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Thursday, September 18, 2008

This Week's DEBate-able: Follow the Leader

What makes a leader? What are those ethereal qualities one person possesses that can cause others to form a cohesive, smoothly functioning group? Here are some of the skills most great leaders possess:

1. The ability to communicate your vision clearly and in a manner easily understood by each member of your team. Everyone needs to understand the mission in order to get onboard and further your plans. There are few things more frustrating than well-meaning direct reports who can't identify the purpose of the function to which they're assigned. Ensure they understand the big picture and their part in it; if they don’t “get it,” they can't “give it their all.”

2. A genuine concern for the well-being of those on your team. Get to know who they are, what's going on with their lives, and any challenges they may be facing. Nothing engenders loyalty and dedication more effectively than the team’s knowledge that their work is appreciated and they are understood.

3. In line with showing appreciation, catch them doing something well and praise them for it. Timeliness is the key; do it as soon as you can after you witness or discover the deed. The value is in the immediacy and authenticity of the remark. This creates a ripple effect of goodwill that can carry the entire team forward. (Can't catch them in the act of doing something praiseworthy? Maybe you should get out more, which brings us to the next step.)

4. Management By Wandering Around. MBWA is a practice that was developed by managers at Hewlitt-Packard in the 1970s and later popularized by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in the early 1980s. This technique is conducive to informal communication between managers and members of a team. It lessens the systemic barriers between the concept of how work should be done and the reality of how it is being done. It can alert you to what's happening with a project in real time and decrease the need for others to jump through the hoops of accessing bureaucratic lines of communication. So, go ahead, take a walk through different areas and see what is actually happening. Say hello to everyone along the way, stay relaxed and natural; you’ll be amazed at what you discover. It may seem awkward at first, but if you continue this technique regularly, at least twice a week, others in the workplace will get accustomed to having you pass through, and that’s when you’ll start getting great information. Do this at different times of the day to see all stages of your operation.

5. Manage the people and the work, not the paperwork. Remember that your job is to lead and manage specific functions and the people who perform them within your company. Sure, there is a lot of paperwork that goes along with the job, and you’ll get it done; but don't let that distract you from your real responsibility as a leader. Motivate others, learn new techniques and strategies. Part of your obligation is to develop and grow as a leader. Read up on the latest developments in your field, be on the lookout for new information, and master the art of change and metamorphosis. Great leaders don’t stagnate, they are on the cutting edge. Get out there, take appropriate risks, and enjoy the rewards! Think about it.

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Growth is change.
Change can be uncomfortable.
Grow anyway.

Deborah Avery
New York Executive Coaching, LLC
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