The Effective Leader
In two previous articles, we discussed results-based leadership and some of the possible methods of making that happen. I want to share with you some of the thoughts written by the late Peter F. Drucker in an article entitled What Makes an Effective Executive published in the June 2004 issue of Harvard Business Review. In this article, he provides excellent insights into the development of your leadership style. His analysis is broken down into three major categories with steps within each. They include:
- Get the knowledge you need
- What needs to be done?
- What is the right thing to do?
- Convert the knowledge into action
- Develop an Action Plan
- Take Responsibility for Decisions
- Take Responsibility for Communicating
- Focus on Opportunities, Not Problems
- Ensure Company-wide Accountability
- Run Productive Meetings
- Think and say “WE” not “I”
What Needs to Be Done?
Yes, what needs to be done, not what you need to do. Often a leader enters into a new position with a preconceived idea of what he wants to get done and, upon arrival, finds that there are issues of greater importance. This is true in business, charitable organizations and government. When George H. Bush ran for President in 1988, his most remembered campaign promise was, “read my lips, no new taxes”. But when he was elected and his understanding of the issues involved, he had to ask for an increase in taxes. The pundits ridiculed him for breaking a campaign promise, but in fact he showed great leadership in addressing the issue.
As a result of this knowledge gathering exercise, not just one but many issues will be identified. Trying to address them all at the same time will lead to a lack of focus and a diluted effort. The question becomes, “What needs to be done right now?” Prioritization of issues to be addressed must occur to effectively make progress.
What is the Right Thing to Do?
What is the right thing to do for the enterprise? Not, what is the right thing to do for me, the owners, the stockholders, the employees, or the executives? Agonizing over the shareholders should become secondary.
The great majority of businesses in our county are family owned. Often family considerations need to be included in decision making. When it comes to promotions or the filling of a vacant position, a family member should not be considered unless they are the best qualified. Family members should join the firm at an entry level position and rise through the ranks based upon their abilities not their relationships.
Developing an Action Plan
The first stage of converting the acquired knowledge into action is the development of an Action Plan. That plan should include a step-by-step list of actions items to be completed, the reposnsibilty of those who must complete each item and a deadline for the completion of each action. The amount of time required to complete the overall plan may be 6 months, 12 months or longer. It is all dependent on the complexity of the plan.
An action plan is the basis for time management for those involved. Since the organization has focused on a priority issue to be achieved, the manager who is responsible for completing an action item should dedicate the required time to meet the deadline. The basis of any time management exercise is to establish a priority on the use of time during the day.
An action plan is a statement of intention, not commitment. Each plan needs to be reviewed on a regular basis and changes made as appropriate. It is not a strait jacket. Drucker points out, “Napoleon allegedly said that no successful battle ever followed its plan.”
Take Responsibility for Decisions
A leader must hold those who are responsible for completing action steps accountable, while also helping them overcome obstacles. There needs to be the acknowledgment of the completion of a step as a job well done. There also needs to be negative consequences for individuals who are not regularly completing tasks. Progress against the action plan needs to be the subject of regular meetings where everyone reports tasks completed and issues encountered.
Communication to all those directly affected by the plan is a key element. They must understand how it affects them personally and how it effects the things they do. Communication to those who are not directly affected is also needed to apprise them of the changing environment.
Focus on Opportunities, Not Problems.
That is not to say that you sweep problems under the rug. They need to be taken care of, but their solution returns the organization to the status quo. Opportunities produce results which help the firm grow and prosper.
Change needs to be considered an opportunity, not a threat. Look for the gap between what is and what could be. Look for unexpected failures which might be a learning experience, unveiling a new opportunity. Look for innovative processes, products and services both within your industry and in another industry. Look for demographic changes which show the way to the need for specialized services or products. Don’t be threatened by technological change, embrace it.
Think and say “We” not “I”
If you want to take all the credit for success, you may find you are on your own. In 1993, the computer giant was in deep trouble and on the verge of going out of business. Computer technology had changed drastically and IBM needed to go through a revolutionary strategic and cultural change. The Board brought in a new CEO, Louis Gerstner Jr, who had been CEO at RJR Nabisco, and had little knowledge of computer technology. His accounting of the turnaround at IBM is chronicled in his book, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance. Unlike many industry leaders who tell how they developed their organizations and take the credit, Mr. Gerstner dedicates the book to the team who made it happen and praises them for their efforts. The book is worth reading.