Leadership 101: Get These Basics Right!

by Urs Koenig, Phd, MBA, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

Lauren and I absolutely love supporting our clients in getting better. If we could have it our way, our clients would work on their leadership skills all day, every day. Thing is, they have some other things to get done…

Within those resource constraints the question for us is always: which leadership skills, if applied correctly, will make the biggest difference for our clients? Which 20% of behavioral changes will get our clients 80% of the results?

Here are the three basic leadership skills we believe will get you a long way towards the famous 80% of the 80/20 rule:

  1. Valuing being respected more than liked
  2. Transition from ‘Doing’ to ‘Leading’
  3. Owning and managing your own development

Valuing being respected more than being liked

One of my early bosses once told me: “Look Urs, my goal is for you to respect and like me. However, if I can only have one, I take the former.” Because I probably sometimes care more about what other people think about me than I should, this comment has really stuck with me.

To varying levels, we all have the need to be liked. Some of us need less external gratification, others need more. It’s important to understand your ‘default mode’:

  • Are you someone who tends to sacrifice business results in order to preserve a relationship?,  or
  • Do you tend to value business outcomes over the relationship?

Where do you sit on this continuum?

In our experience most leaders fall into the first category: they are leaders who have a strong need to be liked. This becomes a problem when you are fulfilling your need to be liked by comprising sound business decisions. In doing so, you might get a short term ‘like boost’ but in our experience, the same people whom you were trying to please might actually lose respect for you in the long run.

As a true leader:

  • You make the best decision for the organization;
  • You sit down with your people, look them in the eye and explain the business reason for making the hard decision; and
  • You show compassion for those negatively affected by your decision by listening, (really listening!) to their concerns and acknowledging them (including the accompanying feelings).

Transition from ‘Doing’ to ‘Leading’

For many bosses, but especially for founders, it is very comforting to be involved in the ‘doing’ of the day to day of the business. Some leaders I have worked with may be ok to let go of running the operations side of the business but find it very challenging to transition the deep and rich customer relationships they have built over the years.

No matter if it is operations or customer relationships: If you want to grow your business and scale it, you need to transition from doing to leading.

What do I mean by leading?

  • Setting goals for (and with) your people;
  • Getting out of their way so they can do the work they need to do; and
  • Holding them accountable for their results.

Setting goals for (and with) your people

Much has been written about good goal setting. Here is just one piece of advice in order to gain staff buy-in for goals:

  • Have your staff give input on your overall goals for the organization. Don’t just develop them by yourself in your corner office, then present them to staff and expect them to be jazzed about it. Really involve your staff in the development of company goals. Having said that, also be clear that you really want their input but that you will have the final say on what the final goals will be.
  • Once your organizational goals are defined ask your staff: What do you or your team need to achieve in order to get us there? Have them develop their own goals. Make yourself available to provide input and coaching. Having your staff develop their own goals will go miles towards buy-in.
  • Finalize all goals and publish them across the organization. Have everyone know what everyone else is working on. There is no better accountability tool! (Include progress towards the main goals in your staff meetings to help accountability, speed progress, and identify and solve obstacles.)

Get out of the way

Offer your insights, coaching, and resources along the way but don’t give into your urge to jump back in and get your hands dirty. Remember, micromanagement does not scale!

Don’t be afraid to defer to your team member when you get approached by a customer who wants you to personally take care of them. You need to develop your own wording but something along these lines might be a start: “Thanks Jeff for reaching out to me and thank you for doing business with us. Let me put you in touch with my team member, Sherry. She is very knowledgably in the area of xyz and will be a great resource for you.”

It is even better if you have previously brought your key team members along with you to meetings with clients, mentored their client development and relationship skills, and allowed them to develop their own relationships with clients along the way.

Use your co-workers or a coach as an accountability tool to avoid slipping back into old ‘Doing’ habits.

Holding them accountable for their results

One of the most powerful ways to start an accountability discussion is to have your staff self-assess their performance vis-à-vis the goals. If you have hired the right person she will be doing a lot of the work for you. Be sure to celebrate and acknowledge wins (“Lauren, this is a job really well done because of x, y z”) and don’t hesitate to be equally direct where you need to see improvements: “Urs, you know I really value your hard work and this simply is not good enough. In particular I need you to improve x, y, z”). Moving from Doing to Leading can be a very difficult transition to make. You need to redefine your role in the organization and change how you define your success.  A good day is no longer about how much YOU did but about what your TEAM achieved. 

Owning and managing your own leadership development

Hint: no one else will own and manage your leadership development if you won’t, so here is where micro management can work well for you.J

To kick the process off, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • When was the last time you invited the people you work for and with to give you their honest feedback on how you are doing as a leader? What is holding you back from doing it in 2011? What are you afraid to hear?

How clear are you about the leadership skills needed to take your organization to the next level? Do you have them? If not, do you have the potential to acquire them? If yes, how will you go about it? (see below)

  • How much formal and informal work on your leadership skills have you done in 2010? What are you planning to do in 2011? (This may include: formal training, consciously taking on new stretch assignments on the job, coaching, mentoring, and participating in a peer group).

Reflect on your answers to the above questions and then answer the following simple question:

What one thing are you willing to commit to in 2011 to become a more effective leader to help you get the basics right? 

We would love to read your response to this question. Send us a 10 pager or a one liner to: changeability@redpointcoaching.com. Your entry will go into the drawing for one Leadership style assessment valued at $100 and 5 Starbucks coffee cards. We will also publish all entries (anonymously, of course) over the course of the next few ChangeAbility ezines.

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