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Leadership Thought #466 – Do You Have A Plan?

I am regularly surprised by how many business owners/leaders operate without a plan.  They simply make it up as they go along.  I guess if you don’t know where you are going; any road will take you there.  I sometimes wonder if this mindset is purposeful.  It’s hard to hold someone accountable (including yourself) if there are no real markers for success.  You can also apply any possible excuse to explain why the business isn’t more successful. 

Without a plan your business is a like a tumbleweed blowing in the wind. You don’t know where it will end up and the course it takes to get there is subject to the whims of other forces.  Unfocused effort only ever leads to frustration, miscommunication, wasted effort, poor financial decision making, unnecessary stress and less than optimal results.

As a leader, you need to plan for the following:

  • How you will stay on top of industry trends and changes;
  • How your business will compete in your market in both the short and long term;
  • How you will stay connected to your existing clients and anticipate/meet their needs;
  • Who you will target with your marketing and sales efforts and how you will make this happen;
  • What constitutes financial success and how you will manage to these outcomes;
  • How you will manage the natural risks inherent to your business/industry;
  • How you will manage growth while maintaining consistent effective operations;
  • How you will attract and retain the talent required to staff your business;
  • How you will plan for contingencies should you greatly exceed or fall below your business expectations.

Leadership is hard work.  You are paid to think not just do.  Your people look to you for focus and direction. Without a plan they will stumble about and fill in the blanks on their own.  Each person will have their own definition of what’s important and don’t be surprised if this is often different from what you want.  The first person you need to hold accountable is yourself.  Success is rarely ever an accident.  You need to have a plan on where you want to go, if you want to have a decent chance of getting there.

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Leadership Thought #465 – Everyone Is A Critic

When you lead others, everyone is a critic to some degree.  It’s next to impossible to be fully aligned with another person 100% of the time.  As a leader, knowing this, you can’t fall into the trap of listening to every dissenting voice. The path to mediocrity is littered with individuals who gave up their leadership power unnecessarily and allowed themselves to be unduly influenced by the opinions of others.  This doesn’t mean you avoid soliciting feedback, quite the contrary, but you need to be able to filter this feedback and trust your own judgment.  The world looks much different when you are actually accountable for your decisions.  It’s easy to be an expert when you don’t have to deal with the consequences of your actions.

You can’t browse the internet, pick-up a newspaper, watch TV or listen to radio without being bombarded by the opinions of so called experts.  In an office environment, you can multiply this by the number of one-off conversations that take place during the course of any given day.   In my line of work, I’ve encountered many middle managers, stuck in their careers, who often believe they are the brightest person in the room.   While they may in fact be highly intelligent (not always the case), they often lack the true courage of their convictions.  It is much easier to be an expert on the sidelines or in the stands than run the risk of actually competing on the field.  It takes minimal energy to snipe behind someone’s back as opposed to thoughtfully advocating for your position and effectively dealing with alternative points of view.

This morning I listened or read many different opinions on how President Obama should deal with Russia’s incursion into the Crimea.  Of course, many of these people aren’t foreign policy experts or have any real inside understanding of the current geopolitical power dynamics involved.  Have you every noticed that most talking heads haven’t actually ever run anything or achieved any significant level of significant professional accomplishment in the field they are commenting on?  They often stalled within the system they are now commenting on.  Even worse are the journalists/media personalities who wax and wane on every topic as they are actually qualified to do so.  They never miss an opportunity to stir up discontent and/or tell us everything wrong with what the leader or institution in question is doing.  Rarely, if ever, do they provide a thoughtful or realistic alternative.  If you are not accountable you can say anything.  We, the public, love this because it validates our own predisposition to form strong opinions without the facts or a selective understanding of only the facts that support our own often ideological position.  Thinking before acting is hard work and many of us prefer shortcuts instead.

Don’t get me wrong; some level of criticism is healthy.  No one is above reproach especially in a free and democratic society.  Weak leaders crush dissent.  They feel threatened when someone disagrees with them.  Just look at Putin. To confuse his weakness with strength is a mistake.  Leaders should welcome different opinions and perspectives. Feedback is essential for innovation and growth.  However, leaders also need to be able to separate the good ideas from the bad ones; the informed thoughts from the misinformed ones; those positions that have the best interest of the organization/institution at heart versus those are personally motivated.  Making the right decision isn’t always easy.  Standing your ground in the face of opposition will test your professional mettle.  Everyone is a critic.  But also remember, that only a much smaller number of us ever risk the criticism in the first place.

Leadership Thought #425 – 10 Ways To Ensure Your Business Success As A Leader

I often tell my clients that business is simple but people complicate it.  There are a few basic things every leader can do which will increase his/her effectiveness right away.  If you practice disciple on the following items 10 items, I guarantee you will see improved business results rather quickly:

  1. You mission statement and core values should be easy to read and understandable and revisited in every leadership/management meeting before you get started. This information also should be posted in as many locations as possible;
  2. Make sure your organization manages to a dashboard of key performance indicators (no more than 5-7) and that this information is made public and the topic of ongoing management discussions;
  3. The organization should go through a strategic planning process every 3-5 years where you establish a strategic direction for the company with supporting goals and major action items;
  4. Make sure you don’t make big decisions in an ad hoc or gut level fashion. Create and use a formal decision making filtering process aligned with the previous three points (it doesn’t have to be complicated) and stick to it;
  5. Make sure each of your direct reports has a succinct position description with crystal clear responsibilities and definitions of success.  Individual definitions of success should easily track back to your mission, values, goals and organization-wide key performance indicators;
  6. Have regular 1-1 meetings with your direct reports (at least monthly) where you discuss their individual progress in their position, obstacles to their continued success, balancing of shifting priorities, check-in on major action items and discuss training/support needs. I highly encourage you to create a 1-1 culture throughout all levels of your company;
  7. Have all of your direct reports meet together as a leadership team at least monthly where you discuss progress against key performance indicators and goals, balance organization-wide priorities and coordinate performance efforts;
  8. Make sure you have an HR approach that hires people carefully and also screens individual employees for basic leadership/management competencies (there are a large number of tools out there) before you promote them into a supervisory position.  Once the move is made then ensure there is ongoing training/support to maximize individual growth and development;
  9. Create the infrastructure within your company to regularly solicit customer feedback and reward success and make  adjustments based on this information;
  10. Make sure every employee has at least some variable pay built into their compensation package. The higher an individual goes in your organization the more of their pay should fluctuate based on performance (consequences should be deemed both positive and negative).

Leadership isn’t rocket science.  Creating the conditions for business success is actually pretty basic: be clear about where you are going and why; define what success looks like and track performance; make sure all of your key people on the same page; don’t “wing it” when it comes to important decisions; ensure that every single employee knows how they fit in the big picture and what they are supposed to be doing;  create a process for providing on-going performance feedback; hold people  accountable for results (including yourself); be careful about who you hire and put in supervisory roles;  provide extensive training and support; never stop communicating with your customers; and make sure everyone shares in the success of the business but also feels the pinch of nonperformance.

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