When leadership gets in the way of success

by guest blogger Joanie Rufo

“It is a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead and find no one there.”  – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Most leaders can recite off the top of their heads what their business goals are for the coming month, quarter or year. They also have a pretty solid idea of what the business needs to do to accomplish those objectives. However, when asked what leadership styles or skills they need to develop to achieve those results – either as an individual or as part of an executive team – there is often a long pause. Time and again, senior leaders confess that they don’t think about leadership so intentionally: there is always too much to do, and the requests for their time and attention rarely afford them time to think about themselves.

Admittedly, running a business can feel like an unending task list, and pausing to consider leadership can feel like a “nice to have.” Yet, differing senior leadership styles and executive team dynamics have a dramatic impact on whether or not organizations will meet intended goals.

Many common challenges that exist in organizations get attributed to particular functions when in fact they often point to a weakness of leadership. Corporate Communications is a great example of this. The reality is that even if a team of people exists to convey important messages and they manage the channels to do so, they cannot be effective if top leadership isn’t aligned. Common signals that such a challenge exists in your organization might sound like this:

  • “I don’t know what our strategic direction is.”
  • “I thought we already made this decision – why are we talking about it again?”
  • “I don’t know what’s really going on with that department. I’m too focused on what’s going on with my own team.”

Muhammad Ali famously said, “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.” Pausing to look at leadership dynamics and incorporating those needs into business planning adds energy and speed.  By removing the “pebble in the shoe,” leaders are more focused and energized. They are able to channel that increased energy to the daily activities of running the business in a more effective way, and with greater ease. Teams function together. Productivity is increased.

So how do you identify and address these kinds of challenges?

  • Ask employees – move beyond  a traditional “employee engagement” approach and instead ask what people think about leadership. Make it safe to do so. Listen well, and then respond. They’ll tell you what’s needed, and engage more fully as a result. The book “Drive” offers some simple but powerful questions to understand employee motivations in more depth.
  • Ask yourselves – focus one leadership team meeting a month exclusively on the topic of leadership. Ask for opinions on what’s working and what’s not. Books such as “Fierce Conversations” and “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” offer tools for how to conduct such meetings effectively.
  • Ask for help – while team dynamics and leadership effectiveness certainly have an art to them, they also have a science. Numerous tools have been developed to bring focus and clarity to what used to be very nebulous. Explore The Leadership Circle Culture Survey™ as a way to get started.

Joanie Rufo, president of Initiate Consulting, is a Certified Leadership Coach with nearly 20 years experience helping leaders increase personal and organizational effectiveness. She can be reached at jrufo@initiateconsulting.com or at 301-841-7234.

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