25 May 2018

Great Leaders Do Three Things of Especial Pertinence in Uncertain Times

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I often ask business leaders what they believe their job entails.  The answers are many and varied, but most often consist of the same old clichés: “Leaders lead, managers manage” and “Leaders are born, not made”. Rather than exhibit the skills their companies sorely need, key individuals tie themselves in knots trying to absorb the newest leadership fads, acquired from books and courses, to blend into a strategy in the, invariably mistaken, belief that this melange of ideas will, somehow or other, power their business forward.

The reality is the best leaders only do three things:

  • Set the context
  • Manage the energy
  • Coach, don’t play

Let’s look at these in more detail…

Setting the context is about building a sustainable culture.

This is particularly important in today’s uncertain business climate. In challenging times, successful leaders are those that keep the focus on their organisation’s sense of purpose and direction. This, in turn, is about creating a common purpose that, ultimately, deepens trust throughout the business. Consequently, everyone starts to share the same values and aspirations and begins to move and work in the same direction.

The foundation of this sustainable culture is dependent on the choices a leader has made, is making now and will make in the future, and the behaviours that result from these decisions. Good leaders build trust and create a circle of security. They promote sharing and collaboration. They have both backbone and heart. Cumulatively, these things create the conditions where good behaviours proliferate and become a self-sustaining motor for growth.

Managing energy starts when leaders realises that if they can’t manage their own energy, how will they manage their team’s energy?  In essence, this is about communication and connection.  We can all, usually, communicate with someone else at an individual level, but not everyone can connect with a group. Good leaders do both.

Good leaders are also consistently honest in their communications about how their business is doing.  For example, does your organisation avoid talking about what’s not happening, but should?  How often does your organisation communicate during periods of uncertainty?  Are your communications taken seriously?

Strong leaders will focus more on communication during periods of uncertainty, explaining ‘why’ when essential change is needed and involving their people in the decision-making process.  They don’t avoid the issue of what’s not happening; they talk about what is – and ought to be – happening.

The language used to communicate is critical.  To change behaviours we must first consider, and if necessary change, the language used, and this starts at the top. Too often the language of blame infests businesses from the senior management team down, creating a toxic culture and, in the long run, sowing the seeds of destruction.

Connection begins when there is mutual respect and loyalty.  Connecting with your colleagues builds their trust in you and vice versa.  For true leaders, this is not about power and control but about adding value to the work of others and helping them grow in every aspect of their lives.

Connection is not just vital for internal communication.  It is also important for a business leader to be aware that the firm’s values are what the customers buy into and consequently, especially when times are tough, it’s vital to continue to maintain, communicate and promote them consistently and clearly externally.

Coach, don’t play is best illustrated via that well-known proverb, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for life”.  This is where clever and skillful communication and connection, as described above, come into play.  Good leaders coach by giving of their time and energy. With trust, confidence, communication and connection in place, managers and other leaders lower down the chain will follow your lead, giving their own teams their time and energy. These good behaviours will feed through the organisation and, as noted above, proliferate and become a vital, self-sustaining engine for growth.

That’s it – three things – simple!

The only thing left to do now is ask yourself, “as a leader, what am I focused upon?”  Decide that, then go and make things happen.