The Five Key Facets of High Performance Leadership
Five characteristics that distinguish the exceptional leaders from the rest of the pack!
by Brian Ward
Many people in leadership positions struggle with understanding what makes a great leader. While billions of dollars are spent annually on leadership development, quality leadership is still in short supply. For example, the move towards total quality has inspired many organizations to take a long, hard look at building their leadership capacity. Quality management systems such as Baldrige, ISO 9000, European Foundation for Quality and the Canadian National Quality Institute all demand an emphasis on quality leadership.
Organizations have responded to this with myriads of education and training resources, which seem to be plentiful, (Amazon.com has over 9,000 references on leadership.), yet most attempts at building high performance leadership are either far too complex or too simplistic to be of any practical use to leaders who need to make things happen.
So what does work?
In working with leaders we have isolated five key characteristics that successful leaders demonstrate. These work extremely well whether the emphasis is on ‘quality’ or some other approach to building and sustaining a customer focused, team based organization that pays as much attention to results as it does to process…a high performance organization.
Here are the five key facets of high performance leadership:
Focus – Authenticity – Courage – Empathy – Timing
Effective leaders stay focused on the outcomes they wish to create, and don’t get too married to the methods used to achieve them. They provide this ‘outcomes focus’ for their organization by emphasizing the mission, vision, values and strategic goals of their organization and at the same time building the capacity of their organizations to achieve them. This capacity building emphasizes the need to be flexible, creative and innovative and avoid becoming fossilized through the adoption of bureaucratic structures, policies and processes.
Leaders who are authentic attract followers, even leaders who are viewed as being highly driven and difficult to work for. Simply put, they are viewed as always being themselves…and therefore followers know what to expect from them and can rely on them, come thick or thin. Authenticity provides the leader with the currency to obtain ‘buy-in’ from key stakeholders, because it builds and maintains trust. Authenticity is the bedrock upon which the other facets are built.
The challenges facing leaders today are immense, and require great courage to overcome. Leaders are constantly being challenged by others, be it their own team, customers, the public or other stakeholders. Standing firm in the face of criticism, yet having the courage to admit when they are wrong, are hallmarks of courageous leaders. For example, shifting an organization from being introspective to becoming customer focused requires courage when people pay lip service to the new direction…it means calling people on their bluff.
Effective leaders know how to listen empathetically…thus legitimizing others’ input. By doing so, they promote consensus building, and build strong teams. They coach others to do the same, and so create a culture of inclusiveness. They tend to be great listeners who capitalize on the ideas of others, and provide recognition for these ideas, yet they don’t get bogged down in overly complicated dialogue. While they create learning organizations that place a high value on dialogue and continuous feedback, they know when to take action, when to ‘fish or cut bait’, which brings us on to the final facet…
The one facet that can make or break a leader is in knowing when to make critical decisions and when not to. All of the other facets must be viewed as subservient to getting the timing of critical decisions right. There is a need to be focused, authentic, courageous and empathetic, but get the timing wrong on critical decisions and everything else stands to be nullified. Great leaders move with appropriate speed. They don’t believe that everything must be done immediately…they know how to prioritize, and how to get their team to prioritize. As well, they engage in timely follow-through to ensure actions that are committed to happen in a well coordinated and timely way.
Is that all it takes to be a great leader?
These facets of high performance leadership are not exhaustive. Just as one would look at the facets of a diamond, upon closer observation other facets become observable. Any person can aspire to being a great leader by commencing with these facets. If you are in a leadership role, regardless of your position in your organization, start by asking yourself the following key questions:
1. How focused am I? How much of my time do I spend communicating and inspiring people about our mission, vision and strategic goals? How much focus do I create in my organization? How married am I/my organization to methods that have outlived their usefulness?
2. Am I viewed as authentic? Do people see and hear the real me? Do I wear a mask at work, and remove it when I leave each evening?
3. How courageous am I when my values, vision and goals are challenged? Do I stand firm and only change my position when I know that I am wrong?
4. How empathetic am I? Too much/too little? Do I create enough opportunities for open and candid dialogue? Do I ever find myself getting bogged down in consensus building, or achieving false consensus? Is there a feeling of inclusiveness amongst the members of my organization, and with other stakeholders, including customers?
5. Do I make and execute decisions in a timely fashion? Do I know when to ‘fish or cut bait?’ – do I demand well coordinated and timely execution of strategy from others?
What can you do to create a high performance leadership culture?
Asking these questions in a candid way will open up many possibilities for you, your organization or your clients…if you have the courage to do it.
Building and sustaining a high performance leadership culture takes time, patience and a clear focus on the vital few characteristics that leaders can develop naturally and authentically. Listening to what people expect from you as a leader, and then responding empathically, in a timely fashion, will move you dramatically towards mastering these five key facets of high performance leadership.
Above all, you need to TAKE ACTION.
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