Patty Beach explains a three step formula to simplify Organizational Leadership and yield successful results
Whether you are CEO, a startup entrepreneur, a manager, a non-profit director or a scout troop leader, to be successful, you have to create an organization to achieve more than you can alone. Like parenting, if done right, the organization grows up and surpasses your hopes and dreams for it. On the other hand, if you are the one always turning the crank to make things work, you aren’t practicing leadership you are practicing self-slavery.
Over the years, I’ve helped managers and executives step up their impact by growing leadership skills. Many hold back from leadership positions, fearing that they lack the “right stuff” to lead because they mistakenly believe that leaders have mystical qualities that only charismatic heroes possess. I’ve always believed instead that by applying a few simple leadership principles any one can lead others to achieve great things.
About 2 years ago, I got to prove this notion for myself. I was chosen to co-lead the board of my university alumni network. At the time, I was overwhelmed running my own consulting practice while fielding a nasty divorce and supporting my ailing Dad with Parkinson’s disease. As the leader of the board I would hold no real authority, instead, I had to motivate 10 to 12 busy volunteers to work hard for free for a two year term. I really had no business taking on such a daunting job and knew that to succeed I’d have to lead a high performing team or risk failing on fronts at home and at work. With trepidation I accepted the position and started practicing the 3 step success formula for Organizational Leadership I had preached for so long:
Step 1. Set Direction
Let’s start by defining the term leadership so we start on the same page.
“Leadership is the practice of inspiring committed and aligned action to achieve goals.”
If you buy into this definition it’s pretty clear that the role of the leader is to clarify the goal that we are collectively pursuing. Without a shared view of what better looks like and where we are headed we won’t get very far. When you are building an organization it helps to set direction in many key areas including, mission, vision and values and annual goals.
Here are a few tips to set direction well:
- Co-creatively set direction. Rather than tell people what the end game is, work together to collectively set a meaningful vision of success. Agree on desired outcomes not the steps to achieve it and allow each team member to create the plan to reach the outcomes their own way.
- Keep it simple. People will perform on what they remember. For this reason if your goals don’t fit on the back of a napkin, it’s too much.
To set direction for our board we held a 1.5 day board retreat. We had a few things expected of us including holding a conference and raising scholarship funds. While worthwhile, these expectations were just a list of tasks to complete and not compelling enough to inspire us to commit significant volunteer hours for a two-year term. To remedy this we collectively built an expanded vision of the impact we could have as leaders of our alumni, and our alumni as leaders in the world. We declared this term to be all about “shining the light” on our alumni and deepening our connection to the program we all graduated from. This collective vision and direction moved us from checking boxes to having something worthwhile to reach for in our own way. Each committee came up with their own goals connected to our theme to arrive at the goal from different angles.
Step 2. Create the Clock
The clock here is a metaphor that describes a predefined plan for how we will come together to make goals happen over time. In any organization there are multiple clocks ticking at the same time. The organizational leader can mind the clockworks so that all the clocks run together well and don’t grind on one another by effectively designing a system of interlocking group meetings. Here are some tips for the work of creating the clock:
- Have each meeting reflect both the people and task side of the equation. Always reserve a few minutes to have fun and connect to each other as people while also reserving enough time to get the work done.
- Get clockworks on the calendar as far out as possible. It is so much easier to cancel a meeting than to schedule one.
We mutually agreed that our clockworks would include an interlocking system of an annual retreat, monthly board meetings and bi-weekly committee meetings. At each meeting we conducted a check-in at the top of the call where each person shared what was happening in our lives briefly. Through our clock works and check-ins we became friends, connected to each other, stepping in to cover for each other when life intervened and believe me, it did! My dad passed away and I had to move twice. Still, our clockworks kept ticking on helping us stay focused on the exciting vision and giving us the connections we needed to know how to best support each other to achieve it.
Step 3. Develop People
As an organizational leader your achievements are dependent on the success of others. After you’ve set direction and got clockworks running developing others should become your primary job. Here are a few tips for developing people.
- Set aside time for development. Commit part of your own personal clockworks to be a champion and coach for those you are leading.
- Really SEE each other. Your team member is not a pair of hands; they are a fully creative human with a heart and mind. By seeing and reflecting their unique gifts and talents back to them, their gratitude and engagement will grow. It is also important to see each person’s unique struggles and normalize that to be human is to have weaknesses that can be managed by supporting each other’s success.
Each month my board co-chair and I had a check in call with each committee. For these calls we simply listened as our committee leads shared what they were up to and gave them a private space to talk about their challenges. They came to trust that we weren’t there to monitor or chastise, only to support them. Sometimes we offered advice but we always trusted them to resolve problems themselves. We made a point of commending them for hard work and since our theme was “shine the light”, we encouraged them to showcase their work and highlight the wins of their committee members.
At the end of our 2-year term I was truly blown away by our results. We almost doubled our conference attendance record and raised more funds from more members than ever before. Our alumni are now on fire as our list of eager potential board members grows. The part I found most rewarding was to see our board become the high performing team I hoped for all while having a great time. Ultimately, I feel validated that it really isn’t that hard to be a leader. By focusing on the 3 steps of setting direction, creating the clock and developing people I can let go of doing it all myself while setting others up to accomplish more than I ever could on my own.
Photo credit: Flickr/Professor JRuiz, Patty Beach Leadership Smarts