FOUR ESSENTIAL ACTS FORM BASIS FOR LEADERSHIP
By Dr. Chris Bart, F.C.A.
Imagine you just earned your first leadership assignment. You get to know your employees but after a while you realize those reporting to you aren’t doing what the company’s new mission statement wants them to do: “Amaze and delight each and every customer.”
You try to get inventive and encourage them to change, but the results stay the same.
These challenges face everyone in a leadership role, from CEO to team leader. Great leaders carry out four essential acts to capture the hearts and minds of their employees.
Essential Act 1: Give specific direction
So obvious, yet so overlooked. Employees have a fundamental right to know where their organization is heading so they can play a role in its achievement.
If employees don’t know what they have to do, they cannot make effective contributions. When that direction is missing, workers fill in the blanks with their own interpretations and let those interpretations drive their own well-intentioned behaviours. Their collective actions, however, usually result in confusion and chaos throughout the ranks when individuals and groups work at cross purposes.
Without clear direction, a lack of purpose will to set in. To avoid this, strong leaders turn to their organization’s mission statement to communicate direction. As the most popular management tool in the world, these statements have been maligned over the years. But without them, it’s nearly impossible for a leader to create a sense of direction, collective understanding and unity of purpose. Good leaders take the words in the mission and help translate them so employees can see specifically how their jobs connect with and contribute to the mission’s realization. This is the critical first step to becoming a mission-driven organization.
Essential Act 2: Practice open, frequent and focused communications
It’s also important that leaders concentrate on the few high priority messages flowing from the mission. Social scientists estimate the typical person receives 17,000 messages per day. The messages in your company’s mission are fighting against that onslaught. It’s therefore important to make sure they don’t get lost or forgotten. What to do? Wise leaders practice the three Rs of effective communication: relentless, repeat and reinforce. Roger Smith, former CEO of General Motors, said “If I had an opportunity to do everything over again, I sure wish I’d done a better job of communicating with GM people. If people understand the ‘why,’ they’ll work at it. Unfortunately for me, I never really managed to get that across.”
Also, the most underrated and under-appreciated means of communication is word of mouth. When a leader speaks about the organization’s mission statement, employees judge whether the leader believes in or even understands it.
Is there some magical frequency for determining the amount of communication with employees? No. Every situation is different. However, regularly and routinely interspersing key words and phrases from the mission into everyday conversations proves the mission is not just a flavour-ofthe-month program.
Essential Act 3: Lead by example
Sun Tsu said, “One must lead with actions, not just words.” Wise leaders constantly look for ways to reinforce the priorities of the mission through their own behaviour. This is why the founder and CEO of Southwest Airlines would routinely fly his airline while performing the duties of flight attendant. He wanted his crews to see firsthand what the boss meant by the company’s stated mission of providing “the highest-quality customer service.”
Employees are also looking for leadership acts that inspire them. It is how the organizational culture is developed and shaped. Be sure to send the right messages through your behaviours to reinforce your organization’s stated strategic direction.
Essential Act 4: Measure success and give rewards based on the mission
It’s a truism of psychology that what gets rewarded gets done. But many organizations claiming to be mission driven don’t measure their progress against the mission and they fail to reward employees for helping make the mission a reality.
Thus, the final step in making a mission statement part of your company’s internal fabric is to make sure all company systems and processes align with the statement. This includes hiring, firing, promotions, bonuses and salary adjustments, just to name a few.
By following these four essential acts, you can help unlock and unleash the incredible potential that exists in almost every person who works for you, and in so doing capture the competitively essential but often elusive mission mystique.
Dr. Chris Bart, F.C.A., can be reached at www.corporatemissionsinc.com.