Leadership: we're in it together

2014

It's been said that outstanding leaders lead by example. This means that they demonstrate desired qualities and behaviors to their teams through their actions and conduct. By doing so, they put forth a sense that everyone shares the same goals and aspirations and are going to go about achieving these ambitions as one. In essence, the best leaders naturally express a sense that 'we're all in it together'.

Great leaders transform. They not only revitalize the organizations that they work in, but, they rejuvenate the people that they work with. The most pre-eminent leaders convey a very strong sense of being "in it together" among the people that they lead. That's not to say that they actually do the work for their teams – to do so would suggest a lack of trust and cause dissension among the ranks. Rather, exceptional leaders enable success through steady direction-setting, determined coaching and unvarying communication.

These exceptional leaders employ what I like to call the In It Together Imperative to inspire and guide.

To Be "In It Together"
It takes deliberate effort to shape and craft the organizational underpinnings that comprise a business setting where every staff member, essentially, feels as if they're in it together. Clearly, the leader sets the tone by applying the following tenets of the In It Together Imperative.

Compelling Vision: It starts with the leader that can articulate a vision for the future that every staff member can understand and buy-in to. This vision becomes the stuff of rallying cries and establishes the common goal that leader and team will share.

But, the Vision effort must begin with understanding. If the troops don't "get" it, they won't follow (or, if they do follow they can only be so effective without full understanding). It is a senior leader's job to articulate the vision and work to drive it deep into the enterprise.

Active Direction-Setting: Next, a game plan for execution must be built in support of the achievement of the vision. But, building a plan without engaged direction-setting will not suffice. Indeed, the leader must be fully involved, monitoring progress and charting the course throughout all of the execution activities. It's through active direction-setting that new and improved ideas can be folded into the plan for immediate and into the future implementation.

Dynamic Coaching: As execution activities begin, it is important that the leader provides direction and support as appropriate. A dynamic coach understands their team and can provide the "right" touch at the "right" time – directive when the path to success is unclear and supportive when it's time to empower.

Collaborative Tone: The cultural precepts that originate from the vision and game plan must stress teamwork and cooperation in order to enable "In It Togetherness." Collaborative behavior should be highlighted and rewarded. Selfish and egocentric behavior should be stomped out; otherwise, it and other undesirable behaviors are likely to creep into the organization and sabotage the effort. Setting a collaborative tone starts at the top.

It's unmistakable. Staff members emulate the behavior of their leaders. If the leader seeks out opinions and solicits input then their teams will naturally understand that this type of behavior is what is expected of them, too. A collaborative tone can be set as the leader collaborates with their subordinates.

How To Make It Stick
With the principles better understood, it's time to consider what it takes to make the In It Together Imperative stick and transform the enterprise into an unstoppable force. Once the basic foundation stones (as outlined above) are in place, there are three things a leader must continuously do:

Communicate: Communication must be kept simple and be done consistently. Leader and team cannot communicate enough when establishing an "In It Together" tone. If there's any sense that information is being withheld or that the facts are being manipulated within the work setting then all bets are off. People will simply not trust the information that they are getting and will not feel like they share a common goal. So, it's best to communicate early and often.

Include: Leaders must demonstrate inclusive behavior. This is done by including staff in key meetings and engaging team members in discussion. This inclusiveness provides a platform for soliciting and sharing insights and conveying important information as long as differences of opinion are recognized and valued.

Keep in mind, inclusive behavior must be exhibited, not just talked about – co-workers know the difference. I've worked with several business leaders over the years who characterized themselves as being inclusive; but, who rarely solicited opinions or valued different points of view.

Make No Excuses: Leaders cannot make excuses for their own shortcomings or bad behavior if they want to convey the notion of being in it together. I've witnessed leaders who routinely expressed the many ways in which they were less than exemplary leaders; as if by recognizing their own faults they were excused for correcting their own behavior.

If a leader is to hold their team to a high standard then they must be held to the same. No excuses for bad behavior should be made or deemed acceptable.

Leader and staff act as one in organizations using the In It Together Imperative. There is an omnipresent sense within such companies that every employee, from the CEO to the cleaning crew that sweeps the floors at night, shares common goals, demonstrates similar behaviors and communicates in timely and effective ways.

It's a simple formula, but, one that can transform if applied in an open and honest way.

As we conclude, let me share a quote from John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States, who once said, that "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."

By applying the In It Together Imperative, we can all be that kind of leader.

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About The Author

James M. Kerr
James M. Kerr

James M. Kerr is the Global Chair of the Culture Transformation Practice at N2Growth and the author of The Executive Checklist. A specialist in organizational design and cultural transformation, he has been helping clients re-imagine the way work is organized and performed for more than 25 years. Kerr’s next book is due out later in 2016 and focuses on leadership and strategy-setting.