There is much talk of Soft Skills and EQ, and Empathy. Quite right! I have been thinking about my own development and advice I give people, and it blossomed into this article. Just some thoughts after 35 years of developing leaders, this works for me.
Situational Leadership and Adaptability – sensing change and dynamics. A leader has to position themselves to be able to sense what is happening at work, the undercurrents. Gather Intel.
Input is required and the fastest, most relevant will come from front-line workers; problems, issues, solutions, opportunities, improvements. Any Continuous Improvement program will start with educating the managers that the people doing the work are in the best position to spot problems, suggest and implement solutions, and figure out the ways to do the work best. If the people are not involved and engaged, do not believe in it, and own it, then it cannot succeed. It becomes just one more failed management initiative that goes nowhere.
The danger in management is the higher you go, the less you know. The extra levels of managers start filtering data, problems and issues. No one wants to send bad news upwards. This problem is worse when there is not a safe environment to report problems, or if there is great competition for success. A true teamwork environment, that is supportive, will help in this.
There is a whole spectrum of leadership styles that can be used for any given situation. The challenge is knowing and being comfortable using the appropriate style for the situation. That will be a whole other article.
Lead by Example
This is totally true. Walk the Talk. Also: “say what you mean, and mean what you say.” The Leader sets culture, and expectations, by their own example. Culture and Ethics follow this mantra, and it is critical. What actions are allowed, are repeated. The troops will follow your example, and they are always watching. If you want the company to operate a certain way you have to operate that way, always.
I hear the complaint “Ethics is hard”. No it isn’t. You learn ethics at 5 years old – play fair, don’t steal, don’t hit, share nice, don’t tell lies, don’t be mean. What a wonderful world if we just all acted as well-behaved 5 year olds. The people who find ethics "hard" are the ones who want to do something they know they should not.
The higher you go, the less you know. It is true, you are NOT supposed to be able to do what everyone else does, but it is handy to understand it. Your job is to find the people who can do what is needed, and empower them, trust them, to do what they do best (and stay out of their way!!) Your Leader job is to ask questions, be educated by your people, and trust them to do their jobs. Your role is to make sure they can actually DO their jobs. Do they have the training and knowledge and experience? Are there any obstacles? Are other business units cooperating? Do they have the support they need? Do they know WHAT THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO DO? Do they know WHY they are doing it? Do they know HOW WELL they are doing?
Example: I was a Project Manager, and we hired a talented Business Analyst. We wanted to engage in Change Management, and our model was to follow ADKAR as a standard. Our new BA did not have this particular certification, so I sent her on course and the project paid for it. As she was a contractor I caught HOLY HELL for paying for this (GASP!!) form the Big Boss. I simply stated if we expect her to follow a specific process, to achieve specific results, and to be measured in her work, she needs to know what the expectations and guidelines are. Crickets. Then I insisted "it reduces project risk". That was a bit better received.
Always invest in your people.
Know Who you Are
When I run a project and set meetings, I know exactly 2 things:
- I am the smartest person in the room. This is my project, I know what we are building, what the schedule is and the budget, I assemble the team members, I know what they need to do, I assign the tasks and hold people accountable. My word is LAW.
- I am NOT the smartest person in the room. I am not the engineer, I am not the designer, I am not the change management expert, I am not a business analyst, I am not the environmental nor Land nor Archeology officers. I know nothing about how you actually do your jobs, so I need you to tell me what you need, how much time, how much money, and what support you need, so we can ALL be successful. Make sure I stay out of your way. If things are going wrong I want you to have the safety and confidence to tell me, and what the solution is. If you see any risks coming up, tell me early.