As former CEO of Intrinsic Technologies and a manager for over 20 years, the creation of effective teams continued to bubble to the top of my list of priorities. Though training is available in copious amounts, the argument of whether or not leaders can be taught really has not been resolved. When I differentiate between a “leader” and a “manager” I often think of soft skills. I think primarily about emotional response. A ‘manager’ can, by and large, by considered a role that could be automated. It is a role that is predicated on reacting to situations using a well defined rule set. Quite often, those rule sets are employee manuals. While “management” is necessary I feel far fewer “managers” are.
Leaders make all the difference. All leaders can manage but not all managers can lead. Leadership speaks directly to the ability to engage others in a common goal. When I look at successful leaders that I have worked with, they could:
- Rapidly assess any situation
- Rapidly assess the exiting talent
- Clearly articulate the short, mid and long term goals
- Build a roadmap from here to there
- Coach up or recruit talent to shore up gaps
- Motivate the team through thick and thin
- Drive to conclusion (Be a finisher)
While I said that good leaders can manage, most good leaders do not like “maintenance management.” This is what happens once a system(s) have been implemented to reach a goal. Crises have been averted and the team has been built into a high performance unit. At this point, the charismatic leader is not as critical to the success and, interestingly enough, is also not as engaged by the pursuit. The mantra for the leader is to communicate, motivate and cultivate.
- Communicate – More teams, projects and companies fail over simple poor communication. Give the news. Deliver the hard message. Deliver timely and appropriate praise as well as the right cheerleading when necessary. Lead by example and people will follow you. More importantly, you will be working on the ‘cultivate’ portion described later.
- Motivate – As much as people profess to dislike “Rah Rah,” leadership, charisma, as a soft art, is critical. Not everything must by at volume level 11, but based on the project, the team and the needs, good leaders find ways to motivate people to levels of performance they were not capable of before. If that cannot be done, part of cultivation can be elimination.
- Cultivate – When a project is undertaken and a team is being built, that assessment of talent and passion is critical. Getting the ‘Right people on the bus,’ (Good to Great) is critical. Once they are there and the leader can work with them, the amount of emotional labor necessary for the one leader is distributed. Conversely, a leader must quickly identify people who are not willing to jump onto the bus and find them new positions where they can be successful (inside or outside the organization)
Board interaction is simply communication up. I have found that my low fluff agenda has been very successful.
Tips about Board Interaction
- Communicate early and often
- Communicate bad news before it becomes stale bad news
- Deal in the truth. The truth can be handled
- Tie everything to value
The value approach forces the board to remember why everything else is being done. That message must make it to the team as well, but keeping the board focused on the macro topics and allowing your team to work on the micro will ensure a successful project.
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