I recently facilitated a very interesting workshop that brought together Africa region’s leaders of a long-established multinational. Thanks to Covid, this was the first time they were meeting physically, and this under their recently installed president.
As we were preparing the workshop he told me he wanted to share with his team what he described as his “personal success drivers”, his “rules for himself”.
Having come up with this thought, and looking back on other teams he had led, he regretted not having shared such thoughts with them, as a result of which he realised they weren’t sure what his expectations would be, either of himself or of them.
While fully accepting that it’s not how he always behaves, it is how he knows he should. “I am sharing these thoughts with you so that you get to know me better,” he explained, adding “I know that if I state my intentions publicly you will hold me accountable to do as I say.” All so impressive.
The first of his big three drivers, taken from Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, is getting the right people on the bus, and in the right position. Addressing performance issues decisively is uniquely challenging work, he acknowledged, and tolerating second best has a very negative impact, resulting in unfairness, toxicity and lethargy.
Job number two, he continued, is creating a winning culture where everyone is operating at their best. “Do my manager, my team, my work environment, my business make me feel like I’m all-in?” they need to ask.
Thirdly, he believes it’s the biggest current businesses and the biggest opportunities that must always get most of his attention: the 80:20 rule.
He then listed his remaining seven drivers, all to do with empowering the best talent relative to the biggest priorities. When it matters, he likes understanding business issues and business plans “in data-based depth”, appreciating that questioning assumptions is a great way to learn, as is history.
“If we are not defensive about past mistakes, weaknesses, unmet needs and gaps with others, then each gap becomes an opportunity to grow our business,” he declared.
He wants to talk about the business the way it is, not the way people want it to be. “Face the brutal facts so we can do something about them,” he urged, acknowledging that balancing communication is an art form and separates good leadership from bad.
Trust is key to this, and rating performance on results, analysing what is working and what is not.
He will be transparent, and he does not like filtering information from his team, while trusting that everyone will to do the same. They must all “question, challenge, confront and clarify”. He then admitted to “overcommunicating”, repeating himself so as to ensure the full absorption of his messages.
And he called for “good sense email practice”. His organisation has recently introduced a matrix structure, and this is always a challenging environment within which to communicate and coordinate. But the team must get used to working within the matrix.
Don’t surprise him, he requested, and he won’t surprise them. He is accountable to his people, he readily accepted, for handling interactions with his seniors on “the tough stuff”.
And he cares deeply about how happy they feel working with each other. If something he’s doing is not working for them, he wants them to tell him. He will do the same, but as trust is being built, a go-between may be helpful.
The junior most person who is qualified to lead the way should do so, he continued, challenging such people to present proposed solutions with every challenge. For this to work well they must be empowered.
And asking the right questions will provide the path to such empowerment and hence enable the people to deliver success. “This is always better than telling people what to do,” he concluded, asking the team to help him avoid the “it’s faster if I do it” trap.
Finally, he insisted that “it is not ‘OR’, it’s ‘AND’.”, as lazy choices must be avoided. It is not, for instance, a choice between focusing on financial results or on people, or between short and long-term results. It is both.