Follow up on Eight Lessons from Leaders Part 2

Last week I began my deeper dive into the eight lessons from leaders that Michael Keegan outlined in his post Leading Across Boundaries. This week, I will finish with the last four lessons.

  1. Define and focus on your goals and objectives – Goals aren’t just the destination, but the compass that guides us. Goals keep us on track, working together congruently.  They provide us something to measure our progress against; are we going in circles, are losing ground? Without goals, it’s impossible to tell. The more complexity you add to an environment, the more important clearly outlined objectives become. They don’t have to be lofty or intricate, they don’t even have to be long term, but they need to be there.

Assess yourself: Do you know your end goal? Do your employees? Do your strategies and tactics support it? Do you minimize the time you spend on efforts that don’t? Do you know where you are on the path to achieving your goals? If yes, keep working.

  1. Articulate a strategy for moving forward – Once you know your goals, you’ll need a path to get there. Consider what initiatives you’ll need to implement, what changes you’ll need to make, how you will position yourself, and what milestones should be reached along the way. However, developing the strategy is only the first step, you’ll need to share it with your team and get them onboard to help execute.

Assess yourself: Do you know your goals, but aren’t sure how to achieve them? Does it seem like your employees are working towards a different objective? Do you find yourself making more last minute decisions than deliberate ones? If so, it may be time to revisit or outline a clear strategy.

  1. Engage employees and put customers first – Putting customers first is about recognizing the role of engagement in customer satisfaction. “Engaged, highly satisfied employees increase levels of customer satisfaction and drive bottom line profitability,” wrote Jane Flaherty in her blog post Engaged Employees Create Happy Customers. As leaders, we need engage our employees and all our stakeholders in how to provide the best service to clients. If in the end what we’re doing doesn’t contribute to a happier customer, we need to ask ourselves, why are we doing it?

Assess yourself:  Do you actively provide your employees opportunity for leadership and development? Do your employees have a voice in decision making? Are employee incentives aligned to customer satisfaction? Do your business decisions result in better client service? If yes, enjoy the results!

  1. Seize the moment – Though not always easy to find, there is an opportunity in every situation – perhaps an opportunity to learn or grow or even transform into something better. Don’t let the moment pass without making the most of it.

Assess yourself: Do you wait for perfect? Are you more concerned with risk than opportunity? Do you spend more time with analysis than action? If so, it’s time to let go of perfect, stop waiting, and make something out of now.

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Follow up on Eight Lessons from Leaders Part 1

A while back Michael Keegan wrote a post on Leading Across Boundaries, which included eight lessons from leaders that were profiled in the report, Six Trends Driving Change in Government. As a follow up to that post I’d like to look deeper at each of those lessons and how we assess ourselves as leaders against them. Today, we’ll look at the first four:

  1. Leaders need to act quickly with strategic intent – The world is changing quickly and organizations need to keep up. We can’t dwell on decisions and hope to be moved along with the tide. At the same time, making rash, reactive decisions won’t help your organization either. Leaders need to be able to strike a balance between time and strategy. We can use the massive amounts of data available to us and analytics to help make better decisions, faster. We need to look toward the future, think about where our market and customers are headed, create a roadmap that aligns to that, and move forward with execution without hesitation.

Assess yourself: If you spend more time reacting to short term goals, more time talking than doing, and have data but no idea what to do with it, you’re not yet there.

Personal Assessment: Objectively, and anyone in my organization would affirm it, I’m stuck in the mode of short term goals.  It is not by any lack of understanding the data nor the understanding of the long term strategic intent; it is a product of practicality.  So even though I blog about the importance of Leaders to act quickly with strategic intent, it is not achievable or practical to think, as a leader, you will always be successful in executing in that manner. I think that is okay as long as you recognize it, have a plan to keep your eyes on the future while working on the present and still hold a vision that you communicate to your organization.

  1. Attention from the top is paramount – Leaders at the top level need to be deeply engaged in the details of their organizations. You don’t want the first time you learn about something to be when it’s become a publicity nightmare. Instead, be an active participant in the ongoings of your organization and give guidance to those supporting you.

Assess yourself: Are you up to date on the latest changes to your organization? Do you understand the work your people do and why they do it? Do you feel comfortable talking about your key solutions and capabilities? If yes, keep up the involvement!

Personal Assessment: Leading an organization of 5,000 people, sometimes this is daunting.  As I reflect on how I spend my time, the engagement I have with our consultants and our clients, I feel that at present, this is working well.

  1. Collaboration maximizes speed of execution – Social media, mobile, and cloud have become the standard of operations. These tools allow us to collaborate within and beyond our organizations. No longer do you have to wait to find an expert or book a meeting room. Key stakeholders can be easily and quickly brought together via technology to help create solutions. Not to mention, the breadth of knowledge expands to not only employees or partners, but to customers, to communities, and beyond – You’ll find that the boundaries of the past are quickly becoming blurred.

Assess yourself: Does your organization leverage collaborative technology to connect employees? Has your dependency on physical space decreased? Have you engaged your customers to help create better solutions? If not, you still have work to do.

Personal Assessment:  I can say I have done all the above, but there is always room for improvement and it is a personal objective for me to increase collaboration at all levels with multiple channels.

  1. Use different leadership styles when necessary – One size does not fit all. Everyone is different, every situation is different, and leaders who can be agile in their delivery will be most successful. We as leaders must be contextually intelligent. “Contextual intelligence is the ability to understand the macro-level factors that are at play during a given period of time,” said Harvard Business School’s Tony Mayo. He continued that a “leader’s ability to make sense of his or her contextual framework and harness its power often made the difference between success and failure.”

Assess yourself: Has your leadership style changed as the world around you has changed? Have you tried applying new methods and new thinking to new challenges? If yes, you’re on the right track.

Personal Assessment:  For better or for worse, my leadership style has changed with my positions and with the situations at hand. I would like to believe, and do, that there are few core principles that drive my leadership style, the dominate characteristic changing based upon the situation.

Guest Post: Leading Across Boundaries in an Era of Complex Challenges

From budget reductions to a struggling economy, disasters to pandemics, the seemingly intractable challenges facing government leaders extend far beyond the ability of any one agency or leader to respond. These are complex, often non-routine, challenges that are increasingly cross-cutting, interagency in nature, and go to the core of effective governance and leadership – testing the very form, structure, and capacity required to meet them head-on. Many are difficult to anticipate and in most manifestations, they do not follow orderly and linear processes.

As Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, observes, “There was a time when leaders shared a sense that the problems they faced could be managed through the application of well-known rules and linear logic. Those days are gone. Most of today’s important problems have a significant wicked component, making progress impossible if we persist in applying inappropriate methods and tools to them.”

There are different types of leadership approaches, from transactional to transformative and beyond. A survey of leadership experts and government leaders I have interviewed on The IBM Center for The Business of Government’s radio program makes one thing clear—there is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership.

What does seem evident is the importance of context when honing one’s leadership approach. It becomes apparent that effective leaders must possess and exercise a certain level of contextual intelligence. As Professor Joseph Nye stresses in Leadership, Power and Contextual Intelligence, “Understanding context is crucial for effective leadership. Some situations may call for autocratic decisions and some require the exact opposite. There is an infinite variety of contexts in which leaders have to operate, but it is particularly important for leaders to understand culture, distribution of resources, followers’ needs and demands, time urgency, and information flows.”

Given today’s context a specific kind of leadership approach seems to be most effective. It is an approach that recognizes the importance of:

• reaching across agencies,
• connecting networks of critical organizational and individual actors,
• mobilizing the whole of government’s capabilities, and
• achieving a result greater than the sum of the agencies involved

Some have come to call this collaborative or shared leadership. I highlight examples of collaborative leadership in action in the IBM Center special report, Six Trends Driving Change in Government. Whether leading the Human Genome Project, establishing the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), or ensuring the proper implementation of the $840 billion Recovery Act, we draw eight lessons from the leaders profiled in the report:

1. Leaders need to act quickly with strategic intent
2. Attention from the top is paramount
3. Collaboration maximizes speed of execution
4. Use different leadership styles when necessary
5. Define and focus on your goals and objectives
6. Articulate a strategy for moving forward
7. Engage employees and put customers first
8. Seize the moment

Though these lessons are drawn from the experience of public sector leaders, they have applicability to leaders across all sectors. Leaders are responsible for envisioning, shaping, and safeguarding the future, creating clarity amidst uncertainty. This is no small feat and it is made increasingly difficult in the 21st century, where rapid, unforeseen change seems to be the only constant.

b502cfad70cf3442f441aa6115a31102This post was written by: Michael J. Keegan: Host, The Business of Government Hour & Editor, The Business of Government magazine