One of the most important leadership lessons is realizing you are responsible for everything. If you are not getting the results you want, or your team is not working together in unity, the first and hardest step to take is a long look in the mirror. When you do, see if any of these five leadership warning signs are reflecting back at you and if so, embrace their solutions:
1. Slow to Confront People Problems. Most owners who delay confrontations do so because they dislike conflict. They feel horrible when they inadvertently offend people. So their tendency is to sleep on things and hope they work themselves out. If this behavior describes you, you are probably a really nice person, a great friend, but your “niceness” can keep you from being a high performance leader.
Solution: Learn new conflict resolution skills that let you bravely tackle tough people issues with finesse, still be seen as the nice person, but drive your organization forward faster. A great resource to quickly build skills is the book Crucial Conversations. It has a fool proof process to follow that works and will get you comfortable with confronting tough people and situations.
2. Allowing Gossip. A high-growth company business executive gave me an interesting definition of gossip – Giving the problem to anyone who can’t do anything about it. Take a moment to reread that definition. And this exec is serious about gossip prevention. At his company, the first time you are warned. The second time you are fired – no exceptions. As a leader, are you guilty of talking about business problems with people who can’t provide solutions? Sometimes gossip starts at the top and the person you face in the mirror is guilty!
Solution: Create performance standards based on your company’s core values that clearly reflect your position on gossip. At Meridian, we developed a performance tool which lists three behaviors for each of our eight core values. Because gossip can creep into any company, our behavioral statement around our core value #2) We listen and openly communicate, says “Maintains trust by eliminating gossip/badmouthing/backbiting from the organization.” In our case, meeting with our team members quarterly and discussing our eight core values and 24 behaviors helps solidify our team.
3. Not Giving the Why Every Time. Do you ask your team to do various tasks without giving them the why behind each request? Barking orders works well in a military crisis where lives depend on immediate obedience. Barking orders to a millennial in an organization causes them to quit mentally or physically. The days of “do this because I say so and I’m your superior” are long gone. Leadership guru John C. Maxwell calls this a Level One leader who works out of position authority only (and is usually resented for it!)
Solution: With any new initiative, consider the point of view of various levels of the organization. Share the reasons and the rewards. Share what is it in for them to do what you want done and make sure that the why you provide is big enough to propel them through the fear of change. Ideally, discuss and confront all fears you think could emerge.
4. Having fuzzy goals. Imagine a football game where instead of having a clear goal line, the coach says just move the ball towards the tree line and I’ll let you know when it’s good. So the team moves the ball towards the trees, and the coach yells at them, “Wrong trees! I meant these other trees!” So the team now changes direction, moves towards the right trees and works the ball diligently stopping when they get to the first tree. Just as they are feeling quite proud of themselves, the coach yells, “Not the first tree, keep going!” So now the team doesn’t know which tree they need to reach in a whole stand of trees and they are beginning to weary of the task. Sound ridiculous? Does your team know the goal line? Does each person know their personal goal line? And how about you? Do you know your own goal line?
Solution: Insist on goal-setting within your company using the SMART goal formula for you (remember leaders model the behavior they desire), your company, and all your associates. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Targeted. With our M-Power™ coaching clients, we teach a formula of three annual goals, supported by three quarterly goals and everything must be measurable. We see petro companies making massive leaps when they start adhering to our quarterly goals and planning process.
5. Sanctioning incompetence. Because petroleum is often a family affair, sometimes family leaders tolerate incompetence. Maybe it’s the desire to give people a chance. But the more you let someone sit on your payroll without performing, the more complacent your workforce becomes. And here is the “in the mirror” kicker question. Are you allowing your own incompetence? Has your organization outgrown your skill set? Or, have you lost some of your drive for excellence.
Solution: First, clearly define excellence. If you could blink your eyes and become an even more amazing company, what would that look like and feel like? Got it? Now fire whoever will not work with you to that vision. Fire yourself if you have to! Just kidding, but sometimes you need to hire people who are better than you if you are a little stuck or tired.
In an M-Power™ business coaching session today with an operations VP, I was struck when he told me how amazed he was at the output from a new hire. The new employee was getting so much more done than the previous employee in the same position. He hadn’t been aware of how lame the last guy was until he got someone with passion, action and competence in the chair. Do not be afraid to fire and when you know you need to fire, act swiftly. It sends a message to your organization that incompetence will not be tolerated.
I believe that every organization rises and falls on leadership. Raise the level of your own leadership, and you will raise your entire organization. It all starts with you. You can be the problem or the solution. The choice is always yours.