These times are challenging. Businesses are being threatened with tighter margins, increased competition and financial limitations. Suppliers, customers and regulators are demanding more as they grapple with the uncertainty that global events are creating.
Employees are looking for a place to work that provides more than just a paycheck. Employees desire stability, a place where their job has meaning and where they feel like an important part of the machinery. In many cases, they also desire someone that inspires them to reach higher and to become better people.
Leaders in business are accountable to effectively and efficiently deal with the external world, attract and retain top talent, and deliver bottom line results to all stakeholders.
This case study deals with some of the most immediately beneficial strategies that leaders can pursue in increasing their leadership capability. It focuses on knowing how to develop powerful leadership so that your audience receives the experience that they most need. In it, we show how to make an immediate impact and how to improve your long-term business fundamentals.
Our client is majority owner of a construction company. They were doing well as a company, but not great. The owner was a patient man and had started in business at a relatively young age. He had a minority partner that worked in the business and was more of a manager than leader. This partner was looked to by other employees as knowledgeable, experienced and valuable.
The two owners found it difficult to make changes in the business. They and other employees went to seminars, read books and brainstormed. Lots of ideas were generated and yet nothing would stick. Follow through did not occur and, even with the best of ideas, the individuals, team and company would return to doing it the old way. The company was doing fine; perhaps they had just hit a temporary plateau. They wanted to ensure that nothing major was wrong…was there any danger lurking nearby?
Identifying the primary issues
This company had 150 employees in three different divisions at two locations. The owners had been in the business for 15+ years each and had begun at an early age. They had good basic training although not much “leadership” or “team” training. Employee turnover, especially in middle management had begun to increase. They had lost some key employees and had trouble hiring good replacements.
The minority partner in the business was not very engaged. The two owners generally got along well, yet whenever a big initiative came along that would seem to help, behind the scenes minority partner quietly and unintentionally sabotaged the efforts. It was not that he did not support the initiative; he wondered publicly if there was a better way than the idea before them. This always created an element of doubt, causing enthusiasm to quickly erode and the initiative to grind to a halt.
The owners, leaders and managers were hard working and focused. Attitudes were great. There was also always too much to do and so not all of it got done, but they were “workhorses”. High priority items did not always get completed. There was very limited time and energy left to “think” and “commit” to changes in processes and mindsets.
The minority owner made suggestions about what to do and encouraged change, yet he did not push employees or force any accountability. He was seen as caring and a nice guy. The vision of the future was to grow the business yet the “how” was unclear. The employees were very loyal to him with middle management turnover the only concern.
- Initially, we did a Team Assessment. Based on the assessment, it indicated we needed to look at some leadership issues. In particular, the “inspiring others to achieve for the team”, “predicting performance results accurately”, and “staying in alignment with each other” were low scoring items.
- We had each of the owners do a self assessment. The majority owner of the business gave himself mediocre marks and was very modest. The minority partner rated himself in a 9 – 10 in each category.
- The next step was to send letters to a dozen people asking what they most appreciated about each of the two partners. We only solicited feedback that was positive, focused on what they did best and the value that each of them brought to the business. This helped greatly in comparing what they did with their actual job description. Both of them were surprised at the positive impact they created with others. This created an upbeat feeling and helped to clarify and focus what each of them needed to continue doing well.
- Up until this point, the work was relatively easy, since it focused on achieving clarity with the positive impact they were making, much of which was not obvious, and what they did that formed others perceptions.
- With that base, we decided to explore the “unknown”: what did others know about them or perceive about them that they did not know? Initially we considered 360° Leadership Assessment, but ended up doing a 720° Leadership Assessment. Anonymous feedback from different audiences strongly pointed to a number of issues:
- Upon reviewing his results, the majority partner received scores from a low of six to a high of ten in each area. What people loved about working with him was equal to the amount of dislikes people had in working with him. After discussing the feedback, he decided to work on “following through with what was promised”. Part of why he did not get higher results was that he realized he was too patient, and that came across as lukewarm. It did not seem that he was committed or “willing to die for the cause”. It was an incorrect perception, but one easy to arrive at based on his behavior.
- The minority partner had scores ranging from one to seven in each of the categories. The list of what people loved about working with him was twice as long as the list of negatives. His knowledge and experience was valued, but his constant behavior of jumping to conclusions and short fuse were major negatives. He concluded that while his knowledge was valued, he stole excitement from other people. His questioning of initiatives should have come earlier in discussions, rather than derailing a needed change that the audience felt was important. When he shared perceptions and others disagreed, he quickly fought back. He chose to work on “developing a process of questioning and sharing early on before projects got started; then he would support the cause without question once begun”.
- For both partners, we set up two structures:
- Structure one: A monthly meeting with the eight people most impacted by what they each were going to work on from the leadership assessments. In the meeting, they would ask each member “How am I doing?” and “What actions can I take to improve myself in this area?” We then reassessed the audience at three months, six months, nine months and 12 months.
- Structure two was The Leadership Team’s weekly meeting with the core team of people in the business to discuss two strategic areas:
- Goals and actions that they individually were going to accomplish that week towards the long-term vision which also would help the business now.
- Goals and actions that the team would be responsible for that week, working together to reach the long-term vision that would also help now.
- We took two days to build a clear 10 year company vision with strategies and milestones brought up to the present. This enabled the weekly Leadership Team meeting to be focused on the plan and have a framework to keep them aligned and focused.
- As that occurred, we noticed that The Leadership Team needed to tune up their leadership skills, so we used the 360° Assessment to get their audience perspective. They also had to do monthly follow-ups with their audience on what they chose to work on with a three, six, nine and 12 month reassessment. This alone had the most powerful impact in that it created ambassadors for great communication and feedback. It also ensured that everyone was working on issues that were high priority and valuable to the audience.
- As our process progressed, the owners realized that if they really believed in what they were doing, especially their vision and values, they needed to push on the tough decisions to ensure there was action. By coming back to the hard issues, insisting that they were thought through and followed up on, the employees aligned behind the owners and supported the effort. As they learned more, they began to lead the effort.
The client started out in business at a young age. He was very effective, but had little formal training and lacked full confidence in his instincts. He seemed to lack strong conviction, and that was what was needed to get him to speak with confidence and stand for the vision and values necessary for the company to truly grow and become what it could be. By understanding what the audience really thought, he was able to increase the clarity of their common vision and then use the need to achieve the vision to help drive, motivate and excite the troops. The need to achieve began to bring The Leadership Team together and allowed him to smoothly shift from a “managing diplomat” to becoming a “leader” causing important changes. In the same way, the minority partner needed to know that the audience valued his knowledge, but the timing of his interaction was as critical as the actual interaction. While he desired to continue in his “management role”, he became much more effective as a “supporting leader” and was able to encourage and assist the others in the details where his partner had less capability.
As leaders, it is critical that we have internal confidence in ourselves, whether our style is quiet or loud. It is the confidence that comes through in our body language, our words and how we initiate and respond to others. This confidence allows us to speak and reinforce with passion and persistence what is needed.
- Leaders must create a future vision that inspires those around us.
- Leaders must create confidence for individuals, teams and a company to step into the unknown.
- Leaders must create an environment of learning wisdom from failure and success that is taught to others less experienced.
- Leaders must become better inside to teach others how to become better people.
- Leaders must know what their audience really thinks and feels to know what to do next.
- Leaders must persist to cause change, especially when it is resisted, with a focus on vision and values.
- Leaders must use many tools to create the changes needed since there are many types of people and circumstances that they must interact within.
- Leadership must be taught; it does not come naturally.
In the modern fast changing world, there is no other occupation that requires such a high level of performance in so many areas as being a leader. It is a leader that brings everything together through a team of people to get into the head and heart of individuals, where everyone desires to work together for better results and a better life. While the outer behavior is important, it must be combined with internal understanding and introspection.
The ultimate test in leadership is, “Do you have passionate, excited followers that will follow you into an uncertain future?”
Mistakes to avoid
- Continuing to push if something is not working.
- Not checking out the “unknown” with anonymous feedback.
- Not paying attention to what the audience really thinks and feels.
- Outpacing your team. You need the team to be pulling/pushing you, not because you are slow but because they are motivated.
- Thinking you know it all or can figure it out.
- Thinking you can control everything.
- Allowing pushback to cause you to stop working towards a goal.
- Allowing “values” to become secondary to results (this is the first sign of wood rot, particularly if suggested with a laugh and/or smile).
- Not differentiating between management, leadership and a great work ethic.
Some practical advice
- You cannot just change what you are doing. You need to share your behavior change with the audience and get feedback to find out if it is working and how to improve it.
- Make sure that you are harvesting tactical byproduct from everything that you do in a business.
- If what you are doing is not working, don’t change the goal. Try a different method to get there.
- Teach others: we think they should know already, be able to read our minds or be capable of figuring it out. That is not the way it works in the real world.
- Set up a clear, simple structure that fosters communication, learning, and interaction. It is like building a puzzle together where everyone needs to be able to see all the pieces to truly be a useful team member.
- Your internal self development always has a powerful impact on the capabilities of those around you.
- Leadership multiplied is really “how to run a business”.
- Emotionally engage everyone.
- Stand up for important values with actions. Your job is not just to provide knowledge but to also provide a moral compass of how to behave in the right way.
- Sometimes behavior changes will lead to a change in mindset; sometimes mindset changes will lead to a change in behavior. Both methods can work; try both and see what works best.
- You must have a long-term vision for your future. It is the vision that creates the requirement for the team to become a truly great team. Without the need, building a team can become a flat intellectual exercise.
- Focus on building a Leadership Team that has a common vision and values, but different styles and experiences. The skills can be taught if you have these other pieces.
- Having fun can be a worthwhile endeavor if combined with other “hard goals”.
Special offer: The Leadership Challenge Exploration Session
If you are interested in learning more about how to develop your leadership impact and how it can help you avoid or escape a declining business and life, please contact us.
You may also wish to learn more about our unique process for Business Owners called The Comprehensive Independence Builder™, in which we address all of the obstacles you face and then help you use innovative strategies to protect and enhance your business, improve your quality of life and better achieve your goals.
To schedule your Leadership Challenge Exploration Session or for more information on our process, please contact us at 800-786-4332, or email@example.com.