One of the members of my Vistage CEO Peer Group says that leadership is all about two factors: people and communications, and I agree with him. There are one or two other factors that come into play but those two are paramount.
There is so much that can be read into a simple mantra. Just to say “people” and leave it at that is simplistic in the extreme because if we employ people then we employ very differing attitudes, behaviours and commitments.
It takes time to get to know and understand what makes an individual tick and there is always a danger that we can come to a conclusion about them too quickly.
It is said that we assess a person within seven seconds of meeting them and I can well understand that. For example Vistage speaker John Cremer uses a remarkable centuries old technique to read someone even before we shake hands.
That initial reading can and often does colour our assessment of that individual’s performance and it takes time and effort to make sure that our initial reading of them remains valid.
It has also been wisely said that as leaders we should always appoint the best possible people into important roles and then get out of their way and let them get on with it.
Very true and easier said than done. Until we can assess someone over a reasonable period we don’t really know what they will achieve. We have our expectations of course and those can be exceeded or not as the case may be.
The important thing is to have expectations that are realistic at least for the initial learning period and then increase them as the individual settles down into the role.
That takes of patience on the part of the leader and the question arises: how much time? Just as much, I would suggest, that allows a genuine assessment of the person’s abilities and qualities.
What we always need is the right attitude first foremost and last with skills and experience coming second. I recall an instance when one of my CEO members employed a management accountant who, he said, had great technical skills.
He lasted six weeks because one of his primary skills, that of doing the job, seemed to be low on his priority list. He was very adept at the interview stage but certainly not at the reason for employing him.
Interviewing for attitude not skills is still a rare event. Just take a look at job advertisements for senior people and see what they are asking of candidates. Age, academic qualifications, length of service, experience in the same industry, experience at the same level of seniority and so on seem to be paramount.
All of those attributes are of value but the primary and essential need is for an attitude that will fit into the ethos of the business and with the people in the business.
That then is the primary aim of the leader; to have people around that will take on responsibility, act autonomously as necessary, make decisions, take action and accept that they are accountable for their actions, not in a disciplinary sense but certainly in learning mode.
The next question then arises, how best to communicate with these high-flying people?
I am a great believer in the value of one-to-one meetings between the leader and the team members. Over a period of time the relationships change and develop building mutual trust and understanding.
These one-to-ones have to be regular, on the diary and sacrosanct with the agenda always the responsibility of the team member.
What is also vital is clarity. To often I hear issues ventilated that disappear in a fog of extraneous “evidence” that just gets in the way of the real point at issue.
Learning clarity, the ability to see through all the “stuff” that fogs discussion, cutting short (kindly) a lengthy explanation, and generally getting to the point, is an art that every leader needs to cultivate.
Leaders need to appoint great people and then communicate with clarity. It’s as simple as that!
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