When all the excitement of starting a company or being promoted to a senior leadership position fades away, your action item list can become long and complicated. Sadly, just as most managers don't receive training in the core responsibilities of their new role, most leaders don't, either. The result is often a workplace that diminishes in effectiveness.
If we rely on definitions used by management and leadership gurus Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis, leadership is about choosing to do the right things; management is about making sure things get done right.
Leaders have many responsibilities and duties they must perform, but too many leaders get caught up in the "urgent flash" and forget about the "important fundamentals."
At the core of their responsibilities is deciding the best course of action for the organization. To keep their organizations on track for healthy development, leaders are ultimately responsible for monitoring and acting on three key factors:
- The Horizon
- The Organization's Capabilities
This first item is usually not a problem. Many leaders have an instinctive gift for sensing opportunities and possibilities of how their organizations can grow. People throughout the organization will have ideas, but ultimately it's leaders who are responsible for collecting and assessing them.
The second factor is what I call the horizon. In geological terms, 'horizon' means where the earth and the sky appear to meet. Another definition I like is "the extent to which we are able to see."
When applying the term to business, the horizon involves trends, predictions, upcoming legislation, economic forecasts, advances in technology, and much more. So, in addition to monitoring ideas, leaders must also monitor the horizon. Again, not often a problem.
The third factor for leadership is the realistic capabilities of the organization. An effective leader monitors what the organization can and can't do.
Let's put these together using the analogy of you being a river guide for a whitewater rafting company:
When you start a trip down the river, the main mission is to provide an enjoyable but safe journey for your guests. You have some ideas of what you can do to keep things enjoyable but safe, but you also know the river can change daily. So, throughout the trip you keep your eyes on the conditions of the river - the horizon. You also remain aware of the capabilities of your oarsmen.
So far so good. The ideas, the horizon, and the capabilities of your oarsmen are your responsibility to monitor, but it's not enough just to monitor them. You must make some decisions and act appropriately to develop the best end-result. By acting wisely, the outcome of the journey is an enjoyable and safe trip. If you fail to act appropriately, it can quickly diminish into the rafting trip from Hell.
What to do
In addition to monitoring ideas, the horizon, and the capabilities of his/her organization, leaders must develop the conditions for ongoing success by:
- Communicating ideas throughout the organization
- Listening carefully to feedback
- Adjusting ideas based on feedback and conditions of the horizon
- Equipping the organization as needed.
Following through on these fundamental responsibilities is vital for organizational development. Granted, some ideas are highly confidential and must remain so, but too many leaders go overboard on guarding their ideas, holding their cards too close to their chest. When that happens, people within an organization become disconnected, and organizational effectiveness diminishes.
To develop passion-driven teams and a thriving organization, leaders must sensibly share ideas throughout the organization, get feedback, and make adjustments to equip the organization as needed based on the feedback they get and what they see on the horizon.
To consider how these actions (or lack of them) can affect the workplace, let's go back to the river guide example:
As you're floating down the river you look ahead and notice a large tree branch jammed in some rocks (monitoring the horizon). You need to avoid it (a good idea), so you shout out a command for those on the right side of the raft to start rowing hard (good communication). Unfortunately, everyone on that side of the raft suddenly discovers their oars are broken, probably from the last set of rapids. But when they tell you, your only reply is "Just make it happen!! Row now!!"
The error? You're not listening to feedback and making appropriate adjustments. They result? Your chances for a safe and enjoyable trip diminish rapidly.
It's been my observation that many leaders are gifted, enthusiastic, and driven, but they often overlook these core fundamentals. Whether its' the bright, distracting flash of the "urgent" or just not learning about them, overlooking them is a dangerous practice.
The Bottom Line
Monitoring the ideas, the horizon, and the organization's capabilities plus getting feedback and adapting appropriately develops the conditions for enduring success. You've probably heard it said that you're either moving ahead or falling behind. It's true. And the items listed above are fundamental to moving ahead. Because if you're not developing, you're diminishing.