Effective Leadership: Not Just What, But How

Effective Leaders Know How Is As Important As What

The “what” of business is critical. Where you’re going (vision) and the path you’ll take to get there (strategy) to profitably address a market. They’re necessary, but not sufficient. As Peter Drucker said, “Many brilliant people believe that ideas move mountains. But bulldozers move mountains; ideas show where the bulldozers should go to work.”

However, how you run your business is just as important. Some would say more, some would say less, but it’s equally important to the “what.”

A friend today described a CEO he works with who prohibits full discussion of issues, shows impatience in meetings over a few minutes and won’t sit still for planning. He may have great ideas, but he’s not going to fully flesh them out with his team. At best, he’ll have a group of compliant people, but they sure as hell won’t be committed. This CEO may have some clear thoughts on where he wants to go (though not engaging his team means he may not get there), but he has spent little time thinking about how he births those ideas and engages with his team. I wouldn’t want to work for this guy; would you?

Every meeting you have, every decision you make, every conversation you engage in has multiple results and unintended consequences. You may think your decision is A or B, but how you get there has significant ramifications to your organization’s health. As CEO, if you make all those decisions yourself, you’ll end up with a deflated, weak team. 

The vision and strategy are just the ante to get into the game. When I talk about how you work, I mean the decisions you make, your meeting cadence, the rules that govern your meetings, the amount of effort you put into developing a highly efficient team, how you do one on ones and even simple things such as manners. To quote Drucker again: 

“Manners are the lubricating oil of an organization. It is a law of nature that two moving bodies in contact with each other create friction. This is as true for human beings as it is for inanimate objects. Manners—simple thinks like saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and knowing a person’s name or asking after her family—enable two people to work together whether they like each other or not.”

I often wonder how many good ideas never turn into profitable businesses because there’s too little, if any, attention to the how. Young CEOs and founders have often not been exposed to a well-functioning environment. That is no excuse. Go learn how! Brilliance and technical competence aren’t key requirements to become a great leader. In fact, they may not be in the top three. 

Building the right operating system that includes communication, planning and a healthy culture is just as important as having a sound strategy.

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