THE BASICS OF GETREAL LEADERSHIP
The notion behind GetRealLeadership is simple. It is a look at what you are already doing that is probably the right stuff and then adding to your repertoire. Leading and managing can be tough and I’m sorry to say that we consultant types don’t always help. Our suggestions can be book smart but not practical…too removed from the realities on the ground.
So stop reading, fire the consultants, academicians and coaches and don’t enroll in that seminar. Let me break it down.
Here are the basic precepts of leadership in the real world.
- Effective leadership is doing the “right things” at least 50% of the time. The other 50% is taken up with “s&*t happens”. After the town hall meeting when you get everyone inspired and pointed in the same direction you go back to your office and get the call from the Chairman who tells you to cut expenses by 10% by next quarter. And you’re left thinking, “How can I deflate all the good energy I just pumped up and tell them I really meant what I was saying but now they have to do all that great work with 10% fewer resources? Major downer.” From the lofty aspirations to the cold reality in record time. This is what happens in the real world.
- Executive teams are a collection of functional experts who sometimes make strategic decisions together but mostly tend to their part of the operation. The ideal senior team with whip-smart and collaborative leaders who sit around continuously discussing strategy and who have all been schooled in “Most Effective Leader” training does not exist. The work force looks to the senior team for a brilliant and coherent vision and strategy. They expect each leader to “be singing from the same page” and are sorely disappointed when they can’t even get the functional head to describe the general direction. Skepticism about the efficacy of the senior team sets into the organization and the halls buzz with declarations of the lameness of the executives. In the real world senior teams keep the trains running and results on track. They rarely meet the expectations of the troops even if they are doing a fine job of keeping things afloat.
- For every great leadership moment there are tons of good, solid actions. In reality most days are filled with details, deadlines, decisions and problem solving. This is not the stuff of “great leadership” but it is what makes things work. Conducting a budget meeting provides few opportunities to be innovative or inspiring or inclusive or brilliant. But it does give clarity to everyone about what is expected. This is not sexy but necessary and the kind of thing that takes up a day in the life of a leader. If there is an opportunity for a great moment once a month you are lucky.
- Leaders place a very high value on the people around them even though they don’t say it often enough. You will hear “thank you” and “good job” quite frequently (and often in public) from most leaders but you won’t get that behaviorally specific feedback about exactly what was so great or how important you are to the success of the enterprise. You will hear those things if you make noise about leaving the company. But for most leaders, no news is good news. If you do not get praised often or get regular performance reviews it doesn’t mean that you are not valued. It simply means that you can be counted on and that you are one of the people who make it happen every day. Of course these senior leaders know that by the time they ascend to the executive suite that they should be spending 60% of their time developing people. But in the real world you are lucky if they are spending 15% percent of their time coaching folks. It is not because of neglect or ill intention. It’s just that in the real world their time is taken up meeting their boss’s expectations. They do, in fact, appreciate the good work of the people around them but taking the time to offer feedback comes down the list after making the numbers, meeting with the marketing people, responding to a request from the Board, making a tough call about downsizing or an acquisition or closing an office or…you get the picture.
- The answer to the proverbial question “what keeps executives up at night” is keeping everyone’s jobs…including their own. They don’t dream about their legacies. They don’t worry about having the perfect strategy. They don’t lose any sleep over whether or not they are communicating effectively. They do fret over the numbers, getting results and having good people doing good work to keep everything humming. The basics. In the real world if executives were laying awake at night wondering how they can mobilize and empower the organization to be aligned around a shared vision to bring innovative, value added products to the market with a cost effective infrastructure they wouldn’t be executives. They would be authors…or cartoonists.
This doesn’t mean that real leaders don’t have high aspirations. They do. It just means that they are exceptionally, extraordinarily, supremely…human. They have very big jobs with a crazy amount of responsibility and they simply act like normal human beings most of the time. And every now and then they get into the zone and do something extra-human and it feels great and they want to do it all the time but reality takes over again. Back to the grind, the basics, the good but not necessarily great.