Today’s corporate and business environment is far more multi faceted than it was 30 years ago. While many of the fundamental challenges remain the same, the number of variables leaders have to juggle are inestimable; multi-generational workforce (and the consequent expectations), ever changing technologies, volatile economies and political turmoil to name a few. Trying to negotiate these factors is a challenge, even to the most experienced leader, and even the most robust plan can be thrown off track unexpectedly. Due to this, it can be tempting to adopt a “fly by the seat of my pants approach” and focus more energy on macro goals and large-scale outcomes and leave the details to be ironed out by a lower level employee. While there is validity to this approach, and allows for the necessary flexibility and chain of command, it is crucial to set milestones along the way, and put in place checkpoints at which you can evaluate progress, and if need be redirect. So how do you find the perfect balance?
It is perhaps the most essential that before a project even begins, that one ensures that the basic structures and frameworks are strong and can withstand even the largest tremors. In that way one equips oneself with a strong, resilient team that can react efficiently and strategically and that considers both the new circumstances as well as the original plan. In stressful periods it is tempting to reduce investment in staffing to meet budget or cut costs but this can backfire quickly and harshly. Not only do economic turnarounds happen quickly, leaving one stranded without enough manpower to take advantage of the upswing, but it also runs the risk of losing valuable talent to help navigate the way out of the slump should one be there for a while.
Our biggest investment is our staff; but they are our biggest asset too. If they are protected against financial turmoil, and their interests are out first it is highly likely they will return the favour and you will have gained an engaged and committed workforce. And engaged, committed individuals have the makings of your next leaders – no matter their level of authority. Our aim as leaders should not be to create followers but to create more leaders – people who take the success of our organisations into their own hands.
However, regardless of how driven our workforce is, it is futile unless they are equipped with tangible skills and information in order to empower them to make informed and strategic decisions. In order to impart this information to them we need to clearly set out goals, targets and objectives and construct a roadmap in order to reach them. Once you have done that, you can empower your people with the trust and autonomy they need to reach these targets without micromanagement.
So with that in mind, what do we need to consider when laying out a leadership map?
- Acknowledge the opportunities and realities of one’s current situation.
Any progress one makes needs to be measured against two set points: your starting point and your desired end point. The accurate assessment of the former is crucial as it helps determine realistic expectations within the current business climate. One must come to terms with external and internal limitations so one is able to plan around them and develop comprehensive solutions that consider the current reality. It also enables staff to set realistic goals and targets as well as lay out a roadmap that considers obstacles and barriers.
- Choose one’s direction and priorities
Now consider which direction to take from your starting point. There are myriad options to consider when implementing a strategy. Prioritize which outcomes you want to reach first and set milestones. Equip your staff with the tools and resources to smoothly implement the tasks necessary to achieve the goals. A struggling, disenfranchised employee is a demotivated employee, which is a drain on overall morale and resources. Trying to cut corners only ends up being more expensive and tedious in the long term. On that note,
- Do the right things each day
This applies to everything from healthy lifestyle choices, to upholding an ethical standard within your business. It is also important to discipline oneself to set the example and not expect our staff to do all the hard work; be accountable, reachable and engaged with your organization and you may find that you are able to see problems coming far sooner, allowing time to negotiate and mitigate a potential disaster. We all understand the frustration of having packed schedules, and end up running between meetings – but make sure that in that time you create a complete understanding of the status of your company or project. Detachment breeds deterioration.
- Check your progress
As touched on above, we all too often we make dangerous assumptions about the trajectory of our projects. Blind assumptions are the easiest way to disguise the truth. False perceptions of truth can derail a project far sooner than external factors – the people on the job are the closest to it and therefore have the most immediate and significant impact. Engage with your leadership community and analyze the pipeline at every checkpoint. Keep in mind, this is not a cue to micro manage, but rather to empower leaders to provide insights and recommendations on the way forward. If the recruitment process has been completed correctly, you will have a team that is trusted to know what they are doing and who have the best interests of the company at heart. Find people who share your vision and who will be competent enough to work with you.
- Be inspired.
There is nothing worse than merely working to targets with no sense of personal fulfillment. Reiterate the bigger picture and greater value to your employees. After all we are all human, and like to feel that we are a part of a group, especially a group whose values and principles we can support and hold true to our own sense of purpose.
There is no question that the responsibility to drive, and deliver, bottom-line results falls on top executives, and rightly so as they are the ones who have been appointed for their experience and expertise. But often our experience hinders our malleability and adaptability to new paradigms. The new reality remains: our economic and political models are shifting and the way we do business is evolving. The new idea of the “share economy” has permeated all levels of business – from the very models of start-ups to the leadership of multi-nationals. From planning to execution, we are required to integrate, empower all those around and beneath us. Our leadership maps need to be horizontal in structure while remaining vertical enough to facilitate efficient progress. Although setting goals and targets remain crucial in the planning of growth strategies, contingency plans and creative problem solving are a fundamental part of goal orientated planning. And unfortunately we cannot do the latter alone – so empower, protect and value every level of employee in your organization; you never know what potential you might unlock.
Executive Headlines is an Executive Search and Leadership and Board Consulting firm with a global reach. Our size, local knowledge, global alliances and industry specific expertise allow us to provide a unique level of personalized service. Speak to Janet or Carilyn about an executive appointment at http://www.executiveheadlines.co.za or call us on +27 060 000 2727.