership requires us to set this line and be firm if people are in danger of crossing the line.

Be sure to maintain the dialogue, set challenges, probe for better solutions and be sure to praise all positive work and actions.

Be firm and fair then you'll hear people comment to the affect you know where you stand . Most people prefer this position with their leader. Can you get yourself into this position?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Leadership requires Authority

Leaders need authority, When you look internally at your team or externally from a customers perspective, everyone expects the leader to be the authority in their area.
Some people naturally have a great amount of self-confidence and can pull off the act of being the authority figure. The rest of us have to do it the old-fashioned way.

Most of us have to build our authority and our self-confidence through knowledge and skill. Take the time to find out everything about your products, processes and the people who take part in each step. Be sure to ask questions and explore every angle. Put yourself into each persons shoes, from the customer through to the workplace cleaner. Next take some time to understand every cost incurred along the away to production. How much do the raw materials cost, what is the cost of shipping to you and also the shipping to the customer. What the duties and taxes that get added along the way.

Now you know everything about the product and all the influencing factors you need to review these factors so you can recall everything off the top of your head.

The next step in this process is for you to prepare and practice the delivery of short descriptors of the top ten aspects related to your business. Just think about the last time you saw someone who stammered or couldn't answer the seemingly obvious question - I bet you didn't consider them an authority in their area.

Your ability to be, and act as the authority on your subject is a must-have skill to define your leadership.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Leaders questioning the status quo

We talked before about people in leadership roles and fact that they need to be innovative and pushing new ideas to keep in front of the pack.

How do you approach this task? Have you stopped to consider it as one of your jobs. Now that it's out in the open you need to set aside some time to think through when and how you should approach this important task.

For most people the important thing is to ask many questions, what the process is, how was it set up , what do each of the people think, what could be done to improve the process and so on. As leaders it is up to us to consider do we have enough information to make a valid change, or do we need more information or more time to consider the best course of action to start that innovation. Often we'll stop, look, consider and come to the conclusion there is no obvious way forward.

Time to reconsider how the investigation should move. Remember it is our role as leaders to take the responsibility to keep looking and investigating to find the innovation to drive our business. If not, perhaps leadership is not for us. Because then we will fall to the same lows as so many out there we see, those who run through the process but can't move their team forward.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Leaders know their team

Good leaders know their team members, they spend time to understand their strengths and weakness, their fears and ambitions. Our leadership success is dependent upon it.

When was the last time you stopped and had a coffee with each of your team members? Sat down and shared your thoughts and asked them about what they think. Seems like the obvious thing to - but how often do you do it? You know you will stop for a break so why not make it more productive? Productive you may ask, the better you know your team, the more they relate to you the more they want to work. Part of your leadership style is how you relate with your team.

A comment often heard when you mention this, is I don't have time. This is an interesting comment is it so tough to allocate a couple of lunch or tea breaks to spend with your team - after all they are YOUR team. The other comment is there are too many people to get around them all. This is an interesting comment as many theorists would tell us that most people can only cope with about ten direct reports, so if your team is bigger than this you should consider is your team a manageable size.

We discussed before that one of the major differences between a management style and Leadership style revolves around the not just the processes of the business but the human or personal factor.

Consider this week, the time to start a new habit. Choose the member of your team you know the least about and make it your goal to find out some positive things about them through casual contact. In time this will strengthen your leadership and ultimately aide you and your team.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Leadership Focusing on Outcomes

We discussed a few weeks ago about defining outcomes and empowering your team members to get on with the work to get the job done. Last week I had a brush with a team whose manager/leader was very dedicated to achieving his outcomes and those he had set for his team. While working with the team it became apparent that most of the team were less than satisfied with their leader and his way.

We had spent a few days working through some rather complicated scenarios with a group of eight members from the team. Like many teams the members were quite diverse in their skills and attitudes to their work. While I was leading the workshop I was observing each member and their characteristics and as usual there was the guy who asks lots of questions, the guy who looks bored, the guy who always asks why etc. From this point of view this group was pretty typical.

The leader of the team came in to observe his team and two minutes later had singled out two members and sent them packing. Well!! that was a little interesting. Now the team were down two people and the whole team would have to now do extra to achieve their task.

Later I questioned the leader on why he had eject the two members, his response surprised me, these guys weren't paying attention and doing it the way I expected. To this I replied perhaps we could have waited and appraised how these members applied their new skills within the team and did they assist the team reaching the goal.

Does it particularly matter which way a job is done if the team can deliver the outcome. If there are critical issues that must be addressed or a certain way some points must be done, then it is up to us as leaders to explain this when we deliver our vision.

Next time you want to step in and make a move with your team members stop and consider is the outcome in danger, if not allow the team to do things their way, they'll appreciate it!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Good Leadership by Defining Outcomes

We discussed before that all great leaders share their vision with the team. Why, so everyone knows where we are going and what we are striving for. So what's the intermediate step? Like all good projects the vision needs to be broken down into manageable parcels of work.

Now that we have spent some quality time and research understanding the various tasks the time has come for us to set our team onto achieving the vision - how? by completing the tasks aiding to the long-term completion of the project and attainment of the vision.

Consider the people in your team and decide who should take which portion of work, some members will be very obvious because the task matches their skill-set while other jobs may fall to several members of the team. Take care to ensure the load is balanced and look to see opportunities for people to extend their skills.

Now it comes to the people management portion of this task, don't take this lightly as much of the success in this will depend on how well you work with the people to talk them through the challenge and set their goals by defining the outcome you need. Many of us have seen the acronym SMART it's well known, it works and don't be afraid to use it.

Leadership is about talking to the people and explaining again your vision and piece in how this series of tasks will aid towards the fulfillment of the vision, then carefully work through defining the job and the outcomes, remembering:

  • Specific - give all the details, ideas hurdles etc about the task,
  • Measurable - what you expect to be the outcome, how it would look for a successful outcome and how that would differ from a poor outcome,
  • Attainable - agree between you that the person has the appropriate skills and support and the timeline is reasonable,
  • Realistic - be fair in your appraisal and agree on how realistic it is to achieve this task and present a great outcome, and
  • Time-bound - when is this task to be completed, when should we have reviews and what they should consist of.

If you are open, fair and honest with this process, your team members will come away with a sense of urgency, excitement and motivation to make it all happen.

Be warned if you fail to take these steps carefully your team's outcome will not conform to your ideas and may well not aid you in achieving your vision.

If these ideas are new try it out with a small project to get the feel of it and see how your team responds, look carefully for feedback to see how your team accepts challenges when presented this way, then you can adjust your thinking and delivery to strive for bigger results from your leadership.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Leaders - Agents of Change

Are you an agent of change? We discussed some time back that one of the strengths of good leaders is to be innovative and look for ways to improve the processes and people in our team to achieve better results.

Many people are very resistant to change as they have developed a comfort factor with the status quo. As leaders we need to identify and empathise with these team members. Once we can understand why this resistance is present we can take some time to develop the vision. With a good clear vision our task of helping these guys change will become a lot easier.

With this in mind we need to develop our vision to include several messages to address these areas of change and especially point out the following:

  • Why the change will benefit the work team,
  • How the change will improve the team's performance,
  • What's in it for each of the people within the group,
  • How the change will be implemented, and
  • When the change will take affect.

When the vision is clear we need to spend some quality time with each factional leader explaining the vision, answering the questions and gaining buy-in from each of these leaders.

Gaining influence with each of these sub-groups will ensure your change is implemented, should you fail to gain this influence you will struggle to gain momentum and you changes may well flounder.

So next time a change comes to your attention consider the change and be mindful to consider how your planning, vision, influencing all need to be part of the plan. Be sure each one of these areas have been well considered, and be ready to talk about the details and possible objections, the sooner these are addressed and presented to the team the sooner you can get on and see your changes implemented.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Leadership and the Art of Anticipation

Over lunch last week a good friend was discussing his new boss of some twelve months, he commented he rarely heard much input from his boss until things were going bad and then there would be a flurry of information and directions.

As the story went on it became a story I've heard in quite a few workplaces, the boss was trying to work across so many areas he inevitably ignored some aspects of the business until things were about to explode, then he would come in swinging left and right barking commands at anyone within earshot. At this all the workers would spring off in another direction and busily work towards this new direction. I asked my friend if this had a positive result and the customers were happy with the renewed effort and activity. His reply didn't surprise me when he said the customers ended up confused. Why had there been an effort for the past so many weeks in this direction and now it was focused in another direction.

It was with interest he went on to say that the workers in his section were happy the boss had set some clear direction, although they were not happy about the timing. "We knew this was about to happen" was the cry. We are forced to treat everyone the same and not examine their particular needs and then when a customer clearly states these needs, they feel they have been ignored and things get ugly.

So it seems although there were clear indicators of what the request was, there was a lack of anticipation of when to rally the team and modify the directions to make our customer truly happy and satisfied.

As we have discussed before good leaders need to present a clear vision to their team on what the outcome is and how the team will get there. The really good leaders anticipate any changes or modifications that need to be made along the way. Keep an eye on the situation, your team members and anticipate what would/could go right or wrong and what could be better.

Anticipation is like planning the more we force ourselves to do it the more we can take small steps to correct the work and get the best output.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Leadership - Opportunities lost in the flat organisation

Lots of workplaces are going through the joy of middle management being removed or drastically reduced, often referred to as flattening the organisation. The planned result in theory is if there are less layers of management then the organisation will be running more efficiently and produce more cash for the shareholders.

Observing changes in many organisations recently I have seen this flattening of the organisation have another effect which is killing the organisation off. Leadership opportunities are being stifled.

Talk to any manager and he will let you know his aim is to raise his team's utilisation better than 80% and he will be a happy man. So what happens as each team member approaches their ceiling of utilisation, they tend to get bogged down in the process required to run at 100%.

Interestingly when we examine the bulk of the leadership traints we see tasks such as influencing others, envisioning our team, developing new ideas to streamline our business activities. What do all of these require - time, however each member of our team now has very little time left - we just robbed them. So if we are a management guru we would say this is great we have raised our utilisation to a high level.

Long term we have taken the strategic leadership away from the our team and we have replaced it with the short term tactical advantage of improved efficiency, but how do we get the balance right? With no strategic improvement we will be overtaken by our competitors after our current processes become left behind in our focus on maximum efficiency and no improvements from within.

So while we are driven from above to make our team more efficient, we need to ensure our team members have time to develop their ideas and let their leadership come out and show.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Leadership - An opportunity knocks

Recently I visited with a team who were working a really tough schedule put in place by their boss. While all the members knew what the outcome was to be, no-one had allocated the tasks to get to the goal. Interestingly they were all eager to get to the job site and get stuck into getting the job done. Once there, they appraised the obvious tasks to be completed and then found in many cases they didn't have the necessary tools or access.

Each day the group came in and complained that no-one had organised this or that and hence why they were struggling to make their schedule.

What interesting group dynamics, the group could identify that they needed some leadership to direct and influence the team in the completion of this task yet no-one wanted to put their hand up and take a shot at it. I watched in disbelief wonder what in their workplace was making them hold back. As I spent some more time with the larger group it became clearer to me. What had happened at this workplace, happens in many and often leaves us unsure of when and how to act.

This workplace had recently gone through a big transformation with a new management structure put in place. Lots of the members of these teams were struggling to identify and cope with the new managers in place, would they be supported if they took on the leadership mantle? What would happen if they made a mistake? Why weren't these new managers organising things?

This left me thinking when will the management clear the air and empower these people to bring out their best.

And if we were the people in this group would we take the risk and assume the leadership role, what an opportunity to show your capability. If you find yourself in a situation like this take a look around and see if this is your chance to move into a leadership role.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Leadership Growth - Understand the four phases

Why is it that sometimes we're very comfortable leading a task and yet at other times we feel we are floundering along. The theorists will tell us there are four phases of Leadership growth and we must be able to recognise each and the steps we need to take to move to the next state.

These states are commonly known as:

  1. I don't know What I don't know,
  2. I know what I don't know,
  3. I grow and know and it starts to show, and
  4. I go because of what I know.

I don't know What I don't know.

This stage of leadership usually occurs when we take on a new series of tasks, the tasks are unfamiliar and we're not sure what is the right direction to move. When we're at this stage we feel uncomfortable and it is important we get busy to understand what the task is and how it gets done and then appraise the situation for the best effect.

I know what I don't know.

Having recognised the first stage and spent some time to learn the task and current process, now is the time to set up a path to learn all the missing information on product process and people. We need to leverage those in the current job to map a course to bridge this missing knowledge gap.

I Grow I know and it starts to show.

Now we have spent the time to fill our knowledge gap, now we can start to do an analysis to see what is the best way to move forward. As this analysis gains momentum we can start to make changes with the processes and people to lead the team in our way. Often at this stage the team start to feel that everything is coming together, people know what to do and the process is running smoothly with few problems.

I Go because I know.

Now I'm quite comfortable with the task and the people and processes I've adjusted along the way. I have a good understanding of all of the factors, so now when problems arise I can call on my knowledge and easily and quickly adjust the team to complete my tasks.

Understanding these four stages helps us to focus on the steps to move from the first stage through to the competent stage, the better we identify where we are placed tells us what is required to move forward so our leadership at its optimum.

Take the time to do an assessment, can you recognise where you are in this cycle. Once you have reached this understanding, now allocate the time to move to the next stage. If you do the time your leadership will improve.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Leaders drive momentum

One of the standout capabilities of a good leader is their ability to use the power of momentum to get things done and gather the followers in their path to sweep through to success.

However momentum just like learning leadership skills, usually starts with small steps, gaining a toe-hold and gradually building up. The toughest aspect is gaining the initial inertia to get moving forward at all and then to mould it into the action machine you need to achieve your goals.

Many organisations are currently adjusting to have a much flatter management tree, which means that it is difficult to recruit people to the team. In this situation you'll need to find a motivator to entice these guys to come join your team, so look for a number of win-win situations such that your team members can see some positive outcome for them. Then you need to get some action in place (some might say grab some low hanging fruit - get some wins in early) so you can capitalize on this momentum and recruit further and so build your momentum, actions and goals will follow. People are drawn to success, so be sure that the people around you can see these early successes and they'll follow wanting to share in the glory.

When you can maintain momentum within your team, you'll find you can accomplish so much more than without the team behind you. So next you get the chance, look for opportunities to try and gain some momentum and use this success to recruit more talent to your team.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Your leadership limits - limited by you

Ever hear the term " Dream for the Sky" meaning to dream big, as big as you dare. Leadership aspirations fall into this category too. I recall some 12 years ago, I finally got this position I had been working on for the previous twenty years. Yahoo I'd made it! So the first year or so in this position was fantastic as I enjoyed all the new opportunities and spheres of influence to see some great things happen. Then I fell flat as I lost my direction.

What had happened? I was still the same person, still ready to get in and work hard. Now when I look back I see that I had lost my goal to strive for, so unbeknown to me my major motivation factor had been removed, and by myself. Surprise, surprise a year or two later I left the job and took another position. Had I realised then as I do now, maybe I may have done somethings a little different, take some leave and re-assess my goals of where I wanted to take my career, and then assess what steps I needed to take to achieve them.

So, do you have a plan in action? a leadership position in mind that you want to take on, and importantly do you stop and re-assess how your progressing, is it necessary for an update as circumstances change.

If you don't dream big there is every chance, that you'll limit your potential and settle for what should be an interim step in your life's journey of leadership.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Great leaders need to win

Take a look at the great leaders in history and you'll get to see a common trait. They all find a way to win or achieve their goal. Some did this over a relatively short time while others spent years grinding away to eventually find the right formula.

What is interesting is that these leaders wouldn't accept defeat, sure they had set-backs and some took different approaches, but the thing they had to show us was their perseverance to come out the other side having met their goal.

Next time it's us in the box seat, even though we have carefully considered the options and explained our vision to the team - when things go wrong we need to take a leaf from these leadership hero's and take another look at the problem, consider some alternative options and most of all we need to be prepared to try and try again until we emerge with the solution.

The tough part of this is to maintain our winning attitude, yes we may have some problems along the way, we need to learn from inspire our team to move forward with next option and keep the team focused on the goal. If we fail to maintain this positive attitude then the team will waiver and our efforts will be dramatically reduced.

When you're the leader, hold your head up high and take your winning attitude with you and you'll make those goals.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Are you empowered?

Are you in a position to be the leader? One of the great limitations to stop us taking control and leading in our position is our feeling of empowerment. Does your organisation make sure you know that you're empowered to take the lead. Are you confident that regardless of the outcome you will be supported.

Your empowerment is one of the cornerstones for you to feel confident to take your leadership to the next level. People who do not feel empowered will either withdraw into their shell and treat the situation as if they are just a number doing their job, others will become disillusioned and leave the job to find an environment where they gain the empowerment they need, so they are able to act in the leadership role they seek.

How do you know when you're empowered to be the leader you can? Talk with your boss your supervisor, do they give you the feeling that they will support you? Are they prepared to let you do your thing without meddling? Are they prepared to step back and not micro-manage you and your efforts to get the job done? Hopefully the answer to all these questions make you feel the confidence that they will let you do your best to lead.

Perhaps you're feeling a little vulnerable, if that's the case why not ask your boss/supervisor to act as your mentor, you'll quickly find out how much they want you to succeed by offering to take time to spend with you. Mentoring is a great way to walk and talk through situations with a more experience person and get feedback on the good and not-so-good so you can learn to be the best leader you can.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Honesty the best policy

Well what a long week! I had the misfortune to be caught in the mass groundings of planes across the United States. The one shiny light was a young man who demonstrated some great leadership to those of us stranded. Let me recount what started as a straight-forward trip.

Sitting in the lounge relaxing, I've been though the fun of checking my luggage to my overseas destination I have my boarding passes in hand, an hour to wait for the first leg from Chicago to LA at 6:00 pm, with two hours to change to my international flight. Here I come home sweet home. Around 5:00 pm most of the flights suddenly come up as cancelled and we all rush to the service desk - feels a bit like a rush to get into the football finals. After years of practice at the said football games I get to the front of the queue and am lucky enough to get another flight leaving at 7:00 pm.

With this small hick-up behind me I board my new flight all set to go, surprise surprise we are delayed another 20 minutes - getting tight for my connection in LA, but I'm confident I can make it. We taxi out and then sit as a lightning storm comes across O'Hare airport closing all the runways for about 30 minutes.

"This is your Captain speaking" starts the announcement, our co-pilot doesn't have enough flying hours left to take us to LA we need to return to the terminal and get another co-pilot, so back we head to the terminal. Eventually we taxi back and the airline staff come on board.

Ladies and gents we don't have another co-pilot for this type of plane in the area and we will have to wait for one to fly in from another city! A hundred plus passengers groan in unison. After this announcement we were escorted from the plane to wait.

The one silver lining in this whole debacle was this young man from the airline who every 30 odd minutes gave us an update on what was happening. While the message was not one we wanted to hear, at least we knew what was going on. Sure there were upset passengers and about 20 of us who would miss our on-going flights.

To cut a long story short we eventually took off well after 1:00 am the next morning. Arriving very early in LA the airline representative bundled us off into a corner and advised us to wait. Lucky us some four hours later they eventually came up with a plan what to do with each of us who were stranded. In the four hours we sat around we had 3 contradicting stories and the staff continually wandered off. By the end of the four hours the group was very upset and hostile towards the staff and the airline. Yes I did get home - just a day late!

On reflection if our hosts in LA had of taken the initiative, shown some leadership and kept us informed as our host in Chicago had, we would have been in a much better frame of mind and maybe more accepting of our predicament.

What can we take away from this? When things go bad, whether its our fault or not. We need to take stock of the situation and talk to the people involved and tell them how it is and show them how you are taking steps to correct the issue and make things right.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The easiest leadership style to adopt - The Self-Confident Leader

We often here and see so much information on leadership styles and wonder what style suits us? Actually, probably several will fit you. As you want to improve your leadership style, this style is by far the easiest to make big inroads in a short space of time. It will still require you to be bold and take a plan of action but you will see most of us can relate to this style.

So what are we talking about when we say a "Self-Confidence" style of leadership? We are talking about your style that is probably most prevalent. A self-confident leadership style exist when we are acting as a leader in an area where we are confident we know much of the situation through support and learning or through the recognition of natural talent.

To recognise a leader utilising this style consider the following:

Do they follow a passion for that field,
Are they positive in their behaviour in this area,
Always supportive of others who seek knowledge or help in this field,
They want to build a point of difference in their expertise in this area, and
They speak out when required.

I expect we all know people who are like this and now you're aware, sit back and watch and you'll see people follow their lead. Notice as these guys are in their realm they are happy and positive and this is very infectious to those around them. These guys are acting as leaders in this area, of course many are not the managers or team leaders they're a regular person like you or me. However they are acting as Self-confident Leaders.

What is your area or expertise, what is the area you're most passionate about, this is the time for you to spring from these areas - the areas your confident in, and show your leadership potential. Speak out to ensure things are done right, help others learn about this area, be positive in your actions and talk then before you now it, you'll see others following your lead in this area. Give it a go and look to see your supporters lining up to help you.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Your expectations on where to find Leadership

An interesting experience the other day had me to consider - where do we expect to find Leadership in action in our business dealings.

I have a customer who had presented me with a project that had few unique requirements, this caused me to set out and find the manager of a different department. After some investigation I finally tracked down the person and set up a meeting to work out how we could collaborate to satisfy the customers requirements.

So I briefed the guy on the project requirements and clarified if this was the right area to fulfill these additional packets of work, to my disappointment he straight out said - No way we can't do this! I asked for him to explain why he couldn't do this, well firstly our schedule doesn't fit, and we've never done it this way before, plus I'll end up with more work for my team and on and on... some hours later after offering to adjust the schedule, provide the facilities, purchase additional equipment, this guy was still adamant that this project was not going to happen.

Feeling like I was stuck in a time warp, I asked the question, How do your customers access your services then? Well first they submit this application from the Web page and supply funding approval, we'll allocate someone to the job, raise a schedule and then we tell the customer when we can deliver. What if I fill out this application and I provide funding will the job be accepted, sure! provided you fill out the application from the web page and tell us how to complete the billing from your department, and don't forget to tell us when you need delivery on the application form.

Suddenly I had the solution and my customer demands could be satisfied.

Funny that I went to see the guy thinking he would want to collaborate to please this customer with a seamless solution, when in fact I would have been better off to sit in office and compile the application on the web like an external customer.

Now I look back I can see that I had an expectation of this other person purely by his position. I had expected that once I had briefed this guy on the customer requirements he would have assisted me to satisfy our shared customer. What I got was a person caught up in routine and processes.

I guess this demonstrated to me that people in our hierarchy don't necessarily display many leadership characteristics, and it also tells us that we don't need to be in the management tree to think and act as a leader providing unique, flexible and creative solutions.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Your vision what a wonderful tool

While travelling this week I had numerous meetings that mostly went well. Though when pausing for a breathe on yet another flight home, two particular meetings stuck in my head and both for a similar reason.

The meetings were with the leaders of two very different teams one conducts most of the team action in a virtual environment to an internal audience, while the other has a very hands-on and customer facing team. What struck me about both these meetings was that the leaders expressed their vision with crystal clarity, sitting with them I could see in my mind the situation and end-state that they wanted each team to achieve. I left their offices in an invigorated state, eager to get to work and do my part of the team's plan to make sure we got to this end point.

Why was I moved in this way? After these meetings I had a clear and unambiguous vision of what I needed to do to help make the team reach its goal. Sure I interrupted what about this and what about that? And sometimes there was a definite answer and sometimes I was told - we need you to come up with a solution for this part of the problem. Often this would get me off-side and negative about the task, but because these leaders took the time to explain their vision and the steps we needed to complete to get there I was OK with it. So later it occurred to me that these leaders had put me into a receptive mood to take on the challenges that I may not have otherwise accepted.

My goal going forward is to take the time to think through the vision of what my team is achieving and then slow down further to plan of the best way I can articulate it to my team. I'm sure if a clear vision had such an affect on me it will to other teams too.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Who should be the leader?

Who should be the leader in your group? why You! We all have potential to be the leader and some will be more successful than others, it depends on your perception, your values and especially the drive in your heart.

Do you want to make a difference , do you want the team to accomplish, do you want to feel part of the group - like you belong? I guess we all do. Where to start, probably the place to start is to assess the situation - of where the group is, what the composition of the group is and what we want to achieve.

Take care to then explain in a positive fashion the vision of what the end-state is, in many cases this is all you need to do particularly if the group is in a good state of mind. Next pause for a few moments to let everybody consider the idea and then ask your team for any questions. It is important that you allow the team to have sufficient time to consider the vision you have planted in their mind - don't rush this aspect. A question asked at this time in front of the whole team allows everyone to benefit from the clarification points.

Once the idea is firmly planted in each member of the team, it becomes time to delegate/arrange the members to tasks - often this is quite obvious as a member may have special skills that preclude others from taking that part of the job. If much of the overall job falls to the special skills people it may be prudent to ask them if and how someone can assist to lighten their load. This can have some great spin-off benefits, firstly the guy with the big load gains a sense of appreciation that he has more work, secondly the person who helps may learn some new skills they can contribute to the team, look for these hidden opportunities to broaden the teams skills and exposure.

So we can all be leaders and with a little empathy and thought we can make a great job of it by including everyone and getting the job done when we get the chance.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Do you have the drive to be the best leader you can

So you want to be a better leader, then lets consider one of the fundamental attributes of a leader - drive!
Leaders tend to share four basic areas of drive:

  1. Bonding,
  2. Defending,
  3. Acquiring, and
  4. Learning.

Bonding: Good leaders want to bond with others, it is a basic need and makes us feel good to be part of a social relationship and successfully work with others. Through bonding we develop partnerships and friendships, these relationships then encourage us to act in a fair and respectful manner with those we deal with.

Defending: As leaders we will be pasionate to protect any areas we feel close too, these may be our possesions, position or friendships. If we feel these are threatened or particularly our self-image or our self-beliefs are, we will become angry and defend our positions. We need to acknowledge this need for defence and pause to consider the most approapriate action and not "fly off the handle".

Acquiring: Leaders have an urge to acquire, this may be material things for some, it may be that management role that comes with certain perks, it may mean knowledge or information for others. What drives a leader to acquire is not important, how he or she acts is the important part, in some areas it may mean to be aggressive and fight for that extra sales, while in other areas it may mean spending time to develop a more detailed understanding. From our own perspective it is important to understand our motivation and what our goal is, but it is equally important to understand our bosses and our subordinates position. Understanding what drives a person's acquisition self will help us to deal with them at their level and see their motivators.

Learning: Leaders have an in-built curiosity - a need to learn, about where they are, where they want to be and how to get there. Learning is linked to an early post where I said leaders desire to innovate and to develop new and better systems to aid their end goal.

So, do we have the drive to be better leaders, to understand our motivations so we can lead our teams to better successes in the future.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Attitude Required

One of the defining characteristics of a leader is the ability to motivate others through our attitude.

I recall a recent team I was involved in where the leader had a poor attitude towards the major tasks. This attitude filtered into the whole team and many of the members then struggled to find a reason to get stuck into planning and organising the various tasks and assign them to the right people.

Luckily I was also working with another team, in this team the leader was positive and upbeat about the challenges in this project. Everyone pitched in and developed the plan components and moved into the implementation phase.

Over the weekend I contemplated about the projects I was working on and looked at my actions in these two projects. I resolved that I needed to ensure I was not affected by the attitude of the leaders and be certain I maintain my edge by delivering the best products and services for my portion of the projects.

The other angle of this is that when it's our turn to be the leader our attitude will shape the outcomes from our team members. Be positive and upbeat and your project team will feed from your attitude and the team will perform at their best.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Leadership the moving target

Being a leader means we need to adopt to the situation and use the right style at the right time.

Imagine you're at work and the boss hands out that special horrid job. How would you react and act in a positve way to lead the team through the job.

Now Imagine you're at the same work place and your workmate walks out behind the forklift, I bet this is much easier to determine the right way to lead.

And lastly Imagine you're still in the same place and the new guy is struggling with a complicated procedure.

So what can we take away from this, Great leaders can and do change their styles to suit the situation. Are you comfortable and prepared to switch from the co-operative leader for the first example acting as one in the team to share the burden and get on with getting the job done. Can you switch in a blink of an eye to adopt an authoritarian leadership mode and yell instructions in the face of a potential accident in the second example. Thirdly will you slow down to take the mentor and coaching leadership role for our final scenario.

The tough part of this is, is that there is no right way or perfect way to be great leader. Good leadership demands us to be capable in a number of roles. If we look into ourselves we can see that we are more comfortable with some styles than we are with others. This is the challenge for us to work and develop our weaker styles so they can be used as part of our arsonal of leadership skills.