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Leadership Attributes for Success

For every Richard Branson or Elon Musk, there are hundreds of ineffective leaders. A great leader runs more than a successful business, they are driven, engaging, open and charismatic examples of their company’s culture and vision.
Further, a good leader leads with  “ Insight and Inspiration ” as well as “ Process and Predictability ”.
…. analogous to being able to “ Walk and Talk ” at the same time !
For this to occur, it’s important to –

1.  Effectively  Communicate

The complexity of today’s world and evolving business environment requires leaders communicate on multiple levels. For example, to meaningfully create new value and improve outcomes and you need to – have a vision, be innovative, and persuade others buy-into it. To resonate, it’s important for you to connect on an individual level and inspire people to move from “ I ” to “ We ” plus build trust by ensuring your verbal communication and your non-verbal actions reinforce each other. Effective communication is hard because it takes high commitment, awareness, and skill.  Further, you have to make effective communication a priority and that takes discipline, consistency, clarity of message, and a willingness to do it day after day. By putting an effective and structured communication system in place that connects with all stakeholders, you can dramatically improve your messaging as a leader to drive faster top and bottom-line growth. Getting and keeping all stakeholders on the same page is also essential – especially with the increasing rate of change and need for greater digital competencies. Communicating with key players about new opportunities, rising expectations, progress on addressing challenges, product performance, etc. – is important to ensure everyone is current on what’s going on and is motivated to contribute to their and company success.

To address this leadership challenge be very transparent and honest with yourself and your associates. Transparency is essential for running a successful business to build a company culture based on disclosure, trust and respect. And recognize the last thing people want is to be left in the dark regarding how their organization is performing and what needs to be done to move forward.   By being honest, open minded and communicating both good and bad news, you motivate people and boost productivity.  Additionally, successful leaders need to be receptive to feedback and recognize everyone has blind spots. As a leader, this can be a hard pill to swallow !  However, an important way for you to grow is by communicating with your staff, other Executives, the BOD, etc. and learning from them. Being open to feedback enables you to be more self-aware and to change for the better. While this may be difficult at first, it has significant benefits. Lastly, make sure to communicate and celebrate “ wins ” as well as the “ learnings “ from initiatives that didn’t pan out – since highlighting the positives is an excellent way to boost morale and recognize achievements.

2.  Accountability

If the big things are not getting done and good ideas are falling through the cracks, there is a lack of accountability in the organization. We all need scoreboards that tracks and facilitate getting the desired results.  While most leaders are aware of this, it’s important to put a system in place that highlights what matters along with self-discipline and focus on outcomes. Build the systems you need to encourage and support accountability – and make them in your operations. To improve  accountability, it’s important to invest in the right resources and processes to hold people responsible. With this, be mindful the way you conduct yourself directly impacts outcomes – good and bad.  For example, if you’re an ineffective leader, this typically decreases workforce productivity, increases employee turnover, reduces sales and profits, etc. Holding yourself accountable, whether for a setback or poor planning, will help you better understand your and company weaknesses. In turn, you’ll be able to address them and create an action plan to improve in the future.

3. Terminations

Even the best leaders struggle with firing a member of the team – especially if the group has become a close-knit family. When was the last time you fired someone who has been with you a long time ? Making a change is required when the people “ who got you here won’t get you there ” because the company has – moved in a new direction, entered a new market, now uses different tools, outgrown the person’s competencies or they are not learning.  These issues result in them not being able to meaningfully contribute anymore,  or worse, be an impediment to change. For the company to grow, so must those in the team. And as a leader, you have to make the tough decisions to continually upgrade your talent and organization capabilities. People want to work for a winning organization and keeping a team member around who’s not pulling their weight becomes increasingly problematic over time.

Who was the last person you fired ? As a leader, you need to make tough decisions, with some choices more difficult than others  –  including a long-time associate. When it comes to this leadership challenge, it’s essential to address the situation with respect and thoughtfulness. While firing someone can be awkward, be composed and sensitive as well as being clear and straightforward with your reasons for termination to ensure there’s no confusion. Being professional in moments like these goes a long way and shows your true character.

4.  Alignment

As any fish swimming upstream knows, it’s tough making progress ! That’s what happens when key players are not on the same page. While there will be disagreements, as a leader you have to ensure when a decision is made the team is behind it, and they move forward in unity to make it happen. To facilitate this, recognize milestones and achievements and have compensation reward the desired behaviors. Once you align your team’s objectives and incentives to those of the company, magic happens. To do this means guiding people from a wide range of backgrounds, opinions, and experiences – to find common ground and having a culture that is entrepreneurial which is good at communication, accepting feedback, being transparent, and have a bias toward action.

5.  Clear Vision

What is your company’s vision ?  If someone walks into your office and asks three people, can they articulate it ?  Can they describe what the vision means to them and how their work contributes to the vision and brings meaning to their job ?  Effective leaders create a compelling vision for the future that ignites the organization and motivates people to work hard and do the right things –  even when nobody’s looking. Millennials, in particular, want to believe their work goes beyond a paycheck and contributes to the greater good. Does your vision inspire this greatness ?

To have people engaged, you need a vision that gets everyone on board with identifying –

  1. Where are the opportunities going forward ?  .…where is the money going to be ?
  2. What problems are we trying to solve ?
  3. What are our goals ?
  4. What’s the mission ?
  5. How can we be a more entrepreneurial organization ?
  6. What is needed to innovate for impact – to meaningfully improve outcomes ?
  7. How can we be better at managing the changing nature of risk ?
  8. What are our competencies that can be leveraged to move forward ?
  9. What new competencies are needed to create new value ?

With these questions answered, you’ll be able to create a vision statement that provides a guideline for making decisions going forward.

Once you have the vision determined, you’ll need to define a set of clear objectives and measurable activities that put you on the path to achieving results. These activities will be accomplished day by day, week by week, quarter after quarter, year after year, to help achieve short and longer term goals. For this to occur, it’s crucial to periodically pause and review the actions being taken to ensure they are moving you closer to achieving the vision. If an action is pushing you in a different direction, it’s time to re-evaluate and either pivot or abandon the action altogether. Being flexible and adaptable is also essential to strong leadership.  This is the key exercise good leaders use to determine what they want to accomplish and helps provide clarity on what needs to get done to make the BIG goals a reality.

6.  Being Good at Execution

The main reasons execution is a challenge is because people –

  1. Don’t follow the plan with discipline
  2. Fail to keep score on what matters
  3. Lack determination, resourcefulness, and tenacity
  4. Don’t have the right personnel in the right jobs to make it happen

If you can get past these challenges, you position the company to win. To facilitate this – How do you execute in a way that ensures goals are achieved ?  A key component is using data and tracking progress with metrics to guide decisions – to make choices backed by evidence.

Consider this leadership challenge example :
You’re launching a new product in an effort to reach a new audience. You task the marketing team with creating a campaign that aligns with the target audience and the product you’re trying to sell. But the market research, insights and game plan aren’t what’s needed to hit the projections. This example shows poor look ahead and execution. Failing to do so before spending time and resources on a new product is very problematic.  With every decision you make, both big and small, make sure to execute. This means having the mindset, creating a plan, doing the research, having the competencies, delivering high value, providing a great User experience, and putting the right team in place to make the plan a success. With this, having an enlightened and entrepreneurial culture with effective planning and reviews is needed to realize potential and get past challenges.  This is a significant differentiator between companies that stay small and companies that get BIG.

7.  Having  an  Entrepreneurial  Culture

We all recognize the achievements of Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc. and their amazing company cultures that make innovation more rewarding to expand opportunities and create significant wealth. For this to occur, it’s essential to realize the creator of culture is the CEO and other leaders in the organization – not just HR. Is this the case in your organization ?  When you consciously design an entrepreneurial culture to foster desired behaviors and a willingness “ to try “, it is a competitive advantage, attracts and retains top talent, and drives impressive results. With this, the need is to have a rewarding and positive environment. If employees don’t feel safe due to hostile or toxic people, it’s difficult to know what matters, focus on tasks, think things through, be creative, etc. If you notice high absenteeism, lack of results, constant drama / tension / unproductivity, etc. – it’s time to make changes. As a leader, you want people who listen and respect others, and act on good advice or suggestions – regardless of the source. This is where progress is made because of shared values, respect for others and new ideas are encouraged.

8.  Driving Inspiration and Motivation

One of the driving forces behind company growth is a team that’s inspired and motivated to show up to work every day and accomplish goals. With this the need is for leadership to inspire and motivate the team to be the best they can be. When people are at work, they want to know why they’re there as well as feel good about what they are doing and creating. With this, ensure there are good answers to the following questions – 

  1. What are we trying to accomplish ?   
  2. Where are we headed ?
  3. How are we making things better ?

To put this in place, the need is to be good at innovation, get the team excited, and have a sense of purpose that   includes –

  1. Setting measurable goals  –  For example in sales, hitting sales quotas or generating a certain number of leads are goals to provide a sense of purpose. As always, make sure to align goals, vision and rewards.
  2. Presence  For example, meet with associates at important meetings and contribute in discussions on goals, performance, achievements, challenges, etc. + listen, ask questions, encourage learning, etc. And you can also have a presence by being available by phone as well as the various forms of written communications.
  3. Offer flexibility  –  Due to the pandemic over the past several years, work and life dynamics have changed drastically. Because of this, people are expecting more flexibility to pursue professional and personal interests, be with family, travel, for hobbies, etc. As well, ensure people have a healthy work-life balance and are encouraged to try new things. In addition, provide a choice of office, work-from-home days, or an entirely remote schedule.
  4. Attractive rewards  –  Providing an appealing salary, incentives and benefits is important to attract and retain talent and to encourage entrepreneurship. In addition, there is a need to have a great vision and cause as well as a culture that motivates people to excel. Given the challenge for top talent and that employee turnover is costly, it’s important to provide opportunity and recognize value above industry and traditional cultural norms – both financially and intellectually.
  5. Recognize achievements  –  Since people want to know when they’re doing well, recognize their accomplishments. A simple “ good job ” can go a long way to show you’re noticing and appreciate their work. In addition, addressing challenges, being flexible, personable and having incentives are also important to provide gratification to Associates, encourage people to explore, and better position them to meaningfully improve outcomes.

These and other useful tactics are utilized by progressive leaders to inspire as well as to get and keep people motivated. As a leader, you need to be consistent and have an enlightened, curious, and engaging persona. To stay motivated – recognize achievements, reward accomplishments,  show empathy, encourage people to try, respect work-life balance, etc. To be good at this is why leaders identify with someone who inspires them and/or provides a forum to fast track developing new thinking, insights, and perspectives. This is important to enable people to be better at seeing and connecting the dots, improving their look ahead abilities, explore, realize their potential, feel good about themselves and the organization – by being part of an environment conducive to business and personal success.  These are essential qualities to be a great leader.

9.  Decision – Making

As a leader, you’re the captain of the ship. This means you need to be good at decision making. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to know how to be good at making good decisions !  Each day, you’re faced with decisions associated with strategy and direction, personnel, how to identify and make good on opportunities, how to effectively change, how to innovate to create meaningful new wealth, determining what battles to fight, how to achieve the best results, how to manage risk, etc. What makes decision-making so challenging is the outcomes and some of the variables may not be known for some time, you can’t control everything, people may get upset with change, the influence of external and other internal factors, etc. Because of this, good leaders think about the team’s best interests, the company’s growth prospects, how to expand opportunities, what’s needed to be strategically positioned in the market to meaningfully increase relevance and revenue.  And recognize what might be difficult today can have high value in the future !

10.  Inclusive Company Culture

If the team or company is lacking inclusivity, changes are needed. Don’t let historical thinking, fear of the unknown, or a fixed mindset hold you or the company back from realizing your potential and being good at innovation.  To benefit from where the money is going to be, ensure you as a leader are good at –

  1. Communicating goals that get everyone onboard, on the same page, and aware of the milestones that need to be attained to succeed
  2. Celebrating organization, team and individual achievements – while respecting traditions / backgrounds / practices , etc.
  3. Listening and learning from – Customers, thought leaders, in meetings and town hall sessions, from surveys and focus groups, etc. 
  4. Analyzing information and making recommendations to effect positive change and better position the organization to identify and make good on opportunities
  5. Using thoughtful and inclusive language in both written and verbal forms to encourage entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity, and a “ willingness to try “
  6. Providing safe spaces for exploration, reflection, inspiration, new thinking, as well as to relax and unwind
  7. Recognizing and rewarding achievements

While creating an inclusive and rewarding workplace is everyone’s responsibility, it’s up to the leaders to lead by example. With being a leader the reward for your contributions, since there are lots of elements in the mix to meaningfully improve outcomes and prudently manage the changing nature of risk, the need is to build on your current competencies and learn new ones. This is essential for organization success – and for you to be an effective leader. 

If interested in learning more about leadership and improving outcomes from innovation, please contact CAIL.

April 25, 2022   –    CEO Coaching / CAIL        905-940-9000