Somehow, we’ve ended up with very few leaders in our organizations and a whole heck of a lot of very highly paid individual contributors. I’m getting pretty frustrated by this. I know immediately that it’s a problem in an organization when the CEO starts talking about upward delegation and a lack of accountability, even from people in the executive ranks. It’s time for a refresher on what it means to be a leader, no matter what level you are in the organization.
A leader’s two moments of truth
Oversimplifying, you have two opportunities to add value as a leader. The first is as work is planned and delegated—when you get it going on the right trajectory and at the right speed. The second is as work is reviewed and governed—when you determine whether the work is achieving the desired outcomes or needs course correction. Both are required for good leadership. If you’re failing to add value in the first instance, you’re not demonstrating the vision to be a leader. If you’re failing to add value in the second, you’re not showing the discipline.
Your value add as work is planned
Regardless of your management position or the title on your business card, if you’re a leader, there are things you must do to add value as work is planned. Sure, the CEO’s scope might be much broader than yours, but in essence, your activities are the same. Are you doing enough of these things?
Envision the future. If you’re a leader, you need to be thinking further out than the people you lead. When I say “further out,” I mean both a longer time horizon and also a more external perspective. To lead people, you need to help them see ahead. You can’t do this if you’re staring at the numbers from last month. Are you enough of a visionary to lead?
Set goals. Leaders don’t just gaze off at the horizon; they pick a destination. Leaders devote considerable energy to choosing the right goal; one that is motivating but not immobilizing. One that represents sufficient progress to capitalize on opportunities and mitigate competitive threats. There is considerable finesse required in setting goals and rolling over and accepting goals that are shoved down your throat from above is not leadership. Be proactive in recommending goals and influencing your superiors to accept them.
Define strategies. Don’t make the mistake of setting out a stretch goal without any indication of how to get there. Be clear about what you want people to do differently to get a better result. How will you create traction? Is the secret changing your distribution channels or is it launching new products? Connect the strategic dots.
Trade-off among priorities. These days, the number one responsibility that leaders are completely falling down on is making clear trade-offs across different priorities. [For more on prioritization, see “One Thing Not to Delegate.”] If your team doesn’t know what the most important priority is in any given situation, you have failed as a leader. If you’re unclear on the priorities from above, either ask the questions to get clear or make a call for your team and stand by it.
Secure required resources. Leaders don’t set up their teams to fail. When they have a job to do, they make sure they have the people and resources required to do it. They don’t ignore gaps. They fight for more resources, invest in better capability, make tough calls to swap out under performing people, and challenge goals when they aren’t achievable. No matter which tack you take, as a leader you cannot accept setting your team up to fail. Go to bat for them, don’t be a coward.
Set thresholds. One last thing that great leaders do: they provide guiderails that give their team room to make mistakes and learn without the boss swooping in. They make these thresholds fairly tight at first and gradually widen them to promote learning and accountability. Leaders leave their people to figure some stuff out on their own.
I’ve run out of space and I’ve only addressed the first half of your responsibility as a leader. I’ll be back with the other half in the next post. How’d you do on these criteria? Are you adding the value you need to add as a leader or is there some room for improvement?