Effective leaders focus on key priorities. Yes, the bottom line looms large, but one only achieves financial success after fulfilling four promises to stakeholders. In my work as a coach, I’ve found that leaders who focus on delivering each of these priorities are viewed as more effective.
Consultants Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams delineate these promises in Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results (Wiley, 2015):
- Set the right direction and create meaningful work.
- Engage all stakeholders and hold them accountable for performance.
- Ensure that processes and systems facilitate focus and execution.
- Lead effectively. Maintain trust to achieve and sustain desired results.
After setting the right direction and engaging stakeholders, a leader must then ensure that processes and systems facilitate focus and execution. But that doesn’t always happen, from what I observe in the companies where I consult.
Leaders promise to deliver results in the marketplace by successfully executing on key initiatives. This enables stakeholder commitment. With commitment, leaders can facilitate productivity through systems and processes that make execution successful.
Effective leaders channel action into results. They provide feedback on the work the organization is doing. Action links effort to results, letting everyone know when something works (or doesn’t).
Processes and systems usually provide a clear path from task to long-term, meaningful results. This is the promise where the rubber meets the road. In my work in organizations, I see that this is where leadership sometimes fails. I’ve observed how systems and processes can get so complicated they turn into obstacles to execution.
According to Anderson and Adams, leaders often break this promise by:
- Failing to provide the resources (time, people or money) necessary for execution
- Allowing the organization to be distracted by “silver bullets” or “bright shiny objects” (i.e., an attractive lower priority)
- Having few or ineffective processes in place (i.e., everything is done for the first time, every time)
- Being so process-bound that execution becomes secondary to the process itself
Excessive focus on processes robs people of their energy and enthusiasm. In other cases, processes are in place, but are underused. Repeatedly breaking this leadership promise creates a cynical culture, frustration and a “why bother?” mentality.