When you’re setting goals, it’s important to focus on the inputs first. What new investments (in people, technology, etc…), services or offerings, is your organization adding in the coming year that will impact results? And when it comes time to inspect results and see how you measured up against your goals, you have to make sure you’re making the right comparisons.

In high-growth organizations, success is not defined as simply doing better than last year. Year over Year comparisons are only valid if there are no changes to the inputs. Success is defined as planning effectively and achieving results that justify the investments made. Performance vs. goal is the primary comparison in regards to success. Year over year comparisons should only be used as a highlight when we are achieving goals and want to show anecdotal information. Transparency is a dangerous thing if the wrong data is highlighted. If we miss, we discuss, learn, and set action items for better results in the future.

For illustration purposes…..

  1. When it comes to goal setting, the right starting point is to focus on investments/changes being made, and then tying the goals to results that justify such investments. Assume a company has a goal to increase its amount of sales/leads from its existing customers by 10% year over year. Is that a good goal? Maybe, but only if nothing in the organization is changing. What if you knew the company recently invested in/added many new solutions to its portfolio, and the account base and sales/marketing resources are being invested in at a much higher level…… how does it sound now? It is typical for goals to be set at a higher level than the results achieved in a previous period, however to do that as a starting point would be arbitrary. Goal setting should start with careful consideration of the change in inputs.
  2. A business leader announces “Revenue is up by 10%!”. Now assume that the goal was to increase revenue by 20%, and part of that plan was an increase in investments and expenses by 30%. The result of only growing by 10% may mean the company is now in the red. So should the fact that revenue grew by 10% be presented as a success? See how dangerous it would be to use that as a headline announcement? Not only is it the wrong comparison to focus on, but the announcement just changed “what good looks like” to all stakeholders. It is always good to focus on the positives from a motivational stand point, but we must be mindful in order to avoid confusing our listeners.

As leaders we carry the awesome responsibility of putting together the plan and the vision, and for transparently reporting outcomes. Those we lead depend on us to do it right and to accurately report on what success looks like.

Here’s to all of us improving as leaders in the new year!

What advice would you give a Leader of Leaders?

For me, being a leader of leaders comes with many lessons learned. First, if you have leaders who report to you, recognize that all are in different phases of their leadership development cycle. Many who are given leadership responsibilities have not had the benefit of the successes or failures that come with experience. Secondly, only those who exhibit strong leadership potential should be placed in management and leadership positions; and along the way, they must understand they are expected to be or become great leaders. And lastly, we must understand where each person is on their leadership journey. Where there is a need, we must mentor/educate and provide leadership directly. The ultimate goal in being a leader of leaders is that we have a stable of proven leaders, and part of that is filling in and doing some servant leadership to make sure we are supporting them and their team as they grow.

Focusing on this last point a bit more……..a well rounded leader has all the following in check when it comes to their people: 1. Trust/Relationships; 2. Accountability/Inspection; 3. Awareness; 4. Ability to motivate; 5. Accurate assessment of issues/opportunities; 6. Clear goals and mutual commitment; and…… 7. a healthy team culture. All of these are pre-requisites to being respected as a leader. Now look at those you lead and grade them as if you were a member of their team. As a leader of leaders, it is our responsibility to have this level of awareness. It is a mistake to think that by putting someone in a leadership position, that they have it all figured out and are able to provide all the leadership needed right out of the gate. They should be able to experience their own failures, but they need us to be aware of where they need coaching and support, and we need to make sure that while they grow we continue contributing so that they and their team receive the level of leadership deserved.

“You are either a leader of leaders or you are doing all the leading”

For high growth organizations, people and leadership are everything. As an organization grows and each leader’s responsibilities grow, the ability to effectively transition from being a manager, to being a leader, to being a leader of leaders, is what will determine one’s professional growth as well as how effective they are in contributing to the growth of their organization.

The level of leadership needed varies based on the size of the organization and/or each team:

“Small” (teams of 15 or less, with no mid-level management) teams: It is ok for the leader to be doing most of the leading while developing other leaders within and building their outside network so that when the time is right, there is a plan to advance the level of leadership.

“Mid-size” (teams with mid-level management) teams: Management must be progressing as leaders. A growing organization requires consistently ratcheting up the level of leadership in order to have cohesion rather than friction. All have to be signed up for that expectation…….it is all about having a Growth Mindset, which means that a leader who is developing other leaders should be weary of those who are negative or seem to fight growth as if it is an opposing force, rather than an initiative they are responsible for advancing.

“Large” (teams with leaders of leaders, and leaders of mid-level management) teams: The trend continues where a leader’s success hinges even more dramatically on the effectiveness of the leaders they lead. Being a leader of leaders is a different skillset/approach; there is a higher leadership expectation, and much less of a management effort expected in regards to the relationship. Mentorship, Accountability, Teamwork, and giving a higher level of Autonomy are keys to success.

Even at the highest levels, leaders and leaders of leaders have to show up every day ready to learn and become better – especially in high growth organizations. The one constant is that as teams increase in size, the impact of leadership increases exponentially.

“Leaders know when to leverage their leaders”

Everyone has a boss. Here are some guidelines of when and when not to leverage others when it comes to leading our teams……

When to leverage:

  • When you do not have decision making authority
  • When an item is material enough and you need advice before making a decision
  • When you are already all-in, but need some additonal support to get to the next step

When not to leverage: When it is something fundamental to the success of your team, yet you yourself are not behind the initiative. Belief has to start with you as the leader of your team and leveraging others absent of this will only deminish your influence and ability to successfully lead.

If you ever find yourself conveying to the team that a new initiative must be adopted due to someone else’s agenda, it is a good idea to stop and spend time with your leaders to fully understand (debate if needed) the initiative, find purpose, understanding, and get behind it, and then focus on how to communicate it to your team as their leader. Your team has to know where you stand before there can be any positive momentum.

 

“The success of a leader depends on their ability to form the right habits in themselves, their people, and their organization”

The strategic part of leadership is in developing, cultivating and filtering ideas, with the ultimate goal of firming up the strategy/focus for their team. Arguably, the harder and more time consuming part of leadership is Execution. Strategy is the plan and Execution is the action. The easiest way to think about what it takes to execute is to compare it to what it takes to create new habits:

  1. We have to get ourselves right first and put in place all the self controls and inspection points to ensure new habits will be formed; It starts with us as the leader
  2. The value of forming a new habit has to be sold, and the leader is the salesperson until the habit is formed and becomes part of the culture. The leader has to coninuously evangelize the attractiveness of the new habit, as well as the resulting satisfaction; remember that the team does not fully grasp or buy-in to your vision until they have experienced it
  3. It takes time. All studies have shown that consistency over a long period of time is what it takes to form new habits. They are never formed by just laying out the strategy and expecting that all have heard it and that they will take all the actions on their own to form new habits. NOT GONNA HAPPEN….The execution must be planned so that it is delivered in chunks and with multiple iterations and consistent inspection points
  4. It is our job to make it easy

 

Trust and likability without accountability is the ultimate sneaky disaster…..

It is true that trust is the primary requirement to leading effectively, but the immediate runner up is accountability. Without both, you will get knocked off the leadership podium.

To provide a narrative……

A leader starts with their new team (new team or just new to them) and their first course of action is to build genuine relationships/trust through their actions. This goes on for a while and all is seemingly great. The team loves their leader and they trust them. The leader is also happy with how things are going and they trust their team, and now we have a tipping point because it is at this point that it is easy to start making dangerous assumptions (like that all understand their role, priorities, cadence for getting things done, what success looks like, the strategy, how and when to report, the why behind initiatives, etc.). The right move is to insert the accountability pieces as early into the mix as possible, preferably right when relationships/trust are taking hold. If the accountability step is missed, the trust that has been established can result in it taking quite a while before the reasons for inefficiency and lack of execution are apparent, thus making it the “ultimate sneaky disaster”.

To help avoid/correct this situation:

  1. Live out the tried and true “Inspect what you expect” concept; people need this and they know it – you even need it from those you report to.
  2. Understand that the trust you worked to build will ultimately be lost if the team is not successful. Some refrain from inserting all the needed accountability measures due to the fear of harming likeability/trust. However, the team looks to their leader to lead them to success and they expect to be held accountable. They are on/off the team because of their belief in their leader, so know that you have earned the right to do what is needed to ensure success for all.

It takes strong leadership to balance it all, but that is what is required. I have ended up thanking my mentors and leaders over the years for how they held me accountable. Without the accountability factor, I am certain neither of us would have experienced the same level of success.

Acknowledging how much goes in to getting something done right and on-time is the first step in being dependable, which is everything when it comes to leadership

Leaders will use a team to complete certain components of a project, but the key expectation of the leader is that they understand when something is really done. This is so important in regards to hitting deadlines; we can all reference projects that were completed in a quality manner, but that were overshadowed due to being late. Here is a final checklist (in order) for getting something done. Incorporating each step is what allows for proper planning, execution, and on-time results.

Final three steps in getting something DONE:

  1. Documentation is complete (final approval has been obtained)
  2. Tested before roll-out; There is rarely a test run that does not result in a modification. Expect and plan for a rinse and repeat cycle between items one and two
  3. Completion of roll-out, training, and enablement; done means it is live and ready to achieve the results that made the project purposeful in the first place

We can produce on-time quality results once we understand that these three items must be part of classifying a project as “done”. As an extra bonus, the list also serves as a natural filter for prioritizing and embarking on projects. We only have so much bandwidth, and need to refrain from equating being busy with being productive.

A team’s trust in their leader is a pre-requisite to the success of the team. Do you have it?

Every team member should believe in the vision of their leader. Buy-in comes from trust, which must be earned. Here are some core questions to ask yourself in regards to whether or not you have earned your team’s trust:

  1. Everything starts with a great plan: Have you done a good job laying out the plan by explaining how it was formulated, and being specific in regards to contributions needed from each team member? Have you gotten to the point where they understand and believe in their ability to contribute/impact outcomes?; Do they own and believe in their portions of the plan?
  2. How would they rank your competency level? Does your team have full belief in your understanding of the business, goals you set, and your ability to help them cross the hurdles along the way? It starts with explaining “the why” behind goals, changes, and plans. Then your ability to get in the trenches when needed and help with a win, course correction, etc., is what cements the belief in your competence and the team’s ability to succeed under your leadership.
  3. Do they value/respect your work ethic? The quality and tempo of the work you do sets the example for your team. Go-getters trust and are motivated by Go-getter leaders.
  4. How would they rank your level of character and integrity? If you have made it to a leadership position, you likely have a high-level of character and integrity, but does your team know it? Have you spent the required time to build and maintain your relationships? Time and experience with each person is the starting point, and then consistently doing what is right is what must follow. Also notable is that doing what is right is not always what is easy/popular, but it is what creates long-lasting respect and belief in your character and integrity.

Most people desire to be successful and they seek a leader they can count on for support and guidance. In order to earn their trust, they must believe that being on your team gives them the best chance for success.

Reflect often (and trust your gut) on what is needed to build and maintain trust. At any given time, there is someone on the team that is not a full believer; therefore, building and maintaining trust must be a continuous effort by all leaders.

 

 

As personal circumstances change, self-assess and “adjust you” as a first step.

We all go through changes in life, and every change has an impact on the trajectory of what happens next. Some changes we control and some we do not, but what we can always control is how we deal with change. Just speaking from my own experience…… I remember when I was in my twenties, which was when my role at work was mostly sales related. I prided myself on being one of the hardest working and most efficient sales people, which is what I knew I had to be in order to create enough business to scale to our company to the next level. Then I met my future wife and got married at 29. Of course this was a great change, and one that made me realize I needed to make some adjustments to me and how I spent my day so that I could spend quality time with her, while not letting my foot off the gas pedal in regards to my career and our company. I knew I did not want to give up my health and at the time I was working out in the evenings. My wife is an evening person and I am a morning person, so my self-assessment was that I needed to switch my workouts to happen before she would wake up, and I would work a bit later, so that when I got home, it would be home time and no more work.

Then at 32 we started having babies. We had our first baby girl and I realized I could not work late hours any longer. I did the self-assessment and realized I needed to get my non-interruption work (working when others are not, to focus on strategy/catch up items) done before my workout, so that I could come home around 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m., rather than an hour later. The diagnosis was that my 5:15AM wake-up time needed to shift to 4:15AM. Done.

Then….. I ran out of my own 24 hours. I had taken away most of my “me” time, while still preserving my 1 hour alone time, my workout, and my family time. There were no more efficiencies to gain; so it was either accept that the professional pace could not continue and just settle for “normal”, or stay dedicated to growth on behalf of our clients, employees, and all other stakeholders. I chose the latter which meant bringing on additional leadership (and me changing regarding giving up leadership of certain areas), who had to be like-minded with similar drive and commitment to growth. I also had to shift my focus to making sure our management team continued to be solid, growing, and have the right mindset. If I had not made these choices, we would not have grown from 46 employees to 120 in the last three years.

In summary – had I known all the personal time changes I would need to make in order to continue having the GWC (“Get It”, “Want It”, and have the “Capacity” to do it) factor, I could have really been a superstar in my 20s; life was much easier, however we don’t know that until we experience each change in life. The main point of my message is that we all control how we choose to react to change, and we should never fall victim to believing outside factors are contributing to our new capacity issues we experience, without doing our own self-assessment and making changes to our own disciplines first.

The choice can also be to not change; just be conscious about it and recognize that all the factors around you have not changed and there will be issues to address and ultimately changes you will need to make so that you can stay balanced and satisfied in life.

 

As leaders we must provide the Whiteboard along with the motivation and accountability.

12 years ago I enhanced my workout routine by joining a gym that is focused on a circuit training type routine. The specific difference is that there is a Whiteboard that lays out all exercises to be completed within an hour. It is instructor led, but not one on one; we are broken up into groups and the instructor is there to educate us on the workout before we start, to answer questions as we move through the Whiteboard, and to motivate us to do the routine the right way and finish on time. The result is that my workout group has had the same people in it for all these years (low turnover) and everyone works hard and gets along. They are all top notch people in general as well. However, if you took the white board and instructor (our leader) away from us, we would probably just drink coffee and do a couple of sets of something, or we would most likely leave and go find a better leader/organization to be part of. Staying with the gym/workout theme….. Who do you think performs higher – people who go to an instructor/course led facility where they are held accountable, or those who go to a regular gym and their routine and motivation is all on them? Just walk into each type of facility and the answer is apparent.

People expect strategy, motivation, and accountability to be driven by leadership. It is a mistake to convince ourselves that the team should just be naturally motivated, strategic, and hold themselves accountable. If this were the case, why would leaders be needed. Only 10% of people do these things naturally and rise to the top. However, that 10% and the other 90%, expect the organization and their leader to lead them on their path to success. This is the same for me when I go to my 5:45 a.m. class each morning; My expectation is that I am going to show up, be led, and I am going to perform at a very high-level because of the environment, the leadership, and my peers all being on the same page.

Leaders should always provide the vision/plan, give guidance and motivate others for execution, and inspect/hold others accountable. Otherwise, the team might just be wondering around the gym and getting much less of a work-out completed.