Of course everyone wants a business that’s very profitable. Typically, there is a great deal of attention on the easy-to-see side, i.e. practices for project management, office and admin procedures, financial procedures, job descriptions, business plans, and reports. You need those, as they are all very useful and necessary.
But... there is another side, a much less visible side that we don’t always pay attention to; yet is is no less effective, and just as useful if not even more so. This other side is what gives the more visible side its power and potency. It’s also far easier to implement and execute, if you're willing to put in the time and effort. This is something that the public doesn't always see first hand, but sees second hand through your team.
The answer: leadership. But not just any type of leadership; we are talking about solid, strong, empowering leadership. The kind that refuses to let themselves - or their company - become stagnant.
Great Leaders Lead the Battle Against Human Nature
It’s just human nature to wind down to levels of productivity that we can call business as usual. If this isn’t managed well, it can be damaging to the productivity and profits of the business. If left unmanaged for long periods of time, it damages morale, leads to apathy, resignation, and very unproductive levels of reasonableness. Your business flat lines with stagnation that kills the success and profitability.
It’s not only wise for leadership to see their role in leading a path away from this, it is essential. Good leadership designs effective ways to train, coach, and motivate teams to have a successful business. Great leadership designs ways that allow people to really thrive at work, inspiring the best in their performance. It is far easier to take a proactive approach, the doing of which can offer significant returns and game changing results.
The most effective leaders I see bring wisdom and understanding, knowing that each person on their team needs their empowerment to step beyond their current perceived limitations. Great leaders see the best in people, the possibilities, and the strengths and then helps individuals set a pathway to success. They don’t do it for them! Rather, they listen to the reasons, excuses, and all the other internal conversations and psychology with interest, even curiosity, and sometimes even humor…but never agreement. They understand that in the face of great challenges, people need to deal with their humanity. In fact, if you’re not dealing with some humanity, things are probably too comfortable. That’s just the way it is with human beings.
Great leaders know each person is giving their best; they are acting from how they see things right now, and how it might occur from their current point of view, like there are no better options to take action on right now. Great leadership knows they have the responsibility to always speak and act in a way that demonstrates a powerful way forward that communicates “we can do this”, “we will do this”, and “we own this”.
When your sales are flat, and the number of jobs in WIP is dropping so low it’s threatening your ability to maintain healthy and profitable closed work and invoicing targets, what do you do? Well, one option is you can panic, you can get really stressed out, and you can try to make everyone work harder, faster, better…..or …..
Great Leaders Solve Problems
You can invent a sales campaign. You simply make up a game to drive sales. By doing so you change the whole story from…”we are really suffering here but let’s try to ignore that fact and focus on sales even though the truth is our whole situation is rather desperate”, to… a story of opportunity, challenge, and even a little adventure. You change the narrative, which is the story in everyone’s head; from hard work, I don’t have enough time, we need to hire 10 more people, or whatever is being said in the back ground, to a story that inspires your team in taking productivity to the next level. That is how we shift the context from business as usual to one of opportunity, challenge, and achievement.
Case in point, a client I have been working with in my consulting business about 6 months ago saw that sales were dipping, and WIP was following suit. We went to work and invented a 3 month sales campaign. His senior managers did a great job of keeping the game in front of the team’s attention at every weekly meeting. The result was the campaign was very successful giving the company their best year ever.
Another example. The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack does a great job of demonstrating the power of changing the narrative. The author describes how a small group of people leveraged everything they had, to come up with $100,000 to buy a company for nine million. They were leveraged 90 to 1, and therefore could not afford to make one mistake, or miss even one loan payment.
How did he do it? Jack talks about the dangers of ignorance, and the myth in thinking things like an Employee Stock Option Plan will miraculously create buy in. Instead he went to work to create an environment of continuous learning everywhere; he educated everyone so each person understood the financial impact of how their job contributed to the company making money. Through coaching and continuous education he dispelled the barriers to productivity and inspired ownership and accountability in every single person. The company sales grew 30% a year for the first few years, and went from a first year loss of $60,000 to a 4th year gain of $2.7 mill and their stock price showing an 18,000 % gain.
Great Leaders Instill Accountability
How do you do this? It starts with understanding that context is more powerful than anything else. When you’re filling a glass with water, what has more power, the water, or the glass? It’s the glass, because the glass tells the water where it can go. Therefore, for those who choose the responsibility to lead others, context is decisive. One of the most powerful tools you have as a leader in your business is to be a context generator. That means you’re the one to say how things will be, and what will get accomplished. You carry the vision, and set the direction. You say what will happen for the next period of time…whether it is 3 months, or the next year.
Next step: identify the existing context your team is in, individually and collectively.
It’s usually something like some form of a business as usual attitude like this is hard, not enough time, I’m too busy, we need to hire more people, etc. There may be deeper attitudes of resignation and apathy. If you look closely, you can discover the top five or ten that play out in your business over and over again. If you have been in business for 5 years or more, they should be familiar to you by now. They may be so much a part of the culture, and so embedded in the background for so long; they unknowingly and unintentionally have become accepted as reality. There not terrible, they just put a really big lid on what your teams say is possible in terms of their productivity and accomplishments, and ultimately how successful your business can be. It’s very, very important that you know as a leader, this need not be. But you have to speak up, and take a proactive approach to set a new course, no matter how unreasonable your circumstances seem to be.
It All Starts With You
As you lead, so they follow. It all starts with you. Set your intention. Your intention is the will to make something happen that is not going to happen otherwise. The bolder the better. As you lead so they will follow, if you’re excited, they will be. If you’re inspired, they will be. Your teams read you like a book. It is not so much what you are doing as it is how you Be about this that communicates powerfully. It’s a can do attitude and a commitment to a vision for the future. If you have doubts, fears, or are just going through the motions, you lose power. If you’re not emotionally into it, really into it, you lose power. The impact of which costs you their productivity, accomplishments, and breakthroughs, and the success of the business. Your ability to generate this is an act of generosity, and a commitment to the future success of the business. Can you be successful? Absolutely, no matter what your circumstances say. That’s great leadership. All progress depends on your ability to generate this, for every person in your employ, your teams, and for the company. Remember, great leadership costs you nothing, and gives you everything.