I began working with a new client recently, and the CEO of the company impressed me quite a bit during our first discussion. He spent much of our first conversation sharing some of the things he was learning as a leader in this business. I was intrigued by how eager he was to improve his leadership skills, even though he was already very accomplished. I compare this with some of the executives I have encountered during my career that stopped learning about leadership a long time ago. It's a pretty consistent truth, in my experience, that the leaders who focus on learning and getting better at their craft end up becoming those rare leaders who can transform any organization. That part is not surprising. The surprising part is the large number of leaders we have all encountered who lead today the same way they did decades ago. No matter what the team, the business or the challenge, they stick with the same "management style" they have always had. If you want to become a leader who can transform teams and organizations you have to be a learning leader. Here are a few ways to be sure that you are continuing your growth as a leader.
Much of the work that I do is focused on helping businesses go from where they are to where they want to be. I always work hard to make sure that the changes I help businesses make are sustainable, meaning that the leaders in the business are the ones to drive the change. Though every organization is different, most of the challenges that businesses and leaders face involve creating a fully engaged, capable team of people that can execute the mission of the business better than the competition while adapting to the changing market conditions. While that's a daunting task, I help these businesses make that change happen and often these are three of the critical steps.
I often get to work with people who have recently been promoted into management positions for the first time and it’s some of the most rewarding work that I do. There is no handbook on leadership and many of us struggle tremendously at first. An organization grants us some authority and all of the sudden we are accountable for not just what we do but for what others on our team do as well. Here are 5 things that I wish I knew as a new manager and that I share with those beginning their management career.
Adult humans aren’t very good at taking risks. I say adult humans because kids are fantastic at it. At one of my kids’ baseball games recently I was watching the players who hit what should have been triples almost refuse to stop at third base. A triple wasn’t their definition of success, a home run was. Even when the coach was telling them to hold up at third, about half of them pretended not to hear and headed for home. Now granted, these are 7 or 8 year olds and so the chances of getting thrown out at home are slim but the complete comfort with the risk is still fun to watch.
I often get the question when working with groups of managers or leaders about how important it is to treat everyone fairly in a work environment. The first question I ask is do you mean fair, or do you mean the same? These are two very different things. Fairness is a subjective term and is based largely on perception of the individual. The first thing kids say when they aren’t getting what they want is “that’s not fair”. It may or may not be fair, it’s just different than what they want.
Many businesses have been measuring employee satisfaction for years with the belief that satisfied employees are more engaged and do better work than unsatisfied ones. While there are certainly some components of satisfaction that might lead to more engagement, if we are focused mostly on keeping our employees satisfied, we may not be keeping them engaged. Satisfied employees can still be completely disengaged and it’s important to understand the difference.
Some of the best educated, most experienced business leaders I know still drive their business by looking in the rear view mirror. They look at last month or last quarter or last year and try direct the future of their business based largely on that information. That might have actually worked when we were dealing with slow moving technology, local instead of global markets and a simpler economic situation with far fewer variables. We don’t live there anymore. If you want to know if your business will be successful in the future, ask these three questions.
A lot of the work that I do with businesses revolves around helping them manage change. If a business plans to be successful for longer than a month or two, change will be necessary at some point. One of the first things I do is help them stop thinking about managing change and start thinking about leading it. Managing sounds like it’s just about sending out a memo, changing a few processes and completing some tasks. A business can do all of that well and fail miserably at making any change happen.
Employee engagement is one of the terms you hear a lot these days and I’ve certainly used those words a great deal in the work that I do. Most everyone agrees that if you want to grow a successful business you need employees that are engaged. It’s important, though, to ask the question why. Engagement for engagement’s sake doesn’t drive growth, profits or sustainability but the actions you get from an engaged team of people, do.