I have the good fortune of working with over 50 businesses on a regular basis. I get to see the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to leadership challenges. Here are some observations that I hope you will find useful as you continue to manage through these challenging times.
If you employ people, the reality is that employees will come and go. It is extremely rare that someone will take the entire business journey with you (or that you should want them to). A good company still experiences 10-15% turnover each year. One of my old bosses once told me that “The only certainty he had was that he was there at the beginning and would be there until he sells out or hands off the reigns to someone. More than likely, just about everyone else will come and go at some point. All you can do is strive to maximize the mutual benefit of the employer-employee relationship while they are here. You want to create an environment where good people want to stay, but accept the fact they will eventually leave, often for reasons beyond your control.” At the time I thought this was a bit cynical, but I see his wisdom more clearly many years later (Note: I left).
By Glen Calderon In January 2014, McKinsey & Company conducted a study that examines the 4 main reasons why leadership development programs fail: 1. Not allowing for context. Simply, leadership development training is unique. One size does not fit all regardless of a homogenous company, management or culture. An organization should ask why do we […]
The war for talent is not just a contrived theory it is reality. Despite what our politicians may be saying, there are many good jobs out there at all levels of skill, talent and experience. In all my years of consulting/coaching I have never seen a period where so many companies have vacancies for key […]
The leader of an organization always sets the tone. Never forget this fact. I am often slightly bemused when I hear a leader complain about the state of things in their organization. It’s almost as if they remove themselves from the equation. They wonder how things have devolved to this point as if it is some deep mystery when all they have to do is look in the mirror. Your people are a reflection of your hiring decisions; the quality of your meetings is directly related to how you lead them and model this behavior for others; missing deadlines is a reflection of what you are willing to tolerate in others and yourself; a lack of focus almost always starts at the top; teamwork only ever happens when the coach sets the expectations and creates the conditions for this to happen; optimistic or pessimistic cultures are usually a reflection of leader’s point of view; etc.
When you own your business it is your sandbox. You get to decide who plays in it and what happens inside. Just remember that these decisions also have consequences. As an advisor to my clients, my role is to get them to appreciate this fact. I’ve often watched people make decisions that I don’t agree with. Sometimes I am right and sometimes I am wrong about what happens next. My track record is usually pretty good but far from perfect. I just want to make sure that these decisions are somewhat informed and well thought out. I am fine with being pleasantly surprised by good results that I didn’t foresee or anticipate. I learn from these situations as well – never underestimate the resolve and creativity of a committed leader. Most importantly, I strive to ensure that these decisions are aligned with the outcomes the client is aspiring to achieve. Success can be defined in many different ways and unless there is a moral or ethical component, it is not my role to judge.
It’s easy to sucked into petty disputes and inter-office politics, but as the leader you need to rise above it. You must always remember that your employees take their cultural cues from you. You are a role model! If you get enmeshed in office gossip then they will. If you use a divide and conquer management approach than they will do the same. If you treat people poorly and/or without proper etiquette then bad behavior towards others will become acceptable. If you have a short fuse, then anger will become an acceptable management strategy.
I am in and out of many businesses and the one characteristic all high performing organizations have is good people. You can feel it in the atmosphere. There is a certain way the employees interact with one another and hold themselves. There is a sense of confidence but not arrogance. If you are a guest, you are treated that way and random people will interact with you to make sure you are being taken care of. It’s one of those things you clearly notice about the work environment when it is not present which sadly is usually the case.
We all get in our way sometimes and leaders are no different. Just because we know we shouldn’t do something doesn’t always mean we won’t do it. However, not all mistakes are created equal. There are fifteen things a leader should strive never to do:
No one likes to work in a company run by a leader with a dictator’s mindset. Just like in countries run by despots, there is always simmering discontent bubbling under the surface. Fear can be an effective motivator especially in the short-term, but you will never get someone’s best effort. And, in the long run, revolutionaries will start to emerge and people will find small ways to sabotage your efforts. Organizational energy ends up being channeled in increasingly dysfunctional ways. Moreover, the people that dictators put in leadership positions tend to be more sinister and less capable than themselves creating even more problems. It is all a recipe for disaster.
When in doubt ask good questions and leverage the knowledge and experience of other people. There are few things less attractive about a leader than someone who acts like they know the answer when they don’t. Confidence can be a good attribute but hubris is not. People ultimately see through your words and pick up pretty quickly if you simply make it up as you go along. More importantly, those around you who do have the answers lose respect for you and begin to question everything you say.
There is no more important job of a leader that providing clarity about the mission, vision, values, competitive positioning and direction of the company. Without this information, employees are simply making it up as they go along and/or reacting to events as they occur rather that proactively making the “right” things happen.
It never ceases to amaze me how much a group of people can get accomplished if no one individual cares too much about who gets the credit. However, in most organizations there is far too much wasted energy on “ego” related issues and worrying about the wrong things. And, it often starts at the top of the organization. Maybe it’s because our society has put too much emphasis on fame and celebrity. Everyone wants to be somebody, but they are not quite sure what that means or what it costs or the right way to get there. Consequently, we have become much too concerned with what others are doing and how we stack up against their efforts.
Whenever I hear a business owner tell me his employees are like family I wince and get a bit nervous for him/her. No matter how much you may care for your employees they are not family members. Unless, of course, technically they are which creates its own set of issues.