There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. ~Ecclesiastes 3:1
You continually make choices on how to lead. And rarely are they clean-cut alternatives. More often they are ratios of how much to focus on A vs. B. Twelve critical leadership ratios follow. What relative emphasis do you attach within each? At any given time your team, peers, boss, customers, and market conditions will contribute to your decision.
- Internal vs. External. You act as an internal leader when you engage closely with your team. As an external leader you act as a buffer between your unit and higher levels of corporate leadership, colleagues, customers, suppliers, investors, the community, and the media. Too often, leaders choose their internal/external split based solely on their comfort level rather than what is best for the talent they have, the demands of their mission, and the idiosyncrasies of their industry.
- Control vs. Trust. You manage “close to the vest” when employees can do little without checking back for further guidance or permission to proceed. Alternatively, you can delegate the authority for all but decisions that must be made at the highest levels. Consider the analogy of hotel front desk staffs. Some have to check with their manager before agreeing to redact a $10 misapplied honor bar charge from your bill. In one well-known hotel chain, checkout clerks have the authority to forgive guests up to $2000 on their statement.
- Process vs. Product. Process-minded leaders ask questions like these: What do we need to do to serve our customers better? Do we provide our employees with a culture where they feel like they’re growing? Are we visibly and sufficiently committed to continuous improvement? Product-minded leaders ask these kinds of questions: How does our first quarter profit stand in relation to plan? Are we operating at the lowest possible cost structure? How many new contracts did we close last week?
- Strong vs. Facilitative. As a strong leader you remain starkly visible with your hand in many tactical pots. You are active and authoritative. You powerfully declare your positions. In staff meetings it’s not unusual for you to consume 80% of the air time. As a facilitative leader you aim at getting the best from the people around you. You slip into the background when you sense that will encourage others to come to the fore. You withhold opinions that might intimidate reports from stating theirs. Your team exudes great energy at meetings.
- Failure Focus (FF) vs. Success Spotlight (SS). Every leader worth his or her salt has both of these leanings, yet tilts closer to the latter. The FF in you activates when you’re feeling pessimistic, hoping things don’t get worse. Your FF grows in bad economic times and chaotic emotional times. You can’t take much more bad news. By contrast, SS is your possibility thinking side. It grows when you’re bent on achieving an exciting and ambitious vision. You're excited about the prospects of growth, advancement, and profit. You’re eager to achieve unrealized potential.
- Talent vs. Character. Chuck Noll, the highly successful head coach of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, was asked about his philosophy of picking college prospects. He said, “We draft the best available athlete.” Following their sixth Super Bowl win in 2009, Steelers General Manager Art Rooney II hinted at a revised recruiting philosophy when he said, “We draft for character.” Had the approach to draft selection changed that much in 40 years? Not necessarily, but the contrast between the two statements may cause you to think about your own hiring practices. Do you hire more for talent or character?
- Critical vs. Supportive. The members of your team have strengths to be leveraged and weaknesses to be overcome. Are you a critical leader who believes that employees are only as good as their weakest quality and that they must eradicate that shortcoming? Or are you more of a supportive leader who believe that employees are as good as their most terrific qualities. You look to strengthen those qualities and build on strengths as a strategy to overwhelm their limitations.
- Doing vs. Leading. How much does your position call for you to serve customers, make product, and shape process–the doing part of your job? When leading, you connect with your people and build relationships with them in order to increase their engagement with the goals and priorities of your unit.
- Achievable vs. Improbable. “Stretch” goals are good, but they do need to be achievable. Can your people reach the goals that have been set for them, or are they frustrated by their unrealistic nature? Give your folks an opportunity to experience success and gain satisfaction by reaching a desired outcome and perhaps even going beyond it. The philosophy behind the setting of improbable goals is that standards that are too easy to realize breed complacency rather than energy and creativity.
- Results vs. Visionary. You’re wearing your results uniform when pressured to get as much good product out the door in as short a time as possible. By contrast, the visionary you is the leader willing to downplay short-term results in order to realize a long-term vision. Even if you’re not going to be around to see that big idea materialize, you focus on that outcome.
- Competence vs. Compliance. This ratio relates to the Human Resources function. When HR is active in recruiting and selecting the best and brightest, in employee training and development, and in winning employee engagement, it is building competence. When it is concerned with complying with employment laws and ensuring that the performance management system protects the company legally, the spotlight is on compliance.
- Permission vs. Forgiveness. Sometimes you seek permission from higher ups before proceeding with a new idea not yet approved or making a decision for which guidance has not been received. That’s often the way to go. Other times, there’s no opportunity to get such authorization. There are even times when you believe that because of misunderstanding or weak leadership, approval for the right thing to do will not be forthcoming. In this case, you may resign to going for forgiveness after you act.
Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to www.1160hope.com for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.
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Sam Deep launched his leadership development career in 1986 after 15 years of teaching and administration at the University of Pittsburgh. Since then, he has spoken in front of more than 200,000 people, his 16 internationally published books have sold well over one million copies in 14 languages. He also served as an adjunct professor of leadership and strategy at the Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business from 1998 to 2006.
Check out more about Sam at: https://developingyourleaders.com
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