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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What I’m reading now: Risk and strategy

The reality is that strategy is about making choices under competition and uncertainty. No choice made today can make future uncertainty go away. The best that great strategy can do is shorten the odds of success. When crafting a strategy, all companies need to make bets about what customers will want in the future, what competitors will do in the future, what the company itself is capable of accomplishing in the future, what will happen in the economy generally. None of these bets can be guaranteed

Vision Series Part 2 of 4: Developing a Strategy

Now that you’ve created a vision for your organization, you need to develop a strategy to help you attain that vision.  “At general management’s core is strategy: defining a company’s position, making trade-offs, and forging fit among activities,” wrote Michael Porter in the 1996 Harvard Business Review. A vision says, “I’d like to get to point B” and a strategy says, “Follow this path to your destination.” To create a strategy you need to first address the following:

Step 1: Where are we now? Can you imagine giving someone directions if they couldn’t tell you where they were? It would be impossible (turn left?). The same is true of developing a strategy; you can’t do it without understanding where you are starting. Back to Business 101 again: Remember the SWOT analysis, that handy quadrant where you analyze your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats? That is precisely what you need to do. Determine how each of these plays into your vision. Does your strength in customer service differentiate you from your competitors; are their gaps in your procurement process that need filling; is there a new market you could enter? These are all questions that need to be answered in order to create the path to your destination.

Step 2: Where do we want to be? Hopefully you have a grasp on where you want to go as a result of creating your vision. A strategy allows you to outline, in detail, your goals, objectives, and means for achieving those. While a vision may focus more on aspirations, goals focus on measurable outcomes. Your goals should be:

  • Quantifiable: By how much do you expect to grow? How many new clients do you want to take on? By what date you expect to achieve the goal? How much will it cost to implement?
  • Achievable: Is it realistic? Is it within the realm of possibility without capsizing your organization or alienating your employees or clients?
  • Owned: Who is responsible for this goal’s success? Who is impacted by this goal?

Your goals may be to fill gaps you realized as a result of your SWOT analysis. They may highlight your key differentiators and strengths or address competitive threats. Think of goals as the stepping-stones on your path to achieving your vision.

Reminder: Strategy is all about balancing risk & reward. Changing requires taking on risk, but it is impossible to grow as an organization (or an individual for that matter) without taking some calculated risks. Great leaders accept risk and do their best to manage it. Developing a strategy is about making choices, often with trade-offs, as Porter noted. You simply can’t do everything all the time, but great leaders and great strategies don’t try to.

A vision without strategy is just an idea, a hope with no means for actualization. By understanding where you are now and where you hope to go, you can create a plan to achieve your vision. Next week, we will discuss communicating your vision and strategy in a way that inspires action and cultivates change.