In today’s environment, executive leadership is in the middle of an identity crisis. Studies tell us that 80% of new CEOs lose their position within 18 months of taking the reigns. That fact alone, tell us there is an executive leadership disconnect. All levels of executive leadership positions are dutifully outlined in job description and other forms of guidance or expectations. Leaders step into their roles and try following long established criteria for their specific roles. It is a taught behavior that all professionals are exposed to. When you look at extremely successful professionals, they possess and practice a core series of skills that directly relate to their success and the success of their organization. The real challenge is how to simplify and teach those crucial skills to the next generation of executive leadership.
Executive Leadership Kept Simple
For all the complexities and challenges leaders face, it can be very difficult trying to keep leaderships skills as simple as possible. Environments, social challenges and business environments tend to add layers of complexity of basic leadership. These layers can be so deeply compounded that leaders can become paralyzed and frozen in time. However, when you peel back those complex layers, you will find some very simple nuggets of truths that all leaders need to habitually practice:
- Be an Effective Communicator – There is a direct correlation between a leader’s ability to clearly and succinctly communicate the firm’s vision, mission, and their success. This significance of clear communication cannot be overstated. From a lean perspective, a leader with a clear vision helps steer improvement teams towards the right problems to solve. Otherwise, there are so many problems to solve that teams end up heading in different directions.
- Possess Strong Self-Control – No matter how frequent or widespread the crisis, a leader must remain calm, cool and collected. All eyes are on the leader to see how they react to situations. Those eyes will then mimic and repeat the behavior of the leader. You must set the example at all times. Your behavior is constantly measured. A strong lean leader will “walk the talk” and get deeply involved in learning the processes, being deeply involved in improvement activity, and making improvements in their own areas (not just improving the lowest-level workers).
- Ethical Character – This element is painfully obvious, but frequently violated. Ethics and integrity must remain above reproach at all times. Those eyes are watching all the time. The first time you make an expectation and allow a character slip, then it becomes a very slippery slope. Success in business is all about flexibility, but the only thing that is pure ‘black & white’ is ethics and integrity. One way to ruin integrity would be to say that no jobs will be lost due to improvement, then laying off people after improvements are made.
- Visibility – Leaders must be visible and accessible to those they serve. Forget the typically ‘open door policy.’ It is a sham! You must be accessible and that needs to be a part of daily communication up and down the chain of command. Secondly, you don’t need a written ‘open door policy’ if you are getting out from behind a desk, out of the office and be present. Stop hiding and start leading! Regular trips to the “gemba” show your visibility, and reiterate how important process improvement is to everyone. These gemba walks will also let you see what’s going on with your own eyes, not just seeing the metrics and getting manager updates.
Making a Change
These four tips will allow you to peel back the layers of unnecessary complexity and get down to leadership that is clean, simple and straightforward. Executive leadership has been complicated to a point that we have forgotten the basics. The basics are fundamental to any improvement effort as well (organized work areas, standard work processes, daily checks and reviews, etc). Our challenge today, more than ever before, is to quickly identify talent and develop them into the leaders of the future. Take the time to get back to the basics and build your skills.