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Sunday, 31 March 2013

How Many of Your People Are Leaders or Potential Leaders? Look After Them- They Are The Future!

In and among the vast acres of dross which we all get on the web, just occasionally there is a gem which is worth passing on.  A few days ago I received a post on Facebook from my friend Debi Ireland, which went like this: 

“True leaders don’t create follower; they create more leaders” 

Now that is a great piece of leadership philosophy and it caused me to cogitate on the implications. 

Think about it.  If a leader only creates followers, then by definition the organisation must be authoritarian.  The leader does not have people who can be trusted to use initiative, to think about the job and to move on with the minimum of supervision. 

If there are only followers then there can be only one leader which implies the conventional pyramidal structure with the leader at the top sending instructions down to the troops and at all levels in the business. 

Further implications are generally a lack of sensible planning because the followers do what they are told and therefore the planning, such as it is, is the sole prerogative of the leader. 

This is not to say that good followers are not needed.  They most certainly are needed but only in the context of working with the leader and not from purely blind obedience.
I remember when the former captain of the England cricket team, Andrew Strauss, was asked about his captaincy, he said, with great prescience: 

“I want eleven captains on my team” 

Easy to say and, I would suggest, not too easy to achieve or to manage.  It almost says that the best bet is to have a team of prima donnas rather than people who will work together for the greater good. 

What he was suggesting was that he wanted eleven individuals who would behave like captains, make quick decisions, be committed, be enthusiastic and have a winning mentality.  That builds a team because they all have the same end in sight - success. 

The true leader creates more leaders simply because the ethos of the leader is all the above and especially a winning mentality.  Winning becomes a habit.  

Ask any football team which can play adequately or even poorly and still win.  On the other hand losing can just as easily become a habit and one that is difficult to get out of. 

The fact is that we need people on the bus who will think, who will act, who will relate to others in the team and who have one end in mind and that is the success of the business. 

If that isn’t a list of leadership qualities then I don’t know what is. 

Look at your people.  How many of them can you honestly say are followers, leaders or even potential leaders?  The ones that are will be the ones who take the business forward to success. 

A small but important point.  If you find that you have many more followers than leaders then you need to look at the way you are running the business.
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Sunday, 24 March 2013

How Do You Hold Your People Accountable? Who Holds You Accountable?

In October 2009 I was in a breakout session at the Vistage UK Chair Conference in which the topic was Accountability. 

We were all asked to decide on a task which we would work on for the following year and another member of the group agreed to hold us accountable (if you see what I mean)

I agreed to hold a colleague accountable for a very long list of actions and another agreed to hold me accountable for my decision - that is, to write a regular blog.

I haven’t had a call from my colleague for ages but after three weeks of writing the blog on a Sunday, it has now become a (very enjoyable) habit and rather to my surprise this week’s is number 200 in the series. 

It is worth considering how effective are the accountability practices in your business, that is, assuming that you formal accountability practices anyway.  It always surprises me that important tasks can be allocated to people and then not really checked and monitored until completion or not as the case may be. 

One of our US Vistage speakers, John Johnson, has an excellent pro-forma template which he uses to monitor progress in the implementation of strategic plans and there is no reason why it should not be used in a wide range of activities in a business. 

In essence there is an overall champion allocated to make sure that all activities are being carried out as agreed, with other people holding the individual accountable for separate parts of the task. 

All in all, the maxim of "monitor, measure, evaluate" makes sure that tasks are completed with a modicum of supervision and just enough to ensure that effective communication is established. 

Too often work is allocated without even a timeline, and then the individual is left to get on with the task without supervision and seemingly a complete lack of interest in what is happening.  

That is, until something goes amiss, the task goes over time limits which hadn’t really been communicated properly in the first place, results are not forthcoming or worst of all, the “I wouldn’t have done it that way” syndrome kicks in. 

If we delegate tasks then we delegate responsibility for successful completion of that task as well.  This, in turn, implies that we give our people the courtesy of expectation of success and give them the freedom to achieve it. 

The quid pro quo is, of course, that as a consequence they are held accountable for the progress and finalisation of the task and it is this that is frequently lacking. 

It is a simple task to reprimand someone for not achieving expectations but it is equally simple to eliminate the problem by the practice of accountability. 

If we monitor, measure and evaluate together then successful completion of the project is far more likely than if we just leave our people to get on with it and just hope that all will turn out well. 

Big caveat!  This is not an open invitation to micro-manage the team members.  Rather it pays then the compliment of setting expectations, then letting them get on with the job while offering assistance and encouragement as necessary.
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Sunday, 17 March 2013

Got an Idea for a New Product? Let the Team Decide How to Make it Happen!

Once again virtually the same issue came up during one-to-ones with Vistage members and consultancy clients - the perennial question of communications.

The shape of each issue was different but the basis was the same.  Why is it that I, as a leader, can say things or suggest things to my team, expecting that they would pick it up and run with it, when in fact they don’t and I am left wondering what have I done wrong?

Quite rightly we pass out ideas to the team and because they are talented and hard working we naturally expect them to understand exactly what we want without the benefit of much background explanation.

When I was at school seemingly centuries ago we had a chemistry master who would put on the board a simple chemical reaction equation, look at it, tap the board a few times and then write down the conclusion without including the intermediate steps.

He knew exactly what would happen in such a chemical reaction but we didn’t (or at least I didn’t) and I never really progressed in the subject.

I suppose that it pays the team members a compliment to expect them to understand but in actual fact, most of the time they don’t and it behoves the leader (or chemistry teacher) to go though the steps and explain what is happening and what is expected.

This is not to say that we need to explain everything in great detail but we must accept that few people have the ability to mind read and so a measure of explanation is genuinely required.

As an example, let us assume that the leader wishes to initiate a project with the team to develop a new product.  It is manifestly pointless merely having a meeting, saying that we need to develop a new product then going out to play golf expecting the new product to be in production in a couple of weeks.

Overstating the case? Probably but the general thrust is correct. In previous posts I have said that nobody enjoys being instructed to achieve other people’s objectives and this is a case in point.  Ideally in this scenario, the leader needs to assemble the troops and give them an idea of what sort of outcome is expected.

From there on, it is down to the team.  It is better to use simple techniques like Ishikawa (the fishbone method) or Gant charts all based on the question:

“If that is what we are to achieve, what precisely will we need to do in order to achieve it?”

If that question is asked of each functional manager in the group and importantly with time lines the leader can then reasonably expect the team to move forward towards the objectives.

It all sounds very reasonable and rational but there is a further need for a realisation of accountability.  It is a good scheme to have someone detailed to act in this role independently so that participants know to whom they are accountable and for what.

I suppose that I am proposing a more formalised approach to task management and while some leaders will react against that, in the end it is more likely than not that there will be rather than merely slinging out an idea and hoping that something will happen.

Communication is two way exercise and unless you and the team understand that there is always likely to be a barrier between you. It is the leader’s function to overcome that barrier.
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Sunday, 10 March 2013

How Can the Role of a Leader be Defined? Ask the Followers!

I recall a friend of mine who was promoted to the lofty heights of Chief Executive in his company and he really looked forward to starting in the new post. 
He was delighted to see his name on his office door, went in and sat behind the desk.  Then reality kicked in.  He looked around and thought to himself: 

What on earth do I do now?  More to the point, what am I supposed to do? 

Of course he did the clever thing and called his PA and asked her.  She was equally realistic and gave him a few ideas which got him up and running.
A simple tale but it reminded me that there is very little if any formalised training for leadership, perhaps because the role is an intangible.  Operational managers in functions such as finance, sales, marketing, operations, technical and so on have (or should have) clearly defined roles but the role of the leader is holistic.
There are perhaps two main routes by which a leader can expand his/her knowledge; the MBA route and by being involved in a peer group. 
The MBA route, by definition and because it emanates from an academic institution, tends to be both academic and theoretical.  This is not to say that there isn’t great value in this experience but rather to understand that the basis is not angled towards the practical application of the theoretical. 
On the other hand, the peer group approach is strictly practical, drawing as it does on the experience of other members of the group and helping the members come to decisions as to their objectives and the desired outcome. 
The ideal, of course, is a blend of the theoretical and the practical simply because the definition of the leader’s role demands both.
A favoured description of the leadership style of the late President Chavez of Venezuela has been “charismatic and controversial”.  It seems to me that this description encompasses the style of  just about any leader of note who comes to mind. 
Think about it; Churchill, Gandhi, Douglas MacArthur, Montgomery, Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, Ferguson, Shankly and many others in many different milieux, all had that indefinable ability to lead and they were all charismatic and controversial in their own way, and by the way, these are the benign examples. 
The best people to tell you about the abilities of the leader are the followers; they are the ones who will go with the leader to the metaphorical ends of the earth simply because belief has been instilled in them; a belief in their own abilities and a belief in the leader and his/her objectives for them and for the business. 
In the end developing your leadership strengths is auto-didactic’ it is a matter of learning from the experience of great leaders, reading the right books, taking on board the theoretical and the academic and learning from the experiences of others in a similar position. 
Above all, it demands dedication, commitment, enthusiasm, understanding and the humility to accept that the need for learning never stops.
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Sunday, 3 March 2013

Dodgy Diversification or Great Opportunity? Pilot It Before You Decide!

Often, when things are going well, a curious feeling which is almost boredom can overtake the leader, and especially the entrepreneurial owner/manager.

The usual outcome is to attempt to find something new to do, another cause to espouse or another idea for a new product or service for the business.

Not to be one to dismiss this out of hand, I would suggest that the whole concept of innovation needs to be actioned in a formal and considered manner, if the project is to be successful and presumably profitable.

I well remember speaking to the CEO of a major global consumer electronics manufacturer who told me that their innovation policy was to have a group of highly intelligent and motivated people whose sole function was to think up new product ideas, however bizarre.

The background to this scheme was daunting.  On average it took three years for any new product to be brought to market and incredibly (at the time) the average life expectancy of any new product was six months.  That meant some pressure on the pipeline, to say the least.

At least they were running their new product development operation in a formalised and thoughtful way which was extremely successful at the time.

US speaker, Dan Pink, tells of a company which every six months or so encourages all personnel to have a day off during which they can think up any ideas that they consider appropriate as new products.   The results have been startling with people relishing the freedom to think outside their normal area of activity (please note that I deliberately avoided using “outside the box”!)

The fact is that, in general, NPD (new product development) is often carried out in a rather haphazard way and worse, without much appreciation or even research as to the likelihood of success.

That old axiom demonstrated by the Ansoff Matrix says that by far the best and most effective way to build a business and especially an SME with minor market share is to do more of what they are good at and that is to say, go for more market penetration.

That, of course, doesn’t seem very exciting if sensible so some efforts are made to dig up ideas for new products or services.

Ansoff says that the next best route to success is to bring a new product to the existing market and that is logical.  You, the business and its reputation are all well known to existing customers and the market so the introduction of something new into the company’s portfolio will more than likely be well received.

Maybe so, but Ansoff points out sagely that even though the new product can be acceptable to the market, the effort demanded in making it a successful entry would take approximately four times that of building the exiting business.

It is worth remembering that Ansoff also says that bringing existing products into new markets takes around eight times the effort of building your existing markets and bring new products into new markets simply means that you have designed a new business.

That is not say, don’t do it; merely to understand that the launch of any new idea to what can be a sceptical audience will demand time and effort.  The question then is whose time and whose effort?  Who will be designated the new product champion to oversee its birth?  People need to be allocated to the task with specific performance goals in a specified time frame.

However good the idea seems to be it makes sense to research the potential market as thoroughly as possible and then to test it by running a small pilot launch in a specific area or sector of the market.

That way the leader can decide whether this great scheme will turn out to be just another dodgy and potentially dangerous diversification or preferably a great opportunity for the growth and profitability of the business.
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