Leaders are faced with a myriad of issues each day, but one of their most critical responsibilities is to step back from the urgent and focus on the important. They must achieve a balance between the reactionary crisis mode and the proactive planning mode. This means pausing and reflecting on how they’re influencing behaviors to ensure the right outcomes. To accomplish that, there are 10 key important questions that, properly addressed, will strengthen both their leadership and their organizational effectiveness.
I posted the first 5 questions in Part 1 several weeks ago. Here are the last 5 questions.
- Engagement. How do you engage your team in what you’re trying to accomplish? Engagement is based on an emotional connection that energizes those involved to work toward a common goal. Competitive rowing teams, known as “sculling in crew” require all rowers to move in exact cadence with the leader for an efficient stroke. The leader is responsible for steering the boat, encouraging the crew and monitoring the rate of progress. Everyone knows their role and knows who to follow, and engagement is an important key to winning. Contrast this with a scenario where everyone is rowing at their own pace. They’re working at it, and they’ll make progress, but not nearly as fast because their behaviors aren’t aligned. Similarly, as the leader you must ensure that your team clearly understands the goal and that their efforts are coordinated, collaborative, and complimentary. This means making sure they buy into why the goal is important, and contribute their ideas on how to best accomplish it.
- Innovation. Are you creating an environment that encourages new thinking? Innovation involves taking existing ideas, processes or products and combining them in new and different ways to meet customer or market needs. For example, electric vehicles are innovative. Some companies have innovation labs, or innovation hours (i.e. hackathons), but this approach ultimately needs to be embedded in the culture of the organization. New ideas must be nurtured and encouraged. Carl Winans, Co-Founder of Mega Tiny Corporation asked a good question at a conference I attended recently. “Are you creating or merely consuming?” In other words, do you just take in information and knowledge and use it, or do you integrate it to provide new and different output that is beneficial to others? Leaders’ interactions with employees should incorporate discussions on innovative topics, soliciting ideas, encouraging them to investigate the potential for success, and when appropriate, giving them a leadership role in operationalizing their ideas. This rewards innovation and reinforces the skills requisite for success.
- Power. Do people follow you because of your power and position, or because you empower them? If you were no longer CEO, VP, or holding your current leadership position, who among your team would still want to follow you? John Maxwell’s book The 5 Levels of Leadership explains that at level 1, people follow you because they have to. But as you move to level 5, people follow you because of who you are and what you represent. You only have power over others to the extent that they grant it to you, whether through an employment relationship, or because you meet a financial, emotional, social, psychological or physical need. Once you cease to fulfill that need, or they find someone else to fulfill it, you become effectively powerless. On the other hand, as a leader you can empower others, or give power to them, by providing them with responsibility, enabling them to do something, or equipping them to accomplish a challenge. Giving power to others generates a virtuous cycle of enabling, growth, commitment and engagement.
- Performance. What is the correlation between your effort and your outcomes? This is a sensitive issue, because all leaders like to believe that they’re exceeding the expectations of the individuals or groups to whom they’re accountable (and we’re all accountable to someone). But there are enough situations where no matter how intellectually capable or strategic the leader, their best efforts don’t move the needle forward as much as is needed or expected. Is their skillset incomplete? Is the internal business challenge too great? Are there insurmountable external economic or market forces that can’t be overcome? Marissa Mayer joined Yahoo in 2012 amid great fanfare about how she could turn the struggling company around. Three years later, the company has had to scrap its plans to spin off its extremely valuable stake in Alibaba Group Holding, and the market is currently valuing Yahoo’s core business at less than its cash on hand. While Mayer has upgraded content and worked to boost mobile revenues, some are publicly wondering how much longer the 6th CEO in 8 years will last. Opinions vary on how to return Yahoo to success, but the performance question is one that every leader grapples with at some point. And if the effort is not producing the right outcomes, it may be time to find a new opportunity where the leader’s contributions will align with strong results.
- Change Leadership. Are you leading your organization to be nimble, flexible and open to change? Change doesn’t happen unless the leader makes it a priority. Nikesh Arora, formerly responsible for all of Google’s revenue ($29B), and currently CEO-in-waiting at SoftBank Group of Japan, demonstrated this when he was first hired to run Google’s European operations in 2004. He doubled his initial 5-year revenue projection for the region, and created the analytical tools that were eventually implemented to track the financial condition of the global business. He’s known not to suffer fools, but his enemies respect him. Instead of changing his leadership style to fit into the company, Arora shrewdly changed the leadership perspective to mirror his own. He tells entrepreneurs “Anytime you can predict your trajectory, you should change it.” Change leaders don’t wait for external forces to drive internal business strategies. They anticipate the market, technologies, economy and customer needs; develop a flexible framework and goals for the future; then ensure that the right processes, strategies, technologies, and tools are in place to get there. Change leaders hold their organization accountable for results.
Now that you’ve read the 10 Key Questions for Leaders, you recognize that they’re interdependent with one another to achieve individual and organizational success. Your challenge now is to identify the 2 or 3 that are most important to your growth, and develop learning strategies to improve in those areas. And if your favorite didn’t make the top 10, feel free to share it.