By Carolyn Landesman
Have you ever seen the movie Dances with Wolves starring Kevin Costner?
You might be asking, what does this have to do with leadership? Everything!
In one scene in the movie, he participates in the hunt of a migrating herd of buffalo. Perched high on a hill, overlooking the herd, Dunbar asks one of the Sioux warriors why they were watching the herd below and not hunting them. The Sioux warrior explains they need to identify and kill the lead buffalo so he doesn’t set off a stampede.
It’s nearly impossible to hunt a herd of stampeding buffalo. By killing the lead buffalo first, the rest of the herd will then scatter in different directions making it easier for the Indians to hunt them individually.
It is the same with business.
A business is only as good as its leader. Poor leadership leads to fragmented agendas throughout the organization resulting in poor performance. However, if a leader develops the leadership capability within an organization, like a herd of stampeding buffalo, everyone in the business moves forward together, and as a team they become unstoppable.
Let’s look at the five skill sets you need to become an effective leader.
The Wheel of Leadership™
The five key functions of a leader on the Wheel of Leadership™ is to:
- Set the direction with a vision for the future
- Lead people through highly attuned people skills
- Develop robust systems and processes
- Develop exemplary communication skills
- Keep people accountable to communicated KPIs
Key Skill 1: Setting the direction
One of the traits of being an effective leader is to set the direction with a powerful vision for the future.
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered his famous ‘I have a Dream Speech’ in which he called for the end to racism in the United States. There were over 250,000 people gathered that day to hear him speak along with many more watching on television or listening to him on radio. King did not say to all these people “I have a plan!”
Martin Luther King was a visionary. He inspired a nation with his dream and vision for the future.
In his highly acclaimed book the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey suggests we should always begin with the end in mind. Translated into business strategy, the first role of a leader means to develop the future direction of the organization.
What this means to you as a leader, is to develop a vision for the future. Key questions that need to be answered are:
Why are you in business? What is the strategic direction? What are the business objectives? Where do you see the business in 5 years or even 10 years’ time.
Knowing what the future of the business looks like is paramount to succeeding as a leader. More importantly is to clearly communicating this vision to your people.
The effect of not creating a compelling vision for the future is that you allow the business to control you rather than you control the business. Without a why, your people will flounder and become frustrated.
Key Skill 2: People skills
The single most significant skill you need to have both a leader and a manager, is the ability to build effective teams and partnerships. Sales, marketing, service delivery, administration, production and finance should all have management systems in place to control them. Like the buffalo analogy, unless these functions work together, overall business objectives are unlikely to be met. These functions cannot work in isolation, people must pull together and work across functions to be effective.
However, the one thing that is common to achieving your business goals and objectives is people. You often hear the expression “people are our single biggest asset!”
If you were to ask any effective leader or manager what they do the most, it would be dealing with people. Both leaders and managers deal with people and they must have influencing skills to move people forward towards achieving the organization’s vision.
Key Skill 3: Systems and processes
A functioning business is only as good as your systems and processes. Take McDonalds for example, they have perfected their systems and processes so that when you order a burger and fries it’s consistent every time, anywhere you go in the world. It’s the same with Starbucks – their coffee is consistent anywhere you go (even in Japan.)
It’s your role as a business leader to ensure that you develop excellent systems and processes and ensure that those systems and processes work. If you put good people in to operate poor systems and processes, you are setting them up to fail. Why? Because you will only see the people using the systems as failing, not the flaws in the system itself.
What ends up happening is, your people get blamed for the inadequacies and lack of results rather than the system itself. This can be demotivating for your team and will ultimately lead to good people leaving.
On the other hand, no matter how good your systems and processes are, people still need to operate them which involves adequate training and support.
Key Skill 4: Communication skills
Having great communication skills is essential to both a leader and a manager if you are to influence others. Most conflict and misunderstandings in the workplace comes down to a lack of communication. Having both exemplary questioning and listening skills is also prerequisite to being an effective leader and manager.
To inspire others, leaders need to communicate their vision and set the direction for the future. Managers need to communicate business operations by directing, controlling and keeping people accountable to agreed standards. In smaller operations, both functions can be performed by the same person.
Key Skill 5: Keep people accountable
When we assume responsibility, we become accountable to some form of authority. Both leaders and managers are usually measured against a set of key performance indicators and are managed against these measures accordingly.
You cannot manage your people effectively if you don’t communicate the required standards. You also can’t manage what you can’t measure. If a person doesn’t know what to do, when to do it and how to do, it’s not their fault, it is the fault of management because they have either failed to communicate the required standards or, failed to provide adequate training.
You cannot manage performance if there are no communicated performance standards to keep people accountable to.
Transitioning to a leadership role
Very often what happens in average organizations, employees are promoted to leadership positions and not trained how to lead or manage. It’s a case of “You are the leader now – go lead!” or “You are a manager now – go manage!” This is a recipe for disaster. Employees without leadership flounder. Without effective mentoring, coaching and support, this is the very attitude that sets new leaders up to fail and followers not knowing what to do or where they stand.
When you first start out working, you use your highly developed technical or specialist skills, what you are trained and qualified to do. As you progress through the ranks of management, your strategic thinking and conceptual skills must increase accordingly. As you transition into leadership, you should be using less of your technical or specialist skills and more of your leadership, management and people skills.
To become a successful leader, you need to develop a new way of thinking. Forget about operating the business at a technical level and begin operating at a strategic or conceptual level. This is what will make you an effective leader.
In a technical role:
- You use your technical skills
- You have a heavy focus on doing
- Your results are measured as an individual
- You achieve individual success
- You focus primarily on the present
- You focus is on your individual needs
- You are evaluated from your boss
- Few people make demands on your time
In a leadership role
- You develop teams
- You balance the needs of the team
- You are measured by the results of your team
- You focus primarily on the future
- You are evaluated by all stakeholders
- You have major power or influence over others
- Many people make demands on your time
Keep the wheel moving forward
The Wheel of Leadership™ is a revolving process that never ends and effective leaders must constantly be moving around the wheel looking for any blockages (flat tires) in the wheel. As you know, wheels cannot turn smoothly if you have a flat tire. By developing these five key skills, your chances of succeeding as a leader as greatly increased.
To grow a business, lead your people and manage their performance. In other words, work on your business (by being strategic) not work in your business (by being a technician.)
On a final note
By developing these 5 key skills, you are more likely to succeed in a leadership role.
In a Nutshell
Transitioning to a leadership or management role means you have to develop a new way of thinking. In a technical role you use technical skills. In a leadership role you need visionary and team skills.
The 5 key skills a leader must have to be effective are:
- Set the future direction through visionary leadership
- Develop exceptional people skills
- Ensure effective systems and processes are in place
- Communicate with your people in order to influence them
- Keep your people accountable to communicated standards
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