Post No.: 0894
Great leaders have an authentic yet urgent and uncompromising vision and are brilliant at communicating that vision in-person to others to get people energised and compelled by it. This vision addresses why they exist as a team or organisation, and everybody has to fully buy into that vision if they want to work there. Woof!
Everyone at every level needs a purpose or vision really – a bigger reason than ‘to make a living’ for doing what they’re doing. The ideal vision is aspirational yet realistic; specific but not narrow. We need to grasp and communicate this vision whenever we want customers, employees or other stakeholders to back us.
Although their vision is uncompromising – once you’ve bought into it, outstanding leaders allow you to unleash your own creativity to find a way to fulfil that vision in any (ethically, safely and economically responsible) way you can. If you trust someone – tell them just the objective and let them figure out how to get it done.
So they don’t think they have a monopoly on fantastic ideas – they have an open-door policy and are open to good ideas from anyone, including fresh recruits or janitors. You can rise up their organisations rapidly on merit (or the reverse) rather than based on how long you’ve served in the company. These leaders encourage (bounded) risk-taking. They see more events as opportunities than threats. They allow people to take the initiative on their own ideas because they trust the judgements of their employees (because they hired and developed them hence they should know they’re competent and trustworthy). This allows innovation to thrive!
And they never let anyone rest on their laurels – they’re always on the lookout for the next superb idea or cool thing. See your industry not as it currently is but what it could become. They’d rather fail for having tried than not. They embrace change and their organisations are built to adapt (we each need to be ‘built to adapt’ with our own individual careers too). The house needn’t be burning down before one does something about protecting it from fire i.e. we don’t need to be near disaster before we change what we do or how we do it. Consequently, their organisations are by nature responsive, agile and adaptable to whatever the future may hold.
In creative industries, it might even be beneficial to not give your team members specialised job descriptions so that they can each take the initiative to do whatever is needed to help fulfil the organisation’s vision? It would certainly be beneficial to fully allow different departments or divisions to talk with each other freely and collaboratively (e.g. the movie and videogame divisions).
But only follow visions, goals and mission statements in business that you truly believe in. And mean whatever you say by following them through. People are watching and they have social media clout!
Some argue that we shouldn’t just have one dominant goal too because that might mean we miss other goals that could also be critical. You could brilliantly fulfil the wrong goal! And just because something is good for you, it doesn’t necessarily mean more of it is even better (it’s like you need to be confident yet humble too). Everything that’s optimal is balanced. You could be overly focused on making incremental improvements that you only think about the tactics (the short-term, details) over transformational strategies (the long-term, bigger picture). And sometimes we need to accept some lean years in the short-term while investing in the R&D to develop the products that’ll safeguard the business’s long-term survival in the market.
Yet you must still clarify the criteria for success, and crucially incentivise for success. However, the wrong kinds of incentives will produce unintended consequences. For instance, if an employee only gets rewarded for his/her own performance in his/her own department then why would he/she care about his/her teammates or the state of another department in the organisation? It might even incentivise cheating to hit the desired targets. High-performing individuals sometimes cause so much disruption to those around them too.
Better disclosure of CEO pay was supposed to give better data to shareholders about the companies they own, but an unintended consequence was the inflation of CEO pay packages as they are now able to openly compare themselves with other companies, and no one wishes to underpay their CEOs as this will perhaps indicate a lack of ambition. (Also, increase the pay of someone who is already decently paid, and really ought to be intrinsically motivated enough, and you increase the pressure on them to perform – which can actually reduce their performance dramatically.) Shorter working hours for physicians may seem like a sensible idea and indeed overly long hours can lead to more errors being made as concentration naturally dips, but many medical mistakes occur during the handovers between different physicians when the outgoing physician transfers information to the incoming physician, or fails to properly do so.
And before you choose a direction or make any key decision – carry out an assumptions analysis to identify the underlying assumptions behind it. Pool and compare your notes on these with others. Gather views privately as individuals, as well as publicly as a group. Ask questions and obtain a range of views. Collect relevant and meaningful data. Then generate genuine discussion and debate where everyone is heard – but do then come to a decision that’ll be acted upon. You don’t want to be hasty because being fast but wrong is pointless or expensive, yet you don’t want to be stuck due to ‘paralysis from (over)analysis’ because you need speed against the competition too.
It’d be nice if you can conduct small-scale, low-cost experiments, trials or prototypes to test your assumptions. Maybe role-play by assigning individuals or subgroups to different roles in the decision process? Stress test the proposed solution (e.g. by adding 25% to the downside case). You mayhap would benefit from an oversight committee that has sufficient expertise (e.g. on the implementation challenges, on international markets) to weigh in on the matter at paw and preview any proposals first. Consult those with different emotional attachments to yours (see Post No.: 0887 from Fluffystealthkitten regarding emotional tagging).
And don’t decide then forget – follow up periodically afterwards to ask everyone whether those assumptions are still valid or do they need to be adjusted in light of new facts or circumstances? This monitoring, reflection or post-audit doesn’t always have to take long. And pivot your direction if need be rather than stick on the wrong path. That’s okay because even the best make the wrong choices occasionally – take the pressure off yourself to think that you must be right every time. The key is trying our best to be right through analytics, knowing when we’re wrong, then adapting.
The team should regularly share news and information about the industry between everybody else. Commission or purchase industry reports/studies. Use case studies, run scenario analyses or competitive ‘war game’ simulations, and examine analogies with other industries or decisions. List the weaknesses of your arguments. Challenge the prevailing wisdom. Evaluate the risk/return trade-offs between different options. Ask how a competitor or start-up might attack your business? Ask about the attractiveness of the market, the sources of competitive advantage, and the nature of the present and forthcoming economic environment? Create a checklist of potential red flags, and suggest appropriate safeguards.
And when it comes to enacting a decision and fulfilling their vision – brilliant bosses are demanding, but always professional, fair and respectful. Their aim isn’t to be liked, to be friends, by their employees, so they’re not timid about setting high expectations and performance targets. They set clear goals and don’t lower standards or become overly accommodating when someone cannot initially meet them, but they understand that peak performance or ‘flow’ comes from the optimal level of challenge and they provide workers with the best environment for working in, such as no distractions. (Performers, like in sport or on stage, if they break out of their mental flow, perhaps via a distraction, can suddenly start over-thinking about the massive crowd, what happened last night or whatever, and thus screw up. If they find themselves in this situation, they need ways to quickly refocus on what they’re doing again.) They address bad behaviour; and give honest, timely, constructive feedback without softening it even if negative (without ever being offensive).
But they also inspire others by making them believe they are important and can achieve anything! Accomplished leaders are calm in the face of pressure, which instils others with confidence too. They tell their people that their people are special and are the absolute right people at the right place at the right time i.e. they’re so proud of their team, and they explicitly show and say it to each individual in person, as well as publicly to others. They don’t beat people down when they’re down – they raise them up! They express confidence in their team and believe they’re the best of the best (without leaving people feeling cocky or complacent). They show gratitude and tell them how their contribution was and is making a positive difference to the organisation. This kind of motivation can be more powerful than financial bonuses.
So great bosses drive people hard with world-class expectations – but also make them believe in themselves. This inspires their people to ‘do the impossible’. And when their people achieve that, their people will take the initiative themselves to push even further and further! Top bosses can (like effective military officers, although maybe not as suddenly because business situations rarely warrant it) ‘flip a switch’ and go between aggressively pushing their team to its limits to perform without remorse when a situation is pressing – to calm and compassionate fluffy ‘hearts and minds’ whenever anyone needs lifting. And by being tough whilst also being inspiring and professional, they tend to generate more esteem, not less, and their team members generally want to give their all for them. They push people to excel, and when their people succeed, they acknowledge this success, which gives their people even more confidence to aim higher, and so on.
When you get a group of motivated people, give them a common purpose or vision, and create numerous opportunities for them to interact together – they’ll naturally connect too.
Collaboration and bonding is of course critical within organisations, yet internal competition is inevitably going to arise in certain situations, like when fighting for budgetary resources or the next promotion. This competition must never be toxic or destructive yet you cannot be too nice in business. Tough competition can raise the games of all the participants if they’re driven to try to be the best, hence the bar gets raised higher and higher for each other. It can admittedly be a difficult balancing act. The best disagreements involve the right balance of competing for one’s views and collaborating to try to come to some consensus. And disagreements themselves aren’t always bad because everyone just nodding their heads to everything in agreement isn’t helpful. You want to beat your internal competitors, but ultimately want them to succeed against all external competitors by succeeding with you – kind of like in a loving sibling relationship.
You also ultimately want your employees to be experts in what they do yet be able to integrate well with others who have other areas of expertise. A leader who is knowledgeable in a wide variety of areas or subjects is incredibly useful to help understand and link together everybody in an organisation and to avoid silo management too.
Woof. Whether you are a leader or not, perhaps you would like to share with us, via the Twitter comment button below, your vision or reason for doing what you do? What good happens because your team or organisation exists? What bad would happen if your team or organisation didn’t exist?