Leadership isn’t a secret
It can somehow seem that running a business, or a team within a business of more than about 30 people, can appear to be extremely complex, full of hidden secrets as to how it all works. Of course, we have the option to make it complex, but the secret of success is to keep it simple.
The totally transferrable secrets of success are:
Have a clear vision of what you seek to achieve that is compelling for all stakeholders. It is absolutely essential that the vision is not a selfish one, for instance wanting to become number one in your market. It needs to be something that your staff, customers, suppliers and others can be equally motivated by. It needs to be clearly and briefly articulated in just a few words.
Agree a clear set of behaviours/values/culture and make sure the leaders embody them all of the time. The values need to be aligned with the vision and the strategy. For example, if the vision requires innovation, the team will have to behave in an innovative way. If the vision requires safety, the team will have to behave safely. Do not compromise on the values – if people are unwilling or unable to live by them, they must leave.
Articulate a strategy in four lines, make it clear and memorable so that everyone knows what they are doing. Have each discipline (sales/finance etc) break out the strategy into their own four line strategy that delivers on the overall. Repeat the overall strategy endlessly until it is part of the fabric of the organisation at all levels. If people cannot remember and repeat it – it is too long and too complicated.
Link recognition, rewards and discipline to behaviours and strategy. Celebrate, recognise and reward behaviours and achievements that are in line with the values and the strategy. Act quickly on behaviours that are not. This does not (necessarily) mean sacking people, but you must make it very clear what is desirable and what is not.
Measure stuff and share it. Identify the key metrics towards the vision/strategy and values. Have clear responsibility and accountability for each one and have your top team share them with each other, face to face and more widely at least weekly, using a common format. If there are issues arising from the data, follow up with break out meetings for all who can help and work out what you are going to do about it. Ensure that there is no blame attached to data that is below expectations – honesty is more important than scapegoats.
Think holistically, and cascade the process through the business with each team having its own vision, values, strategy, recognition and measurements that are complimentary to the overall, ensuring that they deliver their part of the bigger picture. Every team is both whole in itself and part of a larger whole.
Love. This strongly links back to the first point and is probably the hardest bit to deliver, but unless there is a strong sense of love for the vision, the organisation, the strategy, the results, the stakeholders and each other – none of the above will work. Love is the bit beyond the rational. If we run our businesses rationally then everything is transactional. There is no loyalty, emotion or honour in a rational system – only logic. People are only as good as their last performance. This is why the vision has to be valuable (lovable) for all stakeholders. It is also about caring for people (customers, staff and suppliers) as people.
Businesses and organisations that are able to hold a consistent discipline around these seven areas succeed. But while it is vital to be humble and nimble enough to adjust to circumstances, consistency is essential. If you are able to succeed in these seven areas, you will also be able to deliver the best returns to shareholders – counter instinctively, keeping your focus on delivering value to all stakeholders is the best way to deliver value to your shareholders.