Practical Ways to Advance Your Leadership in 2016

What's on your plate this year?

I've written about what we have learned about making acquisitions work. It requires attention to the people and relationship through which the work is done and value realized. Research tells us that this requires an inclusive, intentional, and collaborative approach to leadership. And what makes it all the more challenging and productive is doing so even as we welcome attention to conflict.

Properly addressing these variables of leadership in the context of strategic business imperatives - growth through acquisition, critical new product launches, entering new markets -  is most often neglected or minimized until neglecting them becomes acutely problematic. Allowing this to occur is a choice, and that choice leads to a worsening or improvement of our odds for success.

What I wish to call out is that it is just these kinds of important and challenging business situations that provide us with the best opportunities to broaden and build our capabilities to lead and collaborate. Moreover, I submit that to ignore this important part of the business situation and challenge amounts to poor governance and neglect of fiduciary duty.

Is it really enough to manage the initiative?

As leaders, our work is thoroughly normative in its purpose and function. We are not only responsible for generating results; we are also responsible for doing so in ways that are both effective and sustainable. So, what's the answer?

Certainly there is not sufficient space here to fully address this question, but allow me to pick off a few of the more critical elements of a solution:

  1. You need more than a score card. They are best for summarizing status and trends on quantifiable operational measures of effectiveness and efficiency. You also need to understand the kinds of attitude, behavior, and interaction that promote and sustain effectiveness and that maintain and improve efficiency over time. Use scorecards, but place greater emphasis on the dynamics of interaction that generate sustainable operational outcomes.
  2. You need more than reports and meetings. These formal structures are vital as a means of monitoring system performance and addressing managerial issues. But they should take up no more than 20-25% of your time. Your primary focus should be on engaging people in purposive conversations; sometimes open, free-flowing discussion to prompt perspective taking, and other times a more focused discussion of issues and opportunities. 
  3. Have in mind a relational score card.  As you deploy a conversational style of leadership and collaboration, do so with a notion of what "good" looks like:  Am I talking with all the right people? Am I listening enough? Am I noticing and clarifying their unexpressed concerns or needs? Are we finding key themes and perhaps reframing issues to identify a better course of action? As we wind up are we confirming understandings and accountabilities for action?

Commit to making leadership a priority

Sound simple, even obvious? At an intellectual level, perhaps it is. Translating this advice into action, however, is not so simple. The generalized anxiety and frantic pace that befalls organizations who over-emphasize doing at the expense of thinking and talking, can make this very difficult indeed. But whose responsibility is it to change those circumstances?

If you are the appointed leader (a management role really), how much of the time are you really leading in the ways discussed here? If you want - as you should - to encourage emergent acts of aligned leadership at all levels of the organization, is that something your presence and behavior encourages? Let's be clear, you are encouraging something!

When you are asking your team to climb a mountain, you must have a trail map that accounts for ALL the variables that will affect your probabilities of success. You'll need to ensure all have trained and are prepared. You'll want to assemble in basic camp for a final readiness check. You'll set a tone, shape expectations, but all as prelude to your ongoing leadership role en route to the summit.

Approaching our most important business challenges with this more holistic quality of leadership further expresses and shapes our character as individuals and a group. We form emotional bonds, broaden our "thought-action" repertoire, and build enduring capabilities to lead, collaborate, and make a difference.

Why not include this broader scope of capability building into your important work in 2016? If you give yourself and those you lead the opportunity to make this kind of difference, it will make 2016 a year to remember.

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