Business Brief: Four Important Tips For Leaders
Author’s note: I love technology, but first and foremost, I am passionate about organizational management and spent ten years as a CIO. Every so often, I like to provide some of my thoughts on the non-technology side of the house. I have had the distinct pleasure to work for some very good people and, from them, I learned a lot. Unfortunately, I’ve also worked for people who are, well, not so very good. However, from them – or, rather, by watching the fallout around them – I’ve also learned a great deal. Here, I want to share with leaders four items that I consider essential in order for leaders to be effective both in their careers and in their organizations.
Right-size Your Inner Circle
Every leader has an inner circle. The inner circle are the leaders most trusted advisors and the people to whom the leader turns when things need to happen. I believe that having an inner circle is an important component of a leader’s arsenal as it can help the leader make sure that all viewpoints and outcomes are being considered when decisions need to be made. In this way, the inner circle is also vital to the organization as a whole. However, the inner circle can also be used in ways that actively undermine the organization as well. A strong leader will have an inner circle that includes people with a variety of viewpoints and people that are willing to tell the leaders things that he or she may not want to hear, but that are reality. A weak leader will create an inner circle of “yes men” that simply puppet the leader’s views without really pushing back. I’ve seen both good inner circles and bad inner circles in my more than twenty years in business. In every case, when there is a good, strong inner circle, the organization thrives or, at the very least, does well. When the leader chooses instead to leverage an inner circle of clones, decisions are myopic and ill-considered and potentially damaging to the organization.
Listen… Really Listen
Most leaders are busy people, but good leaders will delegate to and rely on their staff to carry out essential tasks and to inform the leader when something needs to be discussed or when there are new ideas to consider. The leaders that actively listen to their staff will have the ammunition to make better decisions and their staff members will feel more empowered by being a part of the decision-making process. Too often, leaders pay lip service to listening to people. On the flip side, staff members need to be judicious about what is brought to a leader. Constantly crying wolf or wasting the person’s time will not endear that person to the leader and it wouldn’t be surprising for the leader to tune that person out at some point.
Cowardly leaders are terrible for the long-term health of an organization and actively degrade organizational morale by their inability to be courageous. The worst part is the pretty much everyone can spot a cowardly leader, but they are not often self-aware about their lack of courage. By courage, I mean that good leaders:
- Will make the tough decisions. After appropriate consultation, courageous leaders will make a decision and then stick to it. Sometimes, the decision won’t be popular, but a courageous leader will take any arrows that may come and make sure the right thing gets done.
- Will tackle personnel issues that need to be tackled. Cowardly leaders let dead weight continue to weigh down an organization Courageous leaders will place appropriate people on performance plans and eventually make room for more effective personnel, if it becomes necessary.
- Will be honest and transparent. Courageous leaders will not sell on hope. They will lay out reality and get everyone behind a plan to move the organization forward.
- Will surround themselves with multiple points of view. Courageous leaders can accept and even value different points of view. Cowardly leaders surround themselves with clones of themselves.
Don’t Excuse Away Organizational Challenges
Don’t create your very own reality distortion field. As people leave the organization, take great pains to understand the reasons why. Too often, the excuse “Oh, that person found a great opportunity.” is used to explain the departure in a way that doesn’t cast any fault on the company. Understand why the person began looking for a new job in the first place. Obviously, some departures can be good and sometimes, people leave because the perfect opportunity arose, but if there is a spike in departures, look for weaknesses in the organization and be prepared to admit that things may not be perfect. Every time a leader excuses away a departure, he loses an opportunity for improvement. Seeking to understand failure is another way for a leader to be courageous.