No matter what your title is, if you are a leader there are three things you can do to power-climb the executive ladder, or if you’re on top, to stay there.
The first is the vision for the company. Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, transitions, and endings is depicted as looking in both directions at one time. While that is mythology, it isn’t bad advice. Effective leaders must be able to mine the experiences of the past to create a clear and compelling vision for the future. Developing a compelling vision is like designing a very good map. It lets you know where you’ve been. It shows you where to go. Most importantly it gives anybody reading the map the same information. Successful leaders produce good maps. Leaders who do not convey a clear vision for the company often find their direct reports going different directions or broken down from apathy on the side of the road. When a vision is unique and compelling, it helps attract employees who help make the vision a reality.
The second is the culture of the company. Culture is basically the organization’s personality; how it treats its own people (employees, other stakeholders) and how it treats the rest of the world. Some organizations, like some people, have lousy personalities, a.k.a. culture. They may be passive, or passive aggressive, or aggressive, or Machiavellian, or charter member of the Hannibal Lector fan club. All too often the creation of a culture isn’t purposeful, it’s just picked up like the common cold. When the chief executive owns the culture s/he alters it to the desired state which positively affects the organization. Winsome cultures attract workforce talent and customers.
The third is management oversight of the business. Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie advised that “the way to become rich is to put all your eggs in one basket and watch that basket.” Leaders should watch their baskets. Some of the watching is boring 101 accounting but ignoring financial reports is like ignoring the results of your last physical; a good way to go to financial boot-hill. Some of the watching is customer satisfaction surveys, employee turnover, and periodic but arduous SWOT analyses. Some of the watching is ensuring that operations are running effectively in all departments, not just the ones you cherry-pick to impress the board of directors. Watching is working with human resources to attract and retain the best employees and with sales and marketing to attract and keep customers. Watching is making sure what’s done is legal, ethical and effective. Watching is keeping your eye on the ball of operations including revenue, expense and volume metrics.
These three factors are like a three-legged stool; kick one out and the organization goes boom. Making each a priority is probably more of an art than a science. It is easy to become lost in the weeds of management oversight and then not pay as much attention on the vision or the culture of the organization. Cultures can change depending on whom and how you hire and whether or not you are clear with cultural expectations. Vision can be a frustratingly amorphous target and difficult to reach. Sometimes industry drivers create a compelling reason to change. Leaders can feel like jugglers with lots of balls in the air.
The following 10 ideas will help you become successful with vision, culture and management oversight.
Related to vision:
- If you don’t like the vision, change it.
- Have your vision available either electronically or in hard copy where you see it often. Whether it is a screen saver or somewhere you look often, if it is accessible, it helps you in times of distraction to remember you have one.
- Revisit your vision at least annually to ensure the objectives and strategies you set continue to help you achieve it.
Related to culture:
- Critically evaluate your culture. If it isn’t what you desire for employees or customers, swiftly outline words that describe an ideal culture. Evaluate the organization’s values. Leadership behaviors either exemplify the values or work is needed to make the two compatible. Values help everyone be clear on what it is the organization stands for. Behavioral standards give specifics on how to behave to reflect the values. Behavior drives the culture.
- If you don’t have specific values, come up with a handful. Don’t have an exhaustive list; you won’t get everyone in the organization to live them, including you.
- Once you define your values, spell out the behaviors that would show you the values are being lived out. For example, if honesty is of value, a hypothetical standard could be “When someone asks me for my opinion, I give it respectfully and honestly”.
- Hardwire the behaviors into your employee evaluation process to further demonstrate it is the standard expectation for organizational behavior. Evaluate everyone consistently on meeting each standard. Eventually the culture will change.
Related to management oversight:
- Ensure your hiring processes attract the best and brightest operators who fit the culture, can see the vision and can offer and implement methods to achieve it.
- Develop a high level dashboard with key organizational metrics and review it monthly. If a metric is not met, ensure your direct reports have the ability to adapt plans to meet or exceed it.
- Ensure every manager is equipped with operational skills that help achieve the organizational objectives.
Success in an organization is a team sport. The top executive can dream, but without a mature and healthy culture and a strong and aligned team of operators the vision will remain a dream.