What makes a leader stand out as remarkably effective?
Everyone expects great things from leaders—probably more than is humanly possible. But leaders must deliver only few interdependent promises to drive business results. Failure to complete a single promise will likely lead to disappointing outcomes.
Consultants Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams delineate these promises in Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results (Wiley, 2015):
It’s also difficult to perform effectively if a leader fails to manage people’s perceptions and expectations. Followers have two types of expectations:
Implicit expectations can be minefields because they’re based on assumptions, may be unrealistic, are often misunderstood and vary greatly among stakeholders. We nevertheless judge leaders’ effectiveness on both explicit and implicit expectations.
Smart leaders know they’re always being judged. Success or failure depends on whether or not leaders clarify these role expectations and keep their promises. Hidden expectations will never be discovered unless a leader asks about them.
Business success is not a measurement of leadership effectiveness. A business may take off, but leaders can still fall short unless they are skilled at influencing and inspiring people for the long term.
Success vs. Effectiveness
Leaders must master four key domains to be truly effective:
1. The First Promise: Set the Right Direction
The first leadership promise focuses on strategy, mission and values, and it’s as much about profits as it is about people.
Stakeholders hold leaders to this vital promise because it establishes the “why” they’re in business, as well as “what” the business will and won’t do. This foundation sets direction and meaning, creating a culture in which people can thrive.
Direction and meaning set the stage for establishing a business identity and brand. Effective leaders can articulate their organizations’ unique contributions to the world. They know their people want not only a paycheck, but alignment with company values. They want to contribute to a purpose beyond profits, so leaders must ensure these values are publicized and practiced throughout the business.
2. The Second Promise: Engage All Stakeholders
Effective leaders foster a commitment to achieving results. They strive for engagement and assign accountability.
Unfortunately, clarity and commitment often end at the leadership-team level. In many instances, leaders know—but employees cannot explain—why their work makes a difference. Managers focus solely on accountability and performance, rather than engagement. Lacking are frequent references to organizational purpose and linking daily tasks to why individuals count.
In fulfilling this second promise, leaders earn their staff’s trust and commitment. They provide the why behind the what of work. Employees expect and want their leaders to draw out their potential, talent, strengths and energy. Leaders do this by creating a culture where people are allowed to grow, contribute and be valued. They set challenging goals, provide resources, and address the reasons behind stated goals. When objectives are achieved, they provide recognition and rewards.
3. The Third Promise: Develop Processes and Facilitate Execution
After setting the right direction and engaging stakeholders, a leader must then ensure that processes and systems facilitate focus and execution.
Leaders promise to deliver results in the marketplace by successfully executing on key initiatives. This enables stakeholder commitment. With commitment, you facilitate productivity through systems and processes that make execution successful.
Effective leaders channel action into results. They provide feedback on the work the organization is doing. Action links effort to results, letting everyone know when something works (or doesn’t).
Processes and systems provide a clear path from task to long-term, meaningful results. This is the promise where the rubber meets the road.
According to Anderson and Adams, leaders often break this promise by:
Excessive focus on processes robs people of their energy and enthusiasm. In other cases, processes are in place, but are underused. Repeatedly breaking this leadership promise creates a cynical culture, frustration and a “why bother?” mentality.
4. The Fourth Promise: Lead Effectively
Effective leaders pursue personal and professional development opportunities to improve their competence, self-awareness and other-relatedness. Without a commitment to enhancing development, they can easily lose their competitive advantage.
When leaders balk at coaching, training and ongoing learning, they cannot meet the increasing demands of today’s business environment, and they fail to deliver on the first three promises. In a word, they stagnate. Perhaps leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith puts it best: “What got you here won’t get you there.”
Executive coaching has proved to be one of the most effective leadership-development tactics. Yet, few leaders regularly set priorities for professional growth. Even those engaged in executive-coaching relationships struggle to keep appointments to do the work. Like many of us, they’re so mired in day-to-day challenges that they fail to think long term or take actions that may not have immediate payoffs.
If you recoil at the idea of coaching, training or other personal-growth tools, you’re creating conditions for failure. You’re breaking all four leadership promises that so many others expect you to keep.
You cannot afford to stand still. The pace of business will eventually exceed their capacity to handle new challenges
What are you doing to keep the four promises to lead effectively? As an executive Master Certified Coach, I support executives to achieve positive, long term change in their behavior for themselves and their team.
I offer a 30-minute phone consultation, which will be scheduled at no cost to you. Request at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I also welcome your referrals.