Leadership is often portrayed as a macho activity by a swashbuckling executive knocking heads, screaming out orders, and taking no prisoners.
The reality couldn’t be farther from the truth. Effective business leadership is more like drinking a glass of lemonade, stepping back from the chaos, really thinking about what needs to be done and why and who needs to be communicated with and in what sequence to talk with them.
If you’re obsessed with drama and creating theatrical performances, then I think you should stick to performing on a stage. If you want to be an effective business leader, I encourage you to have a glass of lemonade, relax, stay calm, and really think about what is best for the organization.
Change is constant.
That’s true, but there’s a big difference between a major change and a temporary change, and it’s important to know which one you’re dealing with.
A temporary change is when something is different for a short period of time and then things go back to the way they’ve been for a long time. My twelve-year-old son, Ben, broke his pinkie a month ago. Tomorrow the cast comes off. And he’ll be back to his usual constant physical activities.
When your business deals with a temporary change, even a really painful one, you can deal with it and then go back to the old ways of doings.
However, a major change means that after you deal with it something will be significantly different on the other side. This requires great leadership and perseverance and innovation. These times of major change, which Andy Grove called inflection points, are opportunities for you to make your lasting mark as a leader.
What are you dealing with today? Is it a temporary change or a major change? Be prepared to deal with both situations.
Imagine a graph with outcomes listed on the vertical axis and your activities listed on the horizontal axis. Your outcomes might include a variety of important business outcomes, errands that need to be accomplished, a better relationship with your children, a better relationship with your spouse or significant other, relaxing time, your relationship with certain friends, staying on top of emails, attending meetings to stay informed, your physical fitness, and other stuff. Then prioritize your desired outcomes both on the work side and on the personal side by ranking them.
Now place a dot for each activity you did in the past week next to the outcome it was meant to impact in a real way. Go through every activity you did and force yourself to place a dot somewhere on the graph.
Repeat this process for three more weeks.
At the end of the month look at where the activities you actually did showed up on your graph. Are you crowding your activities around your most important outcomes, or are the things you are actually doing crowding around low priority outcomes? If you use a scattershot approach, you may feel like you’re tremendously busy, but you’re not moving the needle forward in terms of improved outcomes on any of your most important desired outcomes.
Then decide where to place your activities over the next month. And repeat the process. Did the reality of what you actually did match up with where you want to be placing your activities?
My son, Ben, fractured a bone in his pinky a few weeks ago, and the doctor put a cast down to near his elbow. Seemed a bit much to me, but then I learned that it was close to one of his growth plates, and since he’s 12 years old they wanted to be extra careful. I didn’t realize that a person has growth plates in multiple places in his or her body and those plates allow the person to grow later in life.
Then it hit me that we all have leadership growth plates in our body. Sometimes we need to be faced with a certain set of circumstances for our leadership capacity to be stretched and to be put into motion. Sometimes we need an opportunity to step into in order to demonstrate our ability to influence other people.
If you have an employee who has not yet demonstrated great leadership skills, you might just want to be patient. The person may very well have leadership growth plates inside waiting to emerge. See if you can’t put that person in situations where they can step up as a leader and influence how other people think.
I’ve seen CEOs who were remarkably good communicators. They listened with compassion and offered insights in ways that other people could consider them and reflect on them. I’ve also seen CEOs who were boorish and brutal toward other people.
I’ve seen front-line employees communicate clearly and with confidence and go the extra mile in ways that left other people feeling astounded by their kindness. I’ve also seen front-line workers who were so basically rude and demeaning that they left other people wondering how they could keep their jobs.
Effective communication is not based on title.
The primary drivers of effective communication are respect for other people and a desire to demonstrate respect for them when talking with them. If those two things are in place, I think you will find the other person being a great communicator regardless of his or her title.