Sunday, June 19, 2011

Basic Leadership Skills- Learning from Experience

Well, it's been exactly two months since my last posting.  With clients, graduation, and moving, the schedule has been very full.  In the spirit of getting back into posting regularly I will begin with a quick post on Basic Leadership Skills in regards to Learning from Experience.  These are adapted from Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy's text.

Create Opportunities to Get Feedback. Even for (especially for) the most powerful leaders, feedback is critical.  We all need to know not only how we're doing objectively (through performance metrics and goal achievement), but how we're doing subjectively (how do other see our performance).  A leader who loses his followers is no longer leading anyone.  Leadership is a function of the leader, the followers, and the situation, so that means two-thirds of leadership has to do with elements outside of the leader herself.  For this reason it is important to solicit feedback from multiple sources.

For instance, a small business owner may measure his own performance on year end profitability and sales numbers.  But he should casually gather feedback from employees on their satisfaction, customer comments and interactions, and ways the organization might be run more smoothly.  It's usually the front-line people that have the best ideas for how to improve the customer experience and reduce redundancies, because they have to deal with both every day.

He could also discuss the business with his spouse (whether she works there or not) and see what her observations are on how it's run and how it might be improved.  She might be ready to tell him his own areas for improvement as well (as husbands and wives usually like to do).

A third way to solicit advice is from a Trusted Advisor.  Much like the "in the family but not of the family" idea in the Concigliere role, the Trusted Advisor is one who is close enough to see the inner workings of the organization and personalities involved, experienced enough to know how to improve it, and trusted enough to speak plainly and truthfully to the owner (without fear of bias).  Many leaders benefit from the incorporation of a Trusted Advisor.

Take a 10 percent stretch.  No matter where you are today, and in what direction you want to head, the journey begins with taking a step forward.  As much change is daunting, keep in mind that you don't have to change everything at once.  Shoot for a 10% change, define it in real, measurable goals (so that you can hold yourself accountable later), and start working towards it.

Maybe you want to increase gross sales from $10M to $11M next year.  Say you want to reach 10% more customers, or expand your network by 10% (say from 200 to 220 connections on LinkedIn).  This can be as simple as wanting to post five more posts for the weekly food blogger or as complex as wanting to rate 10% better on your annual 360 degree review. 

Keep a Journal.  Now this one I think can be taken literally (have a journal that you write in regularly to reflect upon- and get perspective on- issues that you are dealing with), or it can be taken figuratively (remember to take time regularly to look back and think about your progress, issues with the organization, challenges, and successes).

The key to either approach is to revisit events so that you can (a) get a better perspective on them and (b) learn from them so that you are better prepared for the next time around.  Too often busy business owners rush from one crisis to another simply putting out fires without any chance to look back and consider events, performance, and meaning.

Create a Development Plan.  This is simply a matter of asking "Where am I going with all of this?"  It may seem obvious to say you need to know where you want to go before you try to get there, but many times we rush towards a vague notion of "better" without having clear, articulated, and measurable goals along the way.  This isn't to say that a plan can't change along the way, just that having it written down will help focus efforts towards real results.

This can be applied on many levels:
  • personal (I am going to master these skills this year); 
  • organizational (a plan to increase employee satisfaction by 25% and reduce turnover by 10%); 
  • performance-driven (a monthly detailed budget to plan for $40M in sales and $500K in profit by fiscal year end).
To conclude, learning from experience takes some effort.  Although most people learn lessons passively as they go through life, what distinguishes you as a leader will be your ability to actively- and assertively- use the techniques above to accelerate your performance and the performance of those around you.