Last week I was working with a client who has been experiencing some challenges in his leadership role. Jack (not his real name) is a Sales Director with a medium sized enterprise and has responsibility for a sales group delivering new business acquisition as well as managing existing customers. Recently, Jack feels as if he has been blind sided by some of his people, and has even been accused by his management of being ‘asleep at the wheel’. Whilst the sales results look okay, there have been some examples where questions are starting to be asked about Jack’s capability and whether he is the right man for the job. In delving more into Jack’s situation, we discovered the potential issue – he was only getting a view of his business through the eyes of his direct reports.
As Jack contemplated this possibility, he realised there were a number of recent examples where this may have been true, and what were his people telling him? Only news that they thought Jack wanted to hear. And of course the challenge with that was that he was not seeing the real picture, and as a result, was not able to do much about it. At this point I asked him a question, ‘so Jack, whose hands are on your leadership wheel?’ and after a few moments of contemplation, Jack realised that despite his best intentions, they were not his hands firmly grasping the leadership wheel – there were in fact multiple sets of hands, and they were constantly turning the wheel, and changing direction. To wrestle back control of the wheel, Jack needed to make some changes, and fast.
Great leaders understand that leadership does not come as a by-product of a title, they must earn the right to lead their people, and one of the most fundamental ways of doing this is through creating an environment which oozes authenticity, often being tough, but fair, and always consistent.
So whose hands are on your leadership wheel and who is driving the bus? I trust the answer is you are. To ensure that you are keeping your hands on the wheel and keeping the bus heading in the right direction, here are some tips that I shared with Jack, which I trust will be helpful for you as well :
- Create clear expectations of your Direct Reports and your team. This is fundamental to your ability to lead others. In fact, before you are able to set expectations for your team, you must set expectations for yourself. In a previous article I referred to clarity as being the true north of leadership, that clarity is about being crystal clear on your vision, that it provides clear direction, and can create a movement. Setting clear expectations is critical to your ability to keep your hands on the leadership wheel, and if problems and challenges exist, as they inevitably will, do not hide from them – confront them head on and identify the root cause. Only then will you be able to do anything about them. Remember, your team will be watching everything you do, and listening to everything you say. Even more than that, they will be watching everything you do not do, and listening to everything you do not say. So be crystal clear on your expectations, and set the example you want to see in your team.
- Be prepared to have the tough conversations. Having set the expectations for yourself and your team, if the expectations are not being lived up to, do not dance around the edges and let the performance slip – have the tough conversation. Make it known that the expectations are not being delivered against, and if required, discuss the ongoing consequences of poor performance. This will enable you to firmly hold your grasp on the leadership wheel, and will allow your people to know exactly where they stand.
- Set exceptional standards of excellence – both for yourself as well as for your Direct Reports and your people, and be uncompromising in maintaining the standards. The standards we set as Leaders are what forms our leadership DNA – they are the operations blueprint that enables us to deliver the outcomes we are seeking to deliver. So ensure that you set exceptional standards.
- Build relationships with your people at all levels – great leaders ensure they prioritise ‘ad-hoc’ conversations with their people, to check in on them (as opposed to checking up on them!) and to gain an understanding of what is actually happening at the cold face. Doing this authentically on a consistent basis can build significant trust amongst your people, as well as encouraging your Direct Reports to communicate ‘warts and all’, knowing that your hands are firmly grasping the leadership wheel. This creates a consistent environment where everyone is on the same page, and in it together.
- Be bold and attack challenges head on. Having built strong relationships with your people at all levels, as well as establishing and implementing exceptional standards of excellence and clear expectations, you have ideally established an environment where everyone is together, on the same page, heading in the same direction. When this has been established, you can now be bold and attack any challenge head on, knowing that you have the power of a cohesive team behind you – and do not forget, your team will be looking at you to set the example. Be decisive, be bold, and be confident as you keep your hands firmly grasped on the leadership wheel.
- Be authentic – always ensure that you are being authentic in every interaction you have with your people. Be genuinely interested in them and how you can be of service to them. Avoid criticism, maintain humility and remove judgement – you will be amazed at how quickly you are able to build a strong, cohesive and loyal movement.
I trust that these tips have been of value to you, as they have been to Jack. Always remember, as a leader, you are responsible for ‘driving the bus’ and your people are constantly looking to you for direction, guidance, inspiration and leadership. This is a huge responsibility that cannot be under estimated, so make sure that they are your hands on the leadership wheel, and not someone else’s!
To your continued leadership success.
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About : Darren is an Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant, Trainer, Facilitator, Speaker. A passionate and driven individual specialising in personal development, strategic planning, coaching for advocacy & enhanced performance, situational and servant based leadership, executive coaching of people leaders, emerging leaders and ‘high potential’ individual contributors within the Enterprise & Government market, personal change management, and strategic workshop facilitation & training.