"I'll tell you what I want, what I really really want"

12th December, 2013

"I'll tell you what I want, what I really really want"

I've been thinking a lot recently about leadership styles.  I work with many different types of leaders who are all, in their own way, struggling to develop their voice and style.  And many of them find the hardest part is growing their unique style within the culture of their organisation.

Many of the coaching discussions we have around this topic start with the vexing question of strategy.  Typical comments can include "The strategy keeps changing" or "It's too vague - how can I pass it down to my people?" or "We have too many targets" and so on.

Now we have written about this a number of times before - check out In Space no one can hear you scream and Winning vs. Succeeding. The common theme from both of these articles is the need for leaders to construct their own translation of the corporate goal into a form that their people can understand and relate to.

However, a recent client had an interesting take on this topic.  He was less concerned with his leadership style and more concerned about the systems that he wanted to put in.  He is a big fan of Dr. W. Edwards Deming (a statistician who went to Japan to help with the census after World War II. Deming also taught statistical process control to leaders of prominent Japanese businesses. His message was this: By improving quality, companies will decrease expenses as well as increase productivity and market share) and quotes the "80% process, 20% people” view that if you get the system right, you don’t have to harry the people to do things right (or even to do the right things).

This is all fine and systems are essential but a leader still the task of ensuring that everyone has bought into the approach.  Even the best, most logical systems won’t work to their full potential if the people at its heart are not engaged or willing.

A key part of developing engaged and enthusiastic followers is for the leader to actually tell people what they want and need them to do.  People look for direction, clarity and simplicity and good leaders give them that, all the time, every time.

If this is something you are working on, try the following tips and see how they help.

  1. Know what you want.  Make sure you know what winning means in your organisation, business, team or group.  If you don’t know, nobody is going to follow you!  So, do you really, really know what you want?
  2. Keep it simple. And when you do know what you want, make is simple.  Scores of targets and Key Performance Indicators will make it worse, not better.
  3. Be explicit when you communicate.  Don’t assume that others will know “because it’s obvious”.  It may be obvious to you but often is not to the people who are supposed to be doing the work.  So say it simply, clearly and in terms that everyone can understand.
  4. Say it. And once you’ve said, say it again and again.  Many leaders assume that because they tell people once then they have communicated.  Sadly, this is not the case.  People hear selectively, people forget, people get distracted and they hear other messages which crowd out your original one.  Remember the old public relations mantra – “if they haven’t heard it, you haven’t said it”.

It’s too early to tell whether my client will succeed in refining his systems so that he gains the operational benefits that he seeks.  Too early as well to know whether his current style and approach will enable him to gain the buy-in from his staff and colleagues so that they enthusiastically embrace the new way he proposes.  However, we are sure that although passion without systems is not a long term fix, systems without leadership and vision will also fail too.

Please let us know if you are involved in something similar in your organisation – we would love to hear from you.

If we can help develop your leaders and your leadership teams, please get in touch.

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Steve HintonWritten by Steve Hinton

Steve Hinton is an experienced Executive Coach and Consultant working with Chief Executives, Managing Directors, Senior Executives and other leaders and can work with you to create exceptional and successful leadership teams.

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