Fuel-Injected Leadership

Author: Joy Kosta, MSWP, MHCS, HRBP | Source: HCI | Published: January 19, 2012

Years ago, when taking a family drive on Sundays was a typical outing, we would inevitably get lost. This would perturb my older sister (who became a scientist), but for me, being someplace new was when the sense of adventure began (in retrospect, our respective career choices make great sense). My parents used to say (this was before there was GPS and i-phones), “You’re never lost as long you have gas in the tank.” So I appreciate them encouraging my quest for what's new. And Yogi Berra said, “We’re lost, but making good time.” However, in today’s business world, organizations don’t have unlimited fuel (either tangible assets or intangible assets) to find out where they’re going. Our individual competitive advantage as a leader is the fuel injection for how our organization runs, stalls, idles, or performs at full throttle.

The #1 question on Gallup Q12 (questions that indicate engagement and productivity) is: “Do I know what is expected of me at work?” According to Wagner and Harter, in The Elements of Great Managing, groups that have high scores on this item are more productive, profitable and creative. Clear expectations account for productivity gains of 5 to 10%. It’s hard to achieve your objectives without alignment of your people, yet fifty percent of employees don’t know what is expected of them at work, and the more complex the job, the higher the uncertainty. So if you’ve launched an updated business strategy to kick off the year, don’t neglect the follow-up regarding how does this break down into what will people do differently and what actions will they continue. This is what creates a line of sight and cascaded goals that achieve objectives by design.

Bill Kling, founder of the American Public Media Group, in a recent NY Times interview, says, “…There is not one formula for leadership.  There are…people who are really good at motivating people. There are innovative leaders who are really good at conceiving of products or spotting talent and have great vision for the company… Every CEO needs an executive team to be balanced to fit their strengths.”  Marcus Buckingham might recommend that we ask ourselves, what is our individual leadership strength/competitive advantage? And then round out our team with other strengths to compliment ours. Cisco and Lockheed Martin practice “the branding of a company and its defining culture and mission is the result of a well-executed strategy that incorporates many different leaders and business units aligned to achieving the same goal.”

Often a leader’s primary strength needs to match what the organization needs at that point in time—innovation for start-ups, financial health to stay in the game, and leveraging talent assets all along the way. Bill Kling thinks the strongest criterion for leaders is creativity and innovation. Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, in his new book, The Coming Jobs War, says, “The competition or ‘war’ for good jobs…is a war for the best customers first. He who wins that war, wins the jobs war. Almost no leader has this figured out.” In a Forbes interview of Clifton by branding expert Dan Schawbel, they both cast their vote with the entrepreneurial leader who can conceive of new products and services (and hence create value-adding jobs) that will win customer market share.

We ignore the obvious, that a fresh perspective reveals surprising insights. What if an outside trusted leader toured your company to recommend opportunities?  (It might seem like a blend of the reality TV shows, Undercover Boss and Wife Swap!)  But if you returned the service, it could be a consultative exchange of shake-up innovative ideas, because after all it is human to have blind spots. Or, what if a board member went undercover to id areas of opportunity? Especially when your board is hiring for a Chief Executive, these insights would provide dialog that prioritizes the qualities needed in the new leader for the company at that point in time.

An HCI executive workgroup member from a fairly conservative (aka highly regulated) industry places high value on innovation, and says, “It’s time for leaders to do more than think outside of the box. Sometimes it’s time to break the box.” These questions about maintaining competitive advantage may not keep you up at night, but they are worthy of scheduled reflection and exchange with peers

  • What is your personal competitive advantage?
  • How are you guiding the execution of your new business strategy?
  • How do you deploy your top team to complement your personal strengths?
  • How do you invite a fresh perspective (i.e. from a trusted colleague or a Board member) to id blind spots and areas of opportunity?

What would you add to the list?  Drop me a line

photo courtesy of cindy47452