A successful organization with a successful culture undoubtedly has effective leadership at the top. Without leadership, an organization will lack cohesion and drive. Members of that organization will move around randomly and bump into each other, potentially do the wrong things, or do things that are in not sync with each other, eventually leading to frustration and disillusionment. A well-led organization, on the other hand, has a clear sense of where it’s going, clarity of purpose, real drive to get there, and fired up troops who will do what it takes to succeed together.
Both leadership and management are critical skills for senior people in any organization. The skills are distinct but go together. Many people are stronger in one than the other. For example, personally I feel more naturally inclined to leadership, whereas I continually consciously work to improve my management skills.
Have a clear and compelling vision - The team can’t get anywhere if they don’t know where they are going. Organizations are always and only all about the people, and the only way that an organization can get anything of significance done is to rally the people in that organization around a shared vision of where they are going. Not only must the vision be clear and simple to understand, it must also be compelling. People should get out of bed in the morning excited about a day ahead of working on achieving that vision. A vision gives people a sense of purpose, that they are doing something that matters. Financial metrics are not a vision, they are simply the rewards of successfully fulfilling the purpose.
Communicate! - The troops won’t know what the vision is if you don’t communicate. So speak to them frequently, clearly, honestly, and in a confidence-inspiring way. Good communication is one of the foundational skills of any leader. Communication should be frequent and should repeat key themes often, but the mode of communication should be varied, engaging, and not trite, so that people don’t get bored with the message or feel beat over the head with it.
Create a shared sense of destiny - Everyone has to be in this together, including the leader. We all know that amazing feeling of being on a cohesive and committed team. A successful organization, no matter how big or small, should feel that way.
Know your stuff - You can’t bluff. A vision can be based on instincts born of your expertise, but if you are just making it up, people see right through it. A good vision and a good leader are credible.
Be Confident - You can’t expect others to be willing to walk through walls for the organization if you don’t personally fully believe in the vision and in the organization’s ability to achieve it. Others are inspired by a credible leader who shows confidence and commitment, despite the challenges.
Demonstrate execution - The road to success is usually long and hard. Many challenges deter people from continuing. People have faith when they are presented with a vision they can believe in and when they see tangible progress towards that vision, no matter how long the road ahead may be. Tell the team what we are doing next, do it, and then tell us what we did so we can all clearly see the progress and have faith that we will keep progressing.
Empathize - Acknowledge the challenges! Empathize with the pain that people in the organization may be going through. Don’t wallow in it, but recognize it, let people know that they are understood and their hard work and sacrifices are recognized and appreciated. Understanding and acknowledging the challenges is the first step to moving past them with confidence.
Be honest - Fundamentally, people want the truth, no matter how hard it may be. If you mislead people or sugar-coat the situation, you lose credibility. But keep in mind that you can tell the truth in a confidence-inspiring way or in a confidence-destroying way. Inspire confidence -- don’t fan fear. We all want to hear the truth, but in a way that gives us hope for the future.
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