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.