In order for a business to succeed, everyone should be working towards the same goals. And those goals should be firmly established in the formulation of every business plan. No action or decision taken in the running of a business is without an element of risk, and a good CEO will approach the process of planning for risks using strong leadership to get everyone on the same page.
The success you achieve in the world of business depends on so many factors, including your tenacity and ability to solve problems. But one of the defining factors into whether or not your business plan eventually makes it through scrutiny, is how well you can convince people to believe in you. In fact, if you are failing in any area of your business, be it sourcing new customers or motivating your team, you need to ask yourself this very simple question:
“Do people believe in you?”
To be a leader capable of providing vision for an organisation, it is important to keep an eye firmly fixed on the future at all times. The famous former football manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who coached Manchester United to over 20 years of success, explained that the morning after his team had won a trophy, he immediately began planning for the next campaign.
But how do you engender the same forward thinking in your team? In this article, we look at some key considerations pertaining to long term vision.
Do they know where you want to be?
It is vital that you ring fence some time to map out your long term vision to your team. It won’t just take one presentation – this is something which you should be repeating in weekly and monthly meetings, and ideally record in a document which can be shared with all your team. You cannot over-communicate about your vision.
It’s good to talk
In both team meetings and one on ones, you have the chance to project what you see as the future to the members of your team. And it should be a two-way conversation; ask your team to challenge anything which they do not understand, and to offer their own input at appropriate junctures. It is accepted wisdom that ‘thoughts are things’ but a plan without action is just a dream, so make sure you are constantly communicating your long term vision to your team. There is nothing wrong with thinking out loud, getting and acting on the feedback!
Is that in line with where they see the future?
It is all very well having a long term vision as a CEO, but if this isn’t in tune with where your team sees its own future, you may end up with a disjointed strategy. For this reason, it makes sense to constantly gauge your team’s own ambitions and long term goals, so you can tap into what they really want. Once you know that, you can revisit your own vision and tweak it accordingly, ensuring it ‘hits the right note’.
So those are some tips regarding leadership, teams and long term visions – remember, communication is always key!
“Change is constant and the pace is getting quicker” is the common wisdom and I haven’t seen anything that disproves it. This means that organisations and teams need to change and evolve constantly. As internal and external forces act on them or their area of operations change, they have to react. Often organisations need to do something new or different to get the organisation to grow, service new or different customers, deal with staff changes etc. etc. This cycle of change means that there needs to be a constant focus on improving operations and also building the team to make sure it is capable of delivering what is needed.
Sometimes the shift in focus is even bigger than that. New products, new services, new technology or new markets mean that the organisation needs to do things differently or do something new. So how do you build a team to do something that you have never done before?
As ever, sport provides some interesting parallels that we can use. Football is the obvious choice but I would like to look at the approach being taken to win the oldest sporting trophy in the world, one that we have never won before: the America’s Cup.
As in other team sports, sailing a yacht is very much a group activity that takes skill, practice, fitness and passion to succeed at. Overarching all of those things are teamwork and communications. It is perfectly possible for a better led, less fit but stronger team to beat one that has “better” people in it. That is not to say that other attempts to win the cup haven’t focused on teamwork. They have but they have started in a different place than the current team: they have recruited the most capable sailors possible and tried to build them in to a team.
Numerous times in my career I have heard or read job ads that talk about “we only hire the best”, “you need to be outstanding in your field”, “I want the best sales and marketing director!” etc. etc. And how many times have we known someone like that moving on quite quickly? Leaders underestimate the damage that can be caused by recruiting an extreme “alpha-male” ego in to an organisation. Yes, there will be some disruption whoever gets recruited as that is what happens in the team lifecycle. There will need to be some team building done in all cases but successful teams contain members who are willing to join in for the benefit of the organisation. However, “rock stars” often aren’t as there is little in it for them: they are utterly focused on getting what they need to do done – often to the detriment of others.
Sir Ben Ainsley, one of our most decorated Olympians, is choosing to do something different. He has realised that teamwork is vital so he has looked for sailors that are “good enough” or “fit enough” to work with but who also work well together. He has taken the approach that the whole team, including himself, are on a journey together and that they will all improve and succeed or fail together.
All the news from the team is here: http://land-rover-bar.americascup.com/
We will find out next year whether his team will finally bring the cup back to the UK after over 130 years of trying.
In the last blog article, I took at an example of best practice when bad news comes from within your team. However, bad news can also come from anywhere else. For example, it could be from external sources or the rest of the management team. Even changing business circumstances can (and should) make it obvious that action needs to be taken and change needs to happen. It doesn’t really matter what the nature of the change is, some will see it as bad news.
As before, you cannot avoid it and its potential impacts on your team. It is also highly unlikely that you are going to have all the answers at the outset. As always, honesty is the best policy. People will know when you are being cagey or hiding something. Being authentic as a leader is a vital quality that helps build loyalty and trust, particularly in times of uncertainty.
The other thing to bear in mind is that the bush telegraph in the office works very, very quickly. And on the back of very little information, some supposition and a whole lot of leaping to conclusions! This means that it is unlikely that you are likely to manage to keep things completely quiet. Therefore, communications and message management are going to become a key activities for you as events unfold.
As I said before, any change will be viewed as bad by someone in the team and you will need to explain what is going to happen. However, the key thing is the “why?” You must also describe the options you looked at, why the choice of that particular path was made and the benefits the change will bring. It is vitally important that your team appreciate that their leadership have explored all the options and made a rational decision, rather than one based on gut feel. It is also important that the team appreciate that the organisation is more important than any one member of it and that a fair solution to the issue has been sought.
Finally, you need to communicate all this:
- use the most appropriate methods
- present information in ways that all personalities can understand
- be consistent with your message and be positive about the way forward
People look to their leadership for a sensible, rational way forward to a place that is better than where they are now. Your job is to communicate that vision and keep on communicating it. In fact, it isn’t possible to over-communicate about change, the rationale for it and where you are going as a team.
Bad news is not the best thing in the world but as a leader but you do have to listen to it, deal with it, work with its implications, results and possibly take decisive action because of it. Over the next couple of blog articles I am going to look at aspects of how you can deal with different types of bad news as a leader. The first one of these is the type that can come from within your team or somewhere else in your organisation.
Picture the scene, and we have all been there: you are on the way to an important meeting or to do something else; your phone rings or someone approaches and you hear the words that mean that something potentially big is coming: “Hello, it is XXXX, have you got a couple of minutes?” Or “Are you aware of….”
The first thing to do in this scenario is get ready to listen. If someone is taking the (potentially brave) step of flagging something up to you, you owe it to them to listen and concentrate on what they are trying to tell you. This is one of those things that must be dealt with at the time it happens. You might have to shuffle your diary or change your plans to accommodate it, but you must find the time for it. If you don’t, then how valued do you think that person will feel? Even if you schedule a meeting later in the day with the person, the chances are the key message will be lost as the mood and motivation will have gone.
Part of getting ready for listening is getting the environment right. If the office is open-plan or the meeting happens on the shop floor, then the chances are that people won’t speak freely and the true problem won’t be identified. So, move somewhere with a bit of quiet and privacy and switch your phone to silent, or off, so you can focus on the person you are meeting with.
This may be a small issue that won’t take too much time or effort but also, it could be an “Enron” which could place the entire organisation in jeopardy but you won’t know until you get more information – lots more! So, before you start jumping to conclusions or planning solutions, get all the relevant information. Some personalities (in MBTI terms, ES’s and EN’s in particular) like to do their thinking “out loud” so won’t necessarily listen or gather all the data before they start speaking. This is a mistake in this scenario so give the person time and space to give you the whole story before coming to any conclusions. You may well find that you have to get information from other people or have to use some constructive questioning techniques to get to the root cause of what is going on.
The other key thing to find out is: what the person is hoping will happen as a result of the conversation. Obviously, some things are more possible/likely than others but you need to manage their expectations about the likely outcome at this early stage. If appropriate, you will also have to keep them updated as events unfold.
Finally, you need to promise some form of investigation or action to resolve the point(s) that have been raised to you. Sitting on it or ignoring it is not an option as it will lose both you and the organisation credibility. Taking action may harm you politically but if you are going to be an authentic leader, then you need to do something about it.
I know of a couple of organisations where a team flagged a particular circumstance that would have grave financial consequences to their leadership for 2 years before those circumstances actually happened. With a bit of analysis, planning and open communication, the organisations would have been in a far better shape to weather the financial storm that engulfed them. And the leadership of those organisations would be far more credible and supported in the future by those teams….
So, in summary:
- Bad news can come from anywhere and you need to listen to all of it – particularly when it comes from within your organisation.
- You may need to re-schedule or re-plan your day a result of spending time receiving it.
- Listening is key before getting in to solutions/actions mode.
- You then have to take action – ignoring it is not an option – even if it harms you politically.
- Communications with key stakeholders, as ever, are key.