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Leadership Strategies For Success In 2013

(posted: January 15th, 2013)

Strategy is about making choices.

For leaders, strategy is about deciding not only what to do, but also what not to do. Leadership strategy includes making choices about who to involve, how to listen, which ideas to consider and how to make tough decisions, as well as knowing what's most important and why.

I've created a list of strategies for C-level executives, managers, entrepreneurs, owners or anyone else responsible for creating success in 2013.

#1: Practice Vision Leadership

Vision identifies a direction, but also serves to inspire, especially in tough times.

Once you've identified your vision, how do you use it as a leadership tool?

To be powerful, your vision needs to be described in terms of values and mission, not money and numbers. People make the emotional connection with your mission, not the money - It's true!

  • Inspire - In addition to the nuts-and-bolts of goals and timelines, talk about your vision with passion and intensity. Paint a picture for your people, get excited, show your enthusiasm and commitment. Create a sense of common purpose beyond the daily, weekly and monthly goal achievement.
  • Motivate - Keep talking about the future, the possibilities, and the benefits of achieving this vision.
  • Include - (this is tied to #2) - involve people by communicating. Let everyone know what is going on, how projects are progressing, and where the team stands on meeting goals. Use multiple methods to achieve this: E-mails, formal meetings, casual gatherings.
  • Stay nimble and ready to change direction quickly. Be prepared to help your teams handle change.
  • Refresh - Manage your own energy levels. Do what you need to do to stay upbeat and energetic. Your attitude is contagious.
  • Empower - Challenge your people, create opportunities that make them stretch, allow them to experiment and to fail, treat them as stake holders or owners, provide resources
  • Acknowledge and reward - Along with keeping your people in the loop, make sure that you are recognizing and rewarding successes. Keep in mind that this should include both small and large accomplishments, and can be as simple as a heartfelt "thank you" or "good job". Give people ownership over their results, and they will give you greater success to celebrate.

#2: Communicate

Leaders, this may be your secret weapon. Those who can communicate on many levels will see dramatic differences in engagement, innovation and productivity.

To be a great communicator:

  • Communicate a LOT - The more your employees know, the better they will understand the big picture, the goals, everything, which will inspire them to care. Once they care, they engage - the company's concerns are now their concerns, and they will be unstoppable.
  • Listen - Shift the ratio of listening to talking. Good leaders are more than just good listeners, they are ferocious listeners. Make eye contact, pay full attention, identify the underlying emotion and listen for what is not said, too.
  • Give positive feedback - Both conversationally and operationally.
  • Be clear - Express goals, ideas, suggestions or concerns clearly and without slang or buzzwords.
  • Talk to everyone - The rank-and-file don't often get to connect with upper management or the C-suite. Change this, and you will create trust and loyalty.
  • Acknowledge your mistakes - Being upfront and honest about your mistakes will give others permission to fail and learn from that failure.

A favorite tool of mine for enhancing communication is the DiSC system. It helps identify different personality traits and work styles so that you can tailor your communications to your employees, and develop your leadership style to encourage your people to be their best.

#3: Culture Management

This is another of those leadership techniques that is as much art as science, and requires constant attention, yet it is critical to producing innovative, functional teams.

Workplace environments that are inspiring and safe do not just happen. We know that we have to manage productivity, but as leaders, we also must manage the culture of the workplace in order to achieve a high-performance, values-based organization.

Some strategies for culture management:

  • Walk Your Talk - Always be the role mode for your performance standards and values yourself. No excuses.
  • Define values and performance standards clearly and measurably.
  • Hold accountable all leaders and staff for meeting these standards. Celebrate efforts and accomplishment towards both, and address efforts that fall short.
  • Culture Management By Walking Around - Spend a half hour each day wandering around your work environment, connecting with staff. Ask people how it's going, and "What can we do to make your job easier?" If you really listen, you can stop problems before they begin with this strategy.
  • Deal with problems quickly, especially in management. Of course, give people the opportunity to improve, but don't let a problem linger or it can destroy the culture you have worked hard to build.
  • Constantly raise the bar. Expect great things from people and push them to achieve extraordinary results.

#4: Disciplined Execution

Yes - that scary word discipline. For many that word can sound restricting. Actually it is the opposite - discipline sets you free. This is critical to success, yet frequently overlooked.

Research from the Harvard Business School shows that 90% of strategies fail due to poor execution. Execution is the greatest challenge for most business leaders.

It's a common pattern: an organization's leadership or executive team holes up for one or two days of strategic planning at the start of the year, resulting in a set of intentions or priorities for growth in the coming year. The new strategies and initiatives are top-of-mind immediately following this event, and the commitment is high.

But time goes by, day-to-day issues demand attention, and that focus and commitment starts to wane. Both leaders and employees start to forget those strategic intentions that were so carefully crafted earlier in the year.

At KLR Consulting I see this pattern all too often with clients. In fact, about five years ago, we re-engineered our approach to focus as much on driving execution as on developing strategy. Other business thought-leaders are seeing the same pattern:

Tom Peters writes that "execution is the missing 99%" for business success.

Jim Collins says, "Building a great company requires 1% vision and 99% alignment."

Strategic planning should be an ongoing process - not an annual event.

Effective companies update their strategic plan every 90 days to ensure relevance with the competitive environment, and to align all their people to the strategic priorities. At the same time, they should also include a plan for disciplined execution of the agreed-upon priorities.

Some steps to take to develop disciplined execution in your organization:

  • Effective and ongoing communication of and about the plan
  • Ensure a high level of commitment to the process and follow-through within the planning team
  • Create an integrated performance management plan to ensure proper execution and desired outcomes
  • A planning team willing to have probing conversations about clarity (or lack thereof) and accountability

When you embrace discipline in your processes you will greatly enhance your ability to effectively set and execute your strategy. Now - and in the future.

#5: Question

You may be wondering, "How is a quiz a leadership strategy?"

The quiz here is partly for fun, but my point is that you need to be asking questions about your organization, your leaders and staff, and your priorities.

Answer the questions honestly, and then take steps to fix it when the answers are unsatisfactory.

Score each of the following statements on a scale of 1-10:

(where 10 = "We are amazing at this" and 1 = "We are TERRIBLE at this; this does not apply to us at all.")

  • We have a clear, compelling vision that is documented and well-communicated throughout the company.
  • Our company attracts only the best talent, and we hire from the A-list.
  • We communicate openly and honestly across the entire company, vertically and horizontally.
  • Everyone participates with a strong sense of urgency and focus to deliver results.
  • We do a great job setting and executing our strategy.
  • We really listen to our customers (internal and external), to hear their needs, wants and concerns. Our relationship with our customers is stellar.
  • We encourage risk-taking, admit mistakes, and reward the failures that happen on the road to success.

Add up your total points. A score of 35 is about equal to a "C", or "average". If you score a combined total of less than 40, you definitely need to take some action now! Great leaders don't sit still, and don't accept the status quo. Mediocrity is not in their vocabulary. They are always questioning and moving forward.

Challenge Yourself
  • What are some of your favorite leadership strategies?

Please share your tips for success and let's work together to make 2013 the best year ever!

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