If you ask business leaders what they believe their job entails and the answers are many and varied.
Importantly most often they consist of the same old cliches: “Leaders lead, managers manage” and “Leaders are born, not made”.
Rather than exhibit the skills their companies sorely need, these key individuals focus their time and attention on studying the latest leadership fads. Through these books and courses they attempt to blend this ‘knowledge’ into a strategy, the invariably mistaken belief is that this hodgepodge of ideas will, somehow or other, power their business forward. It does not.
The reality is the best leaders focus on doing three key things:
- Set the context
- Manage the energy
- Coach, don’t play
Let’s look at these in more detail…
Setting the context is about building a sustainable culture.
Culture is particularly important in today’s uncertain business climate. In challenging times, successful leaders are those that keep the focus on their company’s sense of purpose and direction. This, in turn, is about creating a common purpose that, ultimately, deepens trust throughout the business. Consequently, everyone starts to share the same values and aspirations and begins to move and work in the same direction.
“Culture is the environment we create from decision past, present and future. It is the way we do things around here and whilst culture may sound intangible is evident in everything a business does”
The foundation of this sustainable culture is dependent on the choices a leader has made, is making now and will make in the future. The behaviours that result from these decisions go a long way to creating the business culture as we know it. Good leaders:
- Build trust
- Create a circle of security
- Promote sharing
- Facilitate collaboration
- Have both backbone
- And, exhibit heart.
Cumulatively, these things create the conditions where good behaviours proliferate and become a self-sustaining motor for growth. Right now, this context could take the form of an honest insight into the business’ position followed by a rallying cry; something for the whole team to unite and get behind. It also means trusting employees to work in a productive and responsible manner remotely.
Managing energy starts when leaders realise that if they can’t manage their own energy, how will they manage their team’s energy?
In essence we, are talking is about communication and connection. We can all, usually, communicate with someone else at an individual level, but not everyone can connect with a group. Good leaders do both.
These leaders are also consistently honest in communicating how their business is doing. For example:
- Does your company avoid talking about what is not happening but really should be?
- How often does your business communicate during periods of uncertainty?
- Are these communications taken seriously?
Strong leaders focus on increased communication during uncertainty. Providing context by explaining the ‘why’ when essential change is needed and involving their people in the decision-making process. They don’t avoid the issue of what’s not happening; they talk about what is – and ought to be – happening.
The choice of communication language is critical. To change behaviours we must first consider, and if necessary, change, the language used. This starts at the top. Too often we see a language of blame infect businesses from the senior management team down. This creates a toxic culture and in the long run, sows the seeds of destruction.
Connection begins when there is mutual respect and loyalty. Connecting with your colleagues builds their trust in you and vice versa. For true leaders, this is not about power and control but about adding value to the work of others and helping them grow in every aspect of their lives.
Connection is not just vital for internal communication. It is also important for a business leader to be aware that the firm’s values are what the customers buy into and consequently, especially when times are tough, it is vital to continue to maintain, communicate and promote them consistently and clearly externally.
Right now, look around at our global leaders and how they are showing up, who is managing the energy, staying calm, and inspiring confidence. It is much the same in business and your whole team will be focusing on you, and your energy.
Coach don’t play is best illustrated through a well-known proverb:
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for life”.
This is where clever and skilful communication and connection comes into play. Good leaders coach through the giving of time and energy. With trust, confidence, communication and connection in place; managers and other leaders across the organisation will follow your lead. In turn giving their own teams time and energy.
These good behaviours will feed through the company, proliferate and become a vital, self-sustaining engine for growth (the new normal). Appreciate that right now with limited resources it is tempting to do it yourself because it is quicker but in reality, this is the time to see who on your team is willing to step up and coaching is key to this.
That’s it – three things – simple!
The only thing left to do now is ask yourself, “as a leader, what am I focused upon?” Decide that, then go and make things happen.