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John Cross

The Little Black Book for Managers


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Finding those leadership moments of power


Leadership is a vital responsibility of every manager, young and old, in every organisation – the team leader and the lance-corporal, the directors and generals. Every manager needs to value their leadership role and spend time on it, acknowledging where they need help. For new start-ups this is particularly challenging as the focus will be on product development.

Newly appointed managers and those displaying limited leadership skills need to be coached for this responsibility. At Google, Brin and Page got Eric Schmidt to help with their leadership role.

All managers lead by example whether they intend to or not. Most not, unfortunately! Roles as a manager and as a leader are primarily about inspiration. The ‘manager’ in you should inspire each person individually with something that connects with their personality and work/life demands; whereas the ‘leader’ in you should inspire the whole team by developing and communicating a sense of community and a worthwhile goal. Leaders, like you, have to infect everyone around them with their upbeat mood and positive attitude. And as you are under the microscope every second of every day, you must imagine your mood to be a virus. Your attitude, words and demeanour affect everyone, both positively and negatively.

For me leadership remains:

  • Inspiration = ambitious goals frequently repeated + motivation.

Ambitious Goals – a leadership moment of power

Effective leaders create memorable, sticky, headline goals that motivate and inspire their followers.

I suspect that a lot of your people will have difficulty remembering your department’s vision, mission, strategy and objectives. Why? Because they are communicated and articulated in unemotional corporate communications or management speak.

Leaders need to develop goals that are achievable, memorable, exciting and worthy, but above all, they should be understood and embraced at an emotional level. Leaders have a huge responsibility to paint the team’s tasks in vivid terms which connect with the humanity and feelings of each individual of the team. Forgetting the “management speak” and instead constructing a story or parable which grips their team’s attention and energises and motivates them.

Two examples. One airline developed “The 5-Minute Suitcase” as a clear and unambiguous strategy to improve customer satisfaction, meaning that baggage was transferred from the hold to the collection carousel in less than five minutes from engine shutdown. The second example was called “The 24-Hour Packet of Crisps”. This food manufacturer decided to use freshness as a competitive weapon and embarked upon a 12-month programme to reduce the time from when the product left the baking ovens to the supermarkets’ shelves to less than 24 hours.

Both examples took a long time to achieve and cost a lot of money, but everyone working on those two projects knew precisely what the goal was, and they identified with it as worthwhile. They knew the part they had to play and committed to it at an emotional level. They felt that they were doing good.

So, team leaders, like you, should ask themselves whether the way that their goals are expressed have as strong an emotional pull to do good as “The 5-Minute Suitcase” or “The 24-Hour Packet of Crisps."

Motivation – leadership moments of power

Accomplished leaders give and show more trust in people than they believe is naturally deserved. Future contributors are sometimes disguised by youth and inexperience or simply a lack of confidence! It’s the leader’s job to get past external predictors of success and see aspects of their potential that they themselves have yet to see. This whole question of trust is terribly important. And trust can only be built on a big investment of time and repeated examples of honourable behaviour.

Let your people see the end result of their efforts. I’ve often heard the phrase “you do your job and let me worry about the bigger picture” and it always disappoints me. The majority of your people don’t like to be pigeon-holed and restricted in their thinking. Most enjoy seeing more than just a glimpse of the bigger picture too and I bet that some of your objectives actually require your team to see the bigger picture. They want to understand how the entire organisation delivers benefits and want to be a part of it; they want to feel that they have made a contribution, however small to the greater good. If managers force employees to focus narrowly on their world, responsibility for team or even company-wide performance becomes someone else’s responsibility. It gets delegated upwards. The workers become detached; commitment and motivation diminishes. If it is at all possible, let your team see first-hand the results of their contributions. If your factory makes nuts and bolts for the Boeing 787, why not arrange to take a tour of the plane when it’s in the hangar? The big picture can be a powerful motivator.

Prioritise team awards over individual recognition. I have noticed that many hotels and hospitals offer an “Employee Hall of Fame”, a wall of smiling employee faces, normally located in a corridor with high footfall. I’ve seen similar photo walls in office reception areas as well. Maybe your organisation has a similar scheme. After all, recognizing and acknowledging the contribution of junior staff should be a motivational thing to do, shouldn’t it? As with many company schemes, the answer is both yes and no. You should think really hard before replicating something like this. Why? Because any device, prize, recognition or award that creates winners, also by definition creates many more losers. And that’s demotivating!

All managers must reserve time for reflection and analysis of their leadership behaviour every day!

And you as a senior HR professional should be asking leadership questions of your talent pool and assigning leadership work to them. The rewards for the whole organisation can be huge.

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John Cross


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