How To Be A Courageous Leader

How To Be A Courageous Leader

Courageous management has real impact. Gutsy leaders are constantly making sure that their organizations have simple, understandable, clear game plans for the future. In addition, headcount is kept as low as possible, and processes are constantly simplified and standardized in order to minimize distractions.

Just as important, strong, courageous leaders create a culture that is curious, even paranoid, about the future, to keep people always looking for new ways to help the company grow and improve. They make sure that decision making is crisp and accountability is clear. They constantly look for important new trends in consumer behavior and technology that they can use to their advantage. Once important change is planned, they reconfigure the organization to implement that change quickly and effectively. It’s tough to stay lean and agile as an organization.

It’s tough to constantly innovate and execute new, bright ideas that will increase the satisfaction and loyalty of your customers. But it can be done if you a courageous leader

There are huge implications when managers lack the courage to make the tough decisions. The problems to which this sort of behavior can lead usually fall into one of the following two categories:

1. Operational complexity. Weak leaders often lack the courage to turn down the never-ending requests for more manpower; their failure to do so results in excess personnel. Organizational fragmentation (various groups going off in separate directions) and non-standardized processes emerge as the manager fears confronting and denying the endless requests of groups wanting to do their own thing. Ever increasing bureaucracy and complexity are the results.

2. Lack of innovation. In dealing with new ideas and change, insecure or inexperienced managers often seek the safety of consensus-oriented decision making, thus suffocating innovation. There are often no clear goals regarding innovation and the qualification process for new ideas is random. Weak leadership also tends to cause a lack of clarity regarding who is responsible for spotting key trends and innovating accordingly.

The key question is: How can managers avoid such problems and significantly improve their ability to be courageous, gutsy leaders? The truth is, you are probably never going to turn the inherently timid person into a naturally charismatic, hard-charging leader. But all managers can learn  fundamental principles that will enable them to spot what needs to be done and provide the leadership to make it happen

Devise a Demanding Game Plan to Confront Reality

 It’s exciting to be the leader of an organization. It gives you the chance to have some real impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of what the group is doing. The exhilarating part of being a leader is diving in and figuring out exactly what is going well and what isn’t, and how you can put together a demanding game plan that will improve the group’s overall contribution to the organization. A “demanding game plan” refers to an aggressive and clear vision, the selection of the right strategies to fulfill the vision and proper, well-defined measures of success.

Acquire the Best Talent Possible

The more responsibility you bear as a leader, the more you realize how critically important talent is. You soon learn that you can’t do everything yourself. You need to acquire the best talent possible, develop those individuals and put them into the key assignments that are going to make a difference in achieving the vision and strategies of the organization. The situation within one consumer products company can shed light on just how important it is for a leader to come to grips with personnel issues and possess the ability to obtain quality information about performance in the organization.

The eastern regional sales manager of this company was a talented individual who had made rapid progress up the corporate ladder but who was having some very significant problems in his current assignment. His region was rated the lowest of the four U.S. regions in revenue growth during the previous 12 months.

His region had been struggling for years, which was the primary reason he had been put into the job 18 months earlier. The company was confident that he could turn the situation around. However, he had two direct reports who were problematic. The district manager who had responsibility for Philadelphia had the worst numbers of all his direct reports. The Boston district manager was a close second. Unfortunately, there was no reliable performance appraisal system at the company, so the personnel files of both the Philadelphia and Boston district managers really didn’t document any serious conversations about performance. HR sent forms out on an annual basis, but no one paid much attention to the process.

The eastern regional manager had to confront the VP of sales with the unsatisfactory performance of these two individuals and immediately move them out. Also, HR needed to be confronted about the inadequate performance appraisal process, as that department was the reason for the lack of quality performance data on people in the company. Given the weakness of the two individuals’ businesses, and the strength and thoroughness of the regional manager’s analysis and recommendations provided to the VP of sales, the eastern regional manager was given the OK to move into action to clean things up.

Remember, don’t wait long to get rid of weak performers. You have to fight off all those human tendencies to accept the status quo, and deal with the situation. Hesitation can have serious consequences for the entire organization

Clean Up the Sloppiness

Most people have experienced the frustration of having roadblock after roadblock thrown in front of them as they tried to get something accomplished. They reach the point where they realize that the world just can’t be that complex. When easy things are hard to do, it’s an obvious sign that it’s time to clean up the organization and get back to the simple world we all love to operate in. Typically, complexity and sloppiness in a company are due to excessive headcount, fragmented and independent organizations, lack of standardized practices, and disjointed and antiquated information systems. The tough part for a manager is getting up the courage to tackle these problems, knowing full well that many people will feel the impact or even be eliminated.

It takes clear vision, courage and support to effectively simplify an overly complicated organization and also to prevent an organization from becoming overly complex.

Institutionalize Tight-Fisted Cost Control

In general, most employees and managers believe that they need more people in order to get their work done. They also need more equipment, more systems, more of everything. Because of this inherent human tendency to bulk up, a leader needs to be tough, objective and very visible regarding cost. He or she needs to be constantly working to make the organization very lean and cost conscious. It requires guts, but it’s essential. As a leader, you must take a very clear and continual stand on the need for tight-fisted cost management. You need to be very visible with plans and rationale for achieving tight-fisted budgets. You also need to continually reinforce the message that cost is very important

Insist on Functional Excellence

As leaders get promoted and gain more responsibility in an organization, they don’t immediately acquire all the in-depth knowledge required to fully understand every area that falls within their authority. When leaders lack knowledge and lack someone who can be a reliable source of knowledge, things get messy. Huge amounts of complexity are caused all the time by sloppy functional leaders and sloppy practices. It is often the major source of operational chaos in an organization.

For each of your functional areas, such as finance and HR, you need a strong centralized group to make sure that up-to-date, sound technology is being used and that efficiency measures that cut across all the operating divisions are in place. Personnel from functional areas that support an operating division should reside within and be paid for by that division.

Once you create a strong, centralized group in your organization, you need to ensure that the group’s responsibilities are clear. The key responsibility for your centralized functional group is to make sure that both the personnel assigned to each operating division and the personnel in the central group are operating efficiently and effectively

Create a Culture of Innovation

It takes real courage and hard work to consistently, day after day, challenge your organization to be innovative. Once you achieve some sort of success, it is easy to sit back and view the situation as mission accomplished. The secret is getting the people in your organization to understand that the competition is always right around the corner with yet another bright idea that will drive your product to commodity hell, causing you to compete only on price. To avoid that, they need to be constantly coming up with innovative ideas that make your products exciting and distinctive in the marketplace.

Demand Accountability and Decisiveness; Avoid Consensus

Innovation is often viewed as incompatible with things like accountability, goals and measures. This is just not true. When you are pursuing innovation, accountability is necessary to keep the innovators focused. When creating a system of accountability, however, you need to emphasize the pitfalls of consensus management to the person accountable. New products, product features or processes typically affect a lot of people in the organization, so there will be a lot of input. Requiring a consensus from all the people involved or affected would kill the innovation; it would strip away the unique and distinctive aspects that make the idea innovative.

Exploit Inflection Points

Significant shifts in the technology or the consumer habits and practices underpinning your industry are often referred to as inflection points. They are very important because they can cause the existing products or services in the industry to be rendered inferior, out of-date or old fashioned. To take advantage of inflection points and to keep from becoming obsolete, you must either replace your current offerings with up-to-date new products or modify your existing products.

Value Ideas from Anywhere

One thing that is certainly true about innovation is that you can’t program it. Bright ideas can emerge from just about anywhere. It’s tough to know exactly what background and characteristics enable a person to generate valuable ideas.

The practical implication of this truth is that you must be open minded to encourage and consider ideas from anywhere — not just from your product development staff, but from all employees, consumers, industry analysts, universities and so on. You need to make sure that within your organization, processes are set up to receive input from the outside and properly evaluate it.

One thing that seems to be true in the pursuit of innovation is that the closer you are to the actual use of a product, service or process, the greater your chances are of observing or experiencing something that might generate a new idea or insight that brings a new capability or big improvement.

Strong leaders know that there is no substitute for observing how customers use their products. Although unstructured activities with customers may test your patience, they are more useful and provide more insight into developing your products and services than any amount of market research can.

Shake Up the Organization

Established organizations often have a very difficult time achieving dramatic innovation that will have a major impact on the performance of the company. This is because they have comfortably settled into a routine for managing the business, and it’s natural to become convinced that you have figured things out and there is no need to change.

When you leave organizations alone but ask them to innovate, in all probability, the ideas that emerge will be subtle variations on what they are already doing. If you want major innovation, you really have to shake up the organization.

Reorganizing, putting strong performers in key jobs and keeping the focus on customers are powerful tools you should be using to shake up your organization so that it can implement new, high-potential, innovative ideas. By doing this, you will be on your way to establishing a strong business driven by strong leadership

Implementing these principles requires courage, but these principles and the reasoning behind them are easy to explain to your people. Taking action will earn you their respect and will generate the excitement that is required to get your organization going in a positive direction

Leadership Journey: Richard Feynman

Leadership Journey: Richard Feynman

TED Tuesday

TED Tuesday