The Leader's Opportunity

If you were to boil "effective leadership" down to three core concepts, what would they be?

As I engage with senior leaders to learn how they view leadership, the concepts they provide are almost exclusively financial metrics. The most popular responses include “hit the numbers,” “exceed budgeted nets,” and “deliver what our customers need, profitably."

Those are all good things. Financial success helps your enterprise sustain itself. Delivering on promised results and profits will rarely be a bad thing for a leader to accomplish.

Isn’t it interesting, though, that proven benefits like boosting employee engagement or creating a safe, inspiring work environment or treating everyone with trust, respect, and dignity don't make the “top list”?

The quality of workplace relationships matters. The research is undeniable. Talented, engaged employees who feel valued and respected generate consistent results, WOW customers, and treat others with dignity, every day. That’s a desirable mix: engaged players, consistent results, great service, and civil treatment.

Leaders have the opportunity - or more specifically, the responsibility - to create something more than a “results at any cost” workplace.

Here’s my take on the three core concepts of effective leadership.

Leaders must set the context for the work team members do. Beyond “making money” or “finishing projects,” what is the meaningful outcome of the work? How do customers benefit? Do your products and services help improve the quality of life of customers? How does your community benefit? Are some profits set aside for community service projects or supporting a local charity? Is time set aside regularly - say, once a quarter - so employees can volunteer to build bicycles for needy children or help paint an elderly resident’s home? When leaders promote and engage in these discussions and activities, they help create meaning and significance beyond results.

Team leaders and team members have responsibilities, too. They embrace goals, tasks, and projects and commit to completing them “on time and under budget.” Talent and enthusiasm must be aligned to performance expectations as well as to treating others according to your team or company values and behaviors. Every member of the organization must build relationships, extend networks, and offer desired solutions so that performance expectations are realized. Leaders must clarify expectations and secure everyone’s commitment to deliver on their performance promises, kindly.

When you read that term, I know what you’re thinking: “Uh, oh. Someone’s in trouble!” The reality is that leaders need to be prompt with positive consequences as well as negative consequences. When people exceed expectations, when they go above and beyond to proactively solve problems or wow customers, leaders must promptly recognize them. Praise and encourage players when they do the right things the right way!

And, sometimes people don’t do what they’ve promised they will do. Sometimes people fall short of their agreed-to performance. When that happens, leaders must promptly engage in discussions to express issues clearly and directly, listen and learn about dynamics that may be driving undesirable behaviors, and reach agreements to ensure aligned behavior moving forward.

Those are my three. What do you think? What have I missed? Add your thoughts in the comments section below.

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