There have been many, many books written on the subject of business leadership. I find most of them wanting for substance. They have been written by business leaders themselves, by consultants who work with them, and a few by academics who study leaders and their businesses. Each in their own way try to define key characteristics that make up a good leader and then use specific business examples of how those characteristics have affected the success of the business. But in most cases, within two or three years of a book's publication, the business examples do not hold or the leader they were referring to is waiting for sentencing to the nearest federal penitentiary.
For over 30 years I have been working with leaders of business (everyone is a leader within their role), some good and some not so good. Most have hired me to help them in their quest to better leadership. And like Dorothy they spend most of their time walking the yellow brick road to OZ to find the answer to being a good leader—when all of the time the answer is in their back yard. The key to being a better leader is within. The difficulty about this answer is that most people don't know who they are, and if they do, they rationalize their behavior as being unchangeable, like stripes on a zebra. With this belief they become victims of themselves. Or, they transfer their power to control or monitor their behavior to others—the board of directors, shareholders, their boss, employees, the company culture, the marketplace and so on. Each of these becomes an excuse for not owning what their role is in becoming a good leader. Not owning their role puts their business at risk.
Being a good business leader is a constant practice; it is not a degreed state, nor is it defined by title, longevity, or net worth. I believe it is defined by one's ability to leverage one's strengths and to manage one's weaknesses and dysfunctions for the overall achievement of their business. This aware state by leaders allows them to communicate in a consistent and clear manner regarding the business issues without their "personal junk" creating static in their conveyance of what they need. Their people, therefore, are able to focus and manage the real issues. This focus on reality creates a work environment that not only accelerates their business strategy but also fulfills individuals' need for accomplishment and personal value.
So what does a business look like when its leader is not aware? Slow is a pretty good word to define a business headed by such a leader. Goals are not clear, decisions are delayed and actions often do not go to the core issue. In addition, the objectives and the required actions are up for interpretation based on one's ability to read the difference between leadership's communications and leadership's intent. Trust is non-existent; teamwork is always a goal but seldom accomplished. Success is defined not by accomplishment of the business objectives but by the ability of one to navigate the cultural and personality nuances of the business. High performers are those who conform to the way "WE" do things rather than face the real issues challenging the business. In other words, these leaders unconsciously create people figuring out how to survive within the existing culture rather than using performance-based thinking.
I cannot emphasize more the importance of aware leaders and the cost of people and capital if they are not. Taking a good look in the mirror every morning can have a more lasting affect on your business than any leadership training, teambuilding exercise or strategic plan. Never under estimate the effect your behavior has on both the top and bottom line of the business positively and negatively.
Now here is the bad news. Every business with whom I've worked has some of this unaware behavior going on today—each business to a different degree, but still present within the day-to-day decision making of its employees. The reason for this terrifying fact is we humans are terrible at communicating. Our experience tells us that no matter what we hear, there is a good possibility that there is much more behind the words than the words themselves. So we spend time analyzing and interpreting body movement, eye contact, facial expressions and whatever data point we can gather to help us define what has been communicated to us. In fact, the more time we spend with someone, the less we listen to the words they are saying and the more we act on the experience and data bank we have with that individual. This process is reinforced when leadership acts from their core of weakness or dysfunction. When doing so, leadership's words do not reflect their real intent and do not match the issue at hand. With this lack of clarity and incongruence, our natural instinct takes over and we go on a hunt for the real information, which takes time, lots of time.
That is why in today's business environment we see so many new processes being introduced to track and measure each business decision and action. These processes take out what-is-behind-the-curtain thought process and deals with the issue or question at hand. These tools are essential for business success. Any business that says it does not have time for these processes are communicating to their employees that they encourage them to go back to college to get their psych major to manage their objectives. But process alone cannot defeat the incredible power of an unaware leader.
So the more consistently aware leaders are of their behavior, the more they can limit the hidden messages behind their communication. This consistent clarity allows businesses to stay on track and creates an environment that gets things done. And as I said earlier, this sense of awareness is an ongoing process. Just because you understand what is written in this article does not mean that in the next business meeting you are going to automatically communicate your real intent. You have a responsibility to your business, your people, your family and yourself to know when you are consistently communicating from your strengths with clarity and reality of the situation. When you are not, you have to face the reality, identify the facts of the situation and correct your previous decision; you and your business success depend on it.
So now you understand the need to challenge yourself to be real and consistent in your communications. Go back to those books on the shelf and pull out a few bullet points and see how different their affect is on the business when you are driving them from a position of strength and clarity. I think you will find a new vitality in your approach to your job and an increased level of respect and speed within your business.
Being a good leader is a long journey with many twists and turns. But the rewards of driving a successful business and creating a culture of trust that supports not only the business objectives but also those of your diverse work force far exceeds the challenge and the effort to be aware. That is what life is all about; facing the challenge, overcoming the obstacles, and getting up the next morning and starting all over again.
Good luck on your journey.