Leadership: Being 'Acutely Clear'

off target “If you expect performance, then make it [meaning your expectations] ’acutely clear’ so people have the opportunity to succeed.” -- Jim Moats A very thoughtful leader, friend, and fellow Vistage Chair posted, “The Way Things Work” on his Peer Place blog and got me thinking about a provocative question one of our CEO clients asked the other day. We were discussing one of the people in his firm who has been producing extraordinary results from being in a coaching program. Her performance had become a major turn-around. Her comment to our coach was, “why didn’t anyone ever tell me…?” meaning, she had no idea she had been "missing the mark" to such an extent. When discussing this with the CEO, his question was “ I wonder how many good people are let go every year because no one ever communicated or invested in their success?"

This is an absolutely critical question to think about as a leader. How many good people reporting to you have "failed" and how many good people have you let go during your career because you didn't communicate clearly enough, effectively enough, or invest in their success? And, what is the cause of so much ineffective communication and such a plain lack of communication about something as critical and fundamental as job performance and success?

Sometimes it seems that unclear expectations are part of an instant, automatic and unexamined control mechanism. If as a leader, you are unclear, then you can leave others off balance. They really can't fully succeed and you are in control.  (Some part of you may even relish playing a "savior" role.) If your ideas weren't all that sound, and you were vague, you can always say “that's not what I really meant” if things start to go awry. Worse, if your team nails it and gets close to stellar performance, you can move the target. All of these are very unconscious ways to maintain leadership control and they can also be very destructive to your team. It's control in a delusional sort of way!

There is also a sort of laziness to being unclear. You can continue with a "ready, fire, aim" approach and just keep moving. While many entrepreneurs and leaders are extremely fond of this approach it also lets them off the hook. They don't really have to be rigorous. They don't have to think things through and they don't have to take personal responsibility because the ideas have "been delegated." If/when an idea fails it's because the team didn't perform.

Business Employee Climbs Up Evaluation Improvement FormBeing 'acutely clear,' (as Jim Moats describes), and in partnership with those around you, puts you in what we call in our book "Accelerate," the Productive Dialogue Zone.  It takes courage and a willingness to give up control in favor of the outcomes you want.  It also takes letting others participate in the “how” of getting there. By doing this you will need to challenge yourself to receive feedback on ideas and not take it personally. This actually makes your life as a leader easier. Allow your team to be rigorous and help think things through. Take the burden off of yourself and be inclusive.

In his blog, Jim further points out, “Setting acutely clear expectations rules out “trying” and creates the need for learning from each setback or unexpected obstacle.  Training makes average people strong, while trying makes strong people average.”

The trade off for apparent loss of control is dramatically increasing the odds of getting what you want, having real partnerships with people, and unleashing all kinds of creativity around you.

Do you recognize yourself or your leadership style here?  What do you REALLY want and are you willing to be rigorous with yourself and open and inclusive with others to get it?

Why Would We Say "Don't Read Our New Book?"

Accelerate book coverOur book, "Accelerate: High Leverage Leadership for Today's World" actually debuted in July of this year. We haven't been saying alot about it and doing lots of publicity and such because first, we wanted to find out if it had value to readers. We spent more than five years developing the content; researching, writing and editing it and it's based on 20 years experience in the field of executive leadership development. We have literally put tens of thousands of hours into working with leaders and their teams and we compiled this knowledge into a book we are very proud of, but the question still remained, would it be of use to anybody else? So we decided to do a "soft launch" and we have been using the book with clients, soliciting feedback from peers and colleagues and conducting "informal testing" of the material.  We now have enough feedback from enough people to feel like we can say with all humility, we have actually written a very valuable book, (and we are SO grateful to all who have put in time and given us this feedback!)  What we have heard is that the book is dense with rich content and yet easy to read It has breakthrough mental models, powerful Operating Principles, and a set of Practical Applications that are all immediately useful.  So why is the title of this blog post, "don't read our new book?"

We all know there are lots of great books to "read" and there are lots of great leadership books to read. What he have found with the folks who have invested time with our book is that the best way to use our book is as a reference manual and resource for solving your leadership issues for when you truly don't know how to get into action, have already failed over and over, or simply would rather have a root canal than even try. It's a real world guide for real issues that leaders face day in and day out.

So don't "read" our book from cover-to-cover, and then put it on the book shelf where it joins your other volumes of "shelf help," (books you enjoyed, had "a ha" moments while reading, then put away and forgot about). If you want a reference to help you navigate your daily leadership challenges buy the book and get familiar with the table of contents, the models, the nature of the Operating Principles, and the subject of each of the Practical Applications.

When you are ready to start building your conversational capacities, use it like you were going to the gym. Pick out an Essential Notion, an Operating Principle and a Practical Application that call to you. Read them and practice in your real life situations during the week. In the following week, pick another set, read, and practice. Within three months you will build a new basic level of leadership effectiveness in your interactions.  Then you can start the process over again and raise yourself another level.

When you confront communication breakdowns, organizational upsets, resistance to change, or any of the many the other leadership issues that drive you crazy, grab the book and read the relevant sections.  Fill out the the worksheet in the Practical Applications section, meet with the appropriate people, and get to work. 

Keep your focus on learning and applying, rather than "reading" and filling your brain with new intellectual notions and you will achieve real results!  Meanwhile you can "read" all those other books piled on your night stand ;-)