Monday, October 1, 2012

How Successful Leaders Think - part #2

Last week, I explored how successful leaders think and ended my thoughts on how leaders make a decision. Today, I would like to pick-up where I left off.

First, decisions do not matter if nothing happens afterwards. Many leaders think that once they have made a decision they have solved a problem. But as an executive coach, I have to continually remind them that decisions are not action. Decisions do not equal implementation. Decisions are not the mobilization of resources. Decisions do not equal execution. Decisions are empty without action that follows.

Second, successful leaders understand that effective decisions begin long before the actual call. It starts with the ability of a leader to sense there is a problem within the context of service delivery or the context of the service environment. “Sensing and framing, a term defined by Noel M. Tichy and Warren G. Bennis in their great article, “Making Judgement Calls: The Ultimate Act of Leadership”, Harvard Business Review, October 2007, is critical to decision-making as it gives the decision a foundation or reason “why.”

Still, many executives forget that there is an important next step after they make a decision. What I have observed is that successful leaders focus on mobilizing resources, e.g. people, information, technology, etc., to support the decision and to make it actually happen. The key is that successful leaders also stay involved during the execution phase post the decision by helping to define clear milestones or short term wins so people can clarify their progress and be successful.

Third, successful leaders understand that relationships are not linear, especially when it comes to the successful implementation of important decisions. In a linear relationship, a positional leader will approach it from the point of view that more of variable A will produce more of variable B. Successful leaders do not approach people like they are flow charts but instead recognize that the health and effectiveness of the relationship is based on clarity through dialogue. If this level of work is done in advance of the actual decision, the usual challenges with organizational change, e.g. resistance, is reduced and the forward momentum of the organization can proceed without major complications. However, the key is to build healthy work relationships on an on-going basis, not at an episodic level.

In short, when we step back and reflect on how successful leaders think, we realize that they spend significant time and energy teaching others how to think rather than simply telling them what to do. And this is one of the main reasons why they are successful.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

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