Are you proficient at each step in the leadership process?
by Paul B. Thornton
Here is the four-step leadership process that I use when coaching people on how to be more effective leaders.
1. Diagnose the situation
You have to understand the current environment, before trying to improve it.
There are three levels of analysis that you can do:
- The organization: Is the strategy effective for the current environment? Do the structure, systems and culture support the strategy?
- Key processes: What is the quality and quantity of the products and services of each key process? Are the processes working in the most efficient and productive way?
- The people: Do the people have the required knowledge, skills and motivation to excel at their jobs?
Overall, what is working well? Where are the bright spots? What needs to be improved? What are the major problems?
Tips for diagnosing the situation
- Analyze the numbers — the hard data. What do the financial statements and other key metrics say about the current operation? What do the trends indicate?
- Analyze the soft data — people’s feelings. How do people feel about the current situation and the prospects of a better future?
- Get feedback from multiple points of view. Check in with employees, customers, suppliers and other well-informed people to get their views of the current situation.
Be curious and probe to get a full understanding of what is happening. Review the data and decide what is most relevant and important. Put the pieces together so you have a clear picture of the current situation.
As Max DePree, (former CEO of Herman Miller and author of “Leadership is an Art”) once said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”
2. Identify opportunities
What opportunities are there to improve the current situation?
At the organizational level, would a different strategy be more effective? Would a different structure or a new information system improve operations? What processes need to be streamlined or automated?
At the individual level, how effective is each of the senior leaders? Do all employees have the required skills and resources? Are employees receiving timely feedback on their performance?
Tips for identifying opportunities
- Study the best operations and performers. There is always something to be learned from them.
- Have discussions with your customers, colleagues, consultants and employees to solicit their ideas.
- Practice the “R” words — reimagine, re-engineer, redesign, re-create and reinvent.
If the first requirement of a leader is to define reality, the second requirement is to identify the best opportunities to improve the status quo.
Once you create a list of improvement opportunities, prioritize! Identify the one to three best ideas that you will pursue.
Carly Fiorina (former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and presidential candidate) once wrote, “Leadership is about solving problems and changing the order of things for the better. It’s about unlocking the potential of those around you.”
There are always opportunities to add value.
3. Deliver your message
You need a clear, concise and compelling message on how to improve the status quo.
Start with your big idea. How will it improve the current environment? Why is it needed now? How will employees’ benefit?
Determine the best way to convince your audience that your ideas will work. Consider using these approaches:
- Logic: Some people are most influenced by the facts and numbers. Provide rational arguments, including cost/benefit analysis, customer surveys and case studies.
- Feelings: Some people are persuaded by their feelings and emotions. Pull at their heartstrings! Connect to people’s needs for purpose, achievement, doing what’s right and winning in a competitive marketplace.
- Experiences: “Take the car for a test drive.” Give your audience an experience that allows them to directly understand the benefits of your ideas.
Consider which analogies, examples, statistics, stories, testimonials and visual aids will be most effective in explaining and supporting your ideas.
Deliver your message with passion and conviction. You must be a true believer. If you’re not excited and convinced your idea will work, the audience will tune out.
Tips for delivering your message
- Put yourself in the shoes of your audience. What’s in it for them? Why should they care?
- As you prepare your message solicit input from your colleagues, mentors, and other influential people in your network.
- Practice delivering your message numerous times before going live.
I like what author and speaker Nicholas Boothman once said: “It’s much easier to be convincing if you care about your topic. Figure out what is important to you about your message and speak from the heart.”
Your improvement message requires changes. To improve the status quo, people need to start thinking and performing in new ways. Your task is to help people gain the knowledge, skills and confidence to do what’s needed.
The actions you can take to enable people include:
- Giving people the authority and power to take action
- Teaching, coaching and mentoring
- Offering incentives and bonuses
- Removing obstacles and reducing demands
Tips for enabling others
- Observe people to get an understanding of their situation.
- Ask people what they need to move forward.
- Provide what will most help them.
- Create opportunities for early successes. Build momentum.
- Ask colleagues and other experts what they do to enable people.
The late Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, nailed it when he said, “When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” That is exactly what Welch did in that more than 15 of his senior executives went on to become CEOs of major corporations.
You need to be proficient at each step in the leadership process.
The process never ends. Once you improve the status quo, you are once again looking for new opportunities to make things better.
Continuous improvement is part of every leader’s DNA.
What step in the leadership process do you want to improve? Identify one action you will take in the next seven days.
Paul B. Thornton taught college courses in management and leadership for over 25 years.