Leaders Aren't Born - They Are Developed.
It takes people to create a business and those very people can bring it to its knees.
Sure, market forces will influence… GFC’s, competitors, suppliers… so many things can influence a business, but ultimately, it will rise, stagnate or fall due to the leader’s decisions and actions, or lack thereof!
An all too common delusion I have come to experience, when working in the SME space, is where leaders truly believe their business is a good one, based on criteria and evidence that is little to do with best business practice, client surveys and profitable results and more to do with their own needs to be successful (or perceived as such). These Leaders are dangerous to their own organisation, as they created the PR that they now believe. However, there is a constant feeling of pressure that accompanies this delusion, as under the surface, this Leader knows the truth that they are flying by the seat of their pants. Profits are not great, cash flow is a constant challenge, clients are not happy and the employees are less than united in excellence.
At times, this situation has come about from reaching that magical tipping point, where the sales boomed but nothing internally changed. The Leader still runs the business as a 'start-up' and has no experience of steering a growing business with swelling employee numbers who need strong Leadership. At times, it can be where the Leader has become a tad tired and struggles to know what to do next. They throw people at the problem - which is NEVER a smart idea! These are good people with poor Leadership habits.
To generalise, I have found there are 3 common Leadership performance indicators lacking in a business that is saying ‘things are great’ when in reality their business is bleeding profit and struggling with growth.
1. People. Their people have often been with them for years, some from the beginning. They are proud of this fact and equate loyalty with quality. However, when the performance of their key people is reviewed or highlighted, they start to deflect. Often these key people are left to run their own race, have little or no accountability, have a sense of entitlement and fail to achieve a consistent performance (as there is usually no clear expectation set for them to perform to anyway). "But they are good people; they are loyal!" There can be a fear in the Leader that if they change the status quo these loyal people will not like it and leave. (Side point; it can be a really positive part of a businesses growth to have some employee turnover.)
Often, the really good talent has left after short stints with the business. Performance reviews are not held and if they are, they lack purpose and accountability. Employees are left to believe they are doing a stellar job, even if they aren’t. The people running the business are not hiring, educating, evaluating or managing their people well or at all in some cases. The people strategies are in chaos.
2. Standards. There is a lack of defined standards in the organisation (and I am not talking Values). Performance, including behaviour and professional conduct, is not outlined or measured. The Leaders will talk to you about their standards but they are 'missing in action'. This usually touches every aspect of the business; sales, marketing, accounting, administration, service, delivery, communication etc. The tail is wagging the dog and in real terms the Leaders of the business are not setting the course or strategies of growth; instead their people do this by default with the best intentions. Feedback doesn't exist.
3. Planning. The Leadership priorities are the ‘here & now’, fixing issues with people, products, money and customers. They are focused on keeping the balls in the air as cost effectively as they can. As the old saying goes, ‘fail to plan & plan to fail’. They’ll tell you they have a plan, but if you ask to review it with them, you will soon see that their plan is just a ‘to do’ list. They are usually waiting for the opportunity to have the time to plan, as if it is a blue-sky dream rather than a business necessity. Often, they actually don’t know how to plan for business growth, let alone people growth.
The common finding in all 3 Leadership indicators is the mindset of the Leaders themselves. At times, they have become accustomed to their outcomes to the point that they don’t even believe they are accepting anything less than high performance. It has become their new norm. They don’t know what they don’t know.
Worse still, some are not willing to find out what they don’t know. They refuse to do what is required to re-shape the business into a robust, resilient, disciplined, profitable entity, as it is too confronting for them. This is where the ME affects the WE. The Leader’s look inward at how the changes may affect them and what they will lose rather than looking outward to how their staff will rise to a consistent high-level performance and what they, the Leaders & their staff will gain.
No pain, no gain.
What does this really mean? Well for me, when re-shaping a business, it means that before we start to see the consistent profits from people performances we first need to strip it all back and peel away the ‘stuff’ that produces anything less than predictable high quality results.
Systems need to be reviewed, created, implemented and maintained.
People need to be reviewed. Do we have the right people in the right roles? What training do they need? What clarity do they require? What feedback do they need to receive? What do they want for their own professional development and future goals?
Policies need to be designed to fit the purposeful values and objectives of the business. Policies give staff clarity about their rights, expected behaviours and business philosophies. The Policies sit under the Values. Example: Our number one value is family first. Our policy for leave is; in addition to the statutory rights of every employee in personal and annual leave, we gift 3 days per year to employees as ‘family’ leave, to attend school concerts etc.
Values must be detailed. This is not so easy, as it is less about what we say we do and specifically what we do as a common group, continuously. Often, I find Values don’t match the decisions and actions of Leaders and employees in business or they are clichés with no value at all. Values need to be lived.
Standards. If accepting ‘good enough’ as the standard, the results will be just 'good enough' too. Standards are set by the leaders actions. They walk and talk the line of what the business stands for. Customers who purchase from a business with high standards, enjoy their experience regardless of the small hiccups along the way, as the business has a standard of communication, information, solution and outcome that drives accountability and delivery.
Business First. The Leaders who have businesses that thrive often have an innate intuition when they themselves need to get out of the way, in order for their staff and their business to shine. Turning intuition into success steps is a smart way to drive performance. They run their business as a business rather than a personal bank or place to feel important. They are willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve the ultimate goals and their goals are aligned to the values, systems, policies and culture of the organisation.
Accountability & Clarity. Have trusted and successful people around you who will champion your goals and push away the BS. Be open with your results internally and allow your Leadership team to own them. Set the course of growth both professionally for your people and for the business itself. Challenge the status quo and ask high quality questions of yourself and each other. How can we do this better?
The good news is that for every delusional Leader there are plenty of Exceptional Leaders who are keeping it real and actively seeking the HOW to continue to grow their people and profit. They are acutely aware of their own deficits and are ready to be educated and informed. They implement as they learn and they recruit smart people who add significant value to the business.
Only the mind that seeks to grow and develop will accept change and lay down the ego in order to have the layers pulled back, before the re-growth can commence.
Does it take courage to lay down the ego? Nope. It takes honesty, accountability and a willingness to be wrong.
What does it take to move through ego into exceptional Business Leadership? ACTION. Without ACTION, everything remains as information.