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Top 5 Leadership Lessons From 2012

(posted: December 12th, 2012)

It's that time of year when we begin thinking about creating strategies for next year, and it is the ideal time to look back at 2012 to see what we've learned.

In our roles as leaders, we need to assess the events of the previous year and apply what we learn to our future goals. Then our companies will be uniquely poised for business growth and will have a competitive advantage going forward.

Hopefully my list will give you a starting point for your own year-end assessments.

I found that there were an awful lot of "lessons" to choose from, but I was able to narrow my list to five.

The Top 5 Leadership Lessons of 2012


#5 Communicate

Lack of communication or poor communication kills productivity.

Poor communication from management is a mistake that I see over and over again with clients. It's an easy mistake to make, and a BIG one. In almost every situation where KLR's services are retained I have seen some degree of problems, from inconsistent communication to non-existent communication.

What I have learned in working with clients is that improved communication sparks all kinds of other improvements. One of the most important elements of employee satisfaction, shown in survey after survey, is that they want to know they are in the loop and know what is going on.

When communication improves from the top level there is a domino effect - communication leads to employees who feel good because they are valued enough to be in the know, which creates pride in what they do, which makes it more important to them to participate fully, and you end up with engaged employees who care about their work and the company. Innovation increases, productivity goes up, and profits follow.

Knowledge is power - the more information you share with your people, the more power you give them to help your business succeed.

At the most basic level, lesson #5 is that good communication pays.

I'll talk more about how to achieve good communication in my January post on strategies for 2013.

#4: Invest In Employees

Poorly trained, ignored employees = High turnover & low profits.

No training or lazy, slapdash training, and a lack of career development options, will cause your organization to have a very high turnover.

Over the course of the year I have heard many companies giving lip service to the bromide, "Our people are our most important asset", yet these same companies do not have a robust hiring process, don't understand talent management as a strategic advantage, and then come to me for help fixing high turnover rates.

Employees want to:

  • develop new skills
  • learn something new
  • establish a career path.

If you don't give them these opportunities, they will find them elsewhere. We all know that companies with high turnover rates are viewed as poor choices by employees looking for jobs, and so begins a cycle of hiring and turnover that can be devastating.

As I work with companies on this issue, they come to understand that investing time and money in their employees is absolutely necessary to success.

So, lesson #4 comes down to this: Invest in your people, invest in your success.

Find some ideas on how to energize your workforce in this blog post.

#3: Performance Management

A poor Performance Management System (or none) results in productivity problems, inefficiencies and low employee morale.

Companies that do not create Performance Management Plans, with clear job expectations, clear job postings, and procedures for completing and rating the employee's performance, are not helping their employees. They are also allowing inefficiencies and productivity issues to grow and worsen.

It is important for an employee to know and understand what is expected of them on a daily basis and a yearly basis (annual review) in order to be successful. It is also important for the supervisors and managers to know how to measure performance and assist employees with becoming successful.

Ignoring Performance Management is one of the classic mistakes in Business Management, and seems virtually unavoidable. The good news is also the bad news because "What you measure is what you get".

The challenge is to put in place a performance measurement system that is:

  • timely
  • rewards the desired outcomes
  • encourages appropriate behaviors

While not being:

  • overly complex
  • subjective

The yearly review should be almost an afterthought, never a surprise.

OPTM360 is a tool that I like, and find to be really helpful in creating a Performance Management system. Marc and his co-author, Miriam Ort put a great deal of research into the OPTM philosophy, and it all supports the method behind the OPTM360 tool. Simplicity, transparency, accountability and value are at the core of the OPTM360. I believe they should be at the core of every HR or Talent initiative.

Lesson #3 - Performance Management allows managers and employees to do their jobs more effectively, which keeps the organization healthy and productive.

#2: Teamwork - From The C-Suite Down

Leaders who don't work well as a team end up with an unhealthy company & lackluster performance.

When leaders can't or won't embrace this concept, their companies stagnate and lose ground.

At the same time, there is probably no greater frustration for employees than having to navigate the politics and confusion caused by leaders who are misaligned.

Using various different techniques, we work with executive teams to help them understand that creating alignment at the executive level is essential to a healthy organization.

Once the executive leadership understand this importance, we move on to creating true team behavior, through communication (see #5) and teamwork exercises.

One of the most frequent "aha!" moments I see is when a company's leadership comes to truly understand the importance of a cohesive leadership team, and the impact it has on the health of the organization.

What we've learned (Lesson #2) is that teamwork from the top begets teamwork down the ladder, making for a healthy, innovative organization.


#1: Vision Leadership

Companies without a clearly defined and communicated vision are doomed to drift, and eventually, fail.

Companies that operate without a vision, or any vision leadership, will have a scattered focus, directionless employees, and generally will not be meeting goals.

I've seen this lack of direction a lot in organizations recently, sometime because the leaders have lost faith in the face of ongoing tough economic conditions, sometimes because they are caught up in the day-to-day minutiae and have simply forgotten what their vision was. The good news is, when these leaders call on KLR Consulting, we've been able to make a difference right away, and get the company back on track.

One of the first things I discuss with clients is that the leadership must have a clear understanding of

  • where the company is going
  • how it is getting there, and
  • perhaps most importantly, why

We have several processes we use to help clients address these questions and distill their purpose.

The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but significance - and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.

Oprah Winfrey

The leadership then must communicate this "where" "how" and "why" clearly to the rest of the employees.

It is critical that company leaders explain the goals of the company clearly and without jargon. Employees are much more productive when they have clear goals - smaller, more attainable interim goals, as well as the big-picture goals.

Don't forget to celebrate the successes, either. Your hardworking teams deserve to savor victories, even minor ones.

Lesson #1 - Clear vision, clearly communicated, inspires passion and creates success.

I'll talk about ways to apply Vision Leadership in 2013, in my follow-up to this post, coming in January.

I'm sure that you have more lessons for leaders from the past year, and some that are specific to your organization or situation. I hope that you take the time to evaluate your year, and use that evaluation to guide your actions in the coming year.

Challenge Yourself
  • Were there different lessons that you gathered from 2012?
  • Have you found 2012 more challenging than last year?
  • How do you and your leadership teams approach the year-end post mortem?
  • In what ways will your 2013 strategies build off of what you learned in 2012?

Join me in January for my follow-up to this post, where I'll talk about creating strategies for business growth in 2013. I'll elaborate on some of the ideas I presented here, and how they may fit into your leadership strategies. I'll touch on some other suggestions, as well. If you have a question or concern about strategies for 2013, contact me - I may be able to incorporate it into the post.

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