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Strategic leadership - how to achieve success through others.

By Ruth Tearle

As leaders, we are only as successful as our teams. What do leaders whose teams are routinely successful, do?

What are the characteristics of effective leaders? What qualities do successful leaders have?

As leaders, we are constantly involved in the management of success. Whether we are doing strategy, implementation of strategy, transformation, change management, or project management we are guiding our teams to achieve an outcome.

What makes some teams succeed while others fail?

It all depends on the characteristics and behaviors of the team leader.

Ineffective leaders

Ineffective leaders often complain about their teams. However, the problem with many unsuccessful teams is that these leaders tends to demonstrate an annoying characteristic. They often lacks focus. This means:

  • Their strategy is too complex. They struggle to explain what they are trying to achieve without numerous Power Point slides. Being too scared to leave anything out, they fail to provide clear direction. They can't explain simply what the team focus or priorities are.
  • They use jargon. When communicating their strategies, they use buzzwords and acronyms rather than simple English. They then wonder why they struggle to get ‘buy in’ from their employees. They communicate no better than an automated jargon generator for leadership.
  • They expect everyone to be motivated by the profitability of the organization. They don’t understand that employees are not motivated by increasing profits or cutting costs. I’ve heard many people say after listening to a strategy presentation. ‘Why should I work harder to make the CEO richer?’ Rather employees are interested in how they can contribute to some great purpose - or something that will benefit them and their own families.
  • They develop too many goals. So employees are often confused about what exactly is expected of them.
  • Their believe that broad brush strategies are sufficient. They leave the details to their team. They expect their team to implement their unclear strategies without any guidance from them. They wonder why their team constantly complains about a lack of direction.

    Unsuccessful leaders fail to provide their employees with the three requirements for success: 

    Focus, discipline and support.

    Ruth Tearle

  • They overload their team. They create targets without checking with employees about whether they are achievable or not. Sometimes employees are already stressed out trying to complete their existing work. Giving them additional work, without redefining their priorities, may cause them to jump from one task to other, being busy yet achieving nothing. This creates a habit of failure and blaming rather than a culture of success.
  • They expect their team to produce instant results for tasks that take time to achieve. E.g. they may set short term sales targets. Yet sales often depend on relationships of trust built over many years, and timing. They are frustrated when their people can't achieve the impossible.
  • They abdicate rather than delegate. They don't delegate clear roles, responsibilities, together with the appropriate authority. They don't provide tools and support for their team. They don't have a system in place to monitor progress.
  • They expect their team to work longer hours, rather than helping them to focus on the real priorities of the business. This results in stress, burnout, uncreative thinking and eventually a culture of crisis management.

Most strategic projects fail due to ineffective leadership.

Effective leaders

Successful leaders have learned the art of managing success in their own lives. They then apply this knowledge to shape, coach and guide success in others.

Effective leaders are characterized by the way in which they help their teams to be successful. For example they:

  1. Create a focus by developing an inspiring, energizing strategy together with their team. This strategy is one that combines the need for the future profitability of the business, with the need for employees to contribute to a greater purpose.
  2. Communicate their strategy in a way that inspires and motivates their team to support 'the dream.' They get creative. They use inspirational quotations, plays, videos, songs, and other techniques to inspire and excite their team about the future and the role they can play in it.
  3. Successful leaders provide their teams with a clear strategic focus, a project framework for discipline, and political support.
    Ruth Tearle
  4. Implement their strategies through projects. They create a few short term projects that will lead their team towards their strategy. They encourage each employee to choose the projects he/she wants to work on, based on his/her personal interests and career goals.
  5. Get each project team to develop a project plan. The project plan breaks the project into bite sizes chunks or specific action items. Each week, the leader meets with his/her team to follow up on the achievement of the team's project milestones. This shows the team that implementing the strategy is important and instills discipline.
  6. Get their teams to plan for success. They ask their teams:
    • What support will you need from me, or from others, to implement the project successfully?
    • How will your priorities need to change to give you the space to achieve on this project?
    • What barriers exist in the team or the organization, that could prevent us from achieving success in both our normal jobs and our projects?
    • What can we do to remove these barriers?
    • How can we work together better as a team, to make it easier for all of us to achieve?
    • They provide their teams with tools they can use to plot the journey to their goals successfully, and to navigate through challenges and ensure they get the support they need.

By providing their team with focus, discipline and support, they help their teams to be successful. In turn, they are seen as effective and successful leaders.

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