If you are going to Lead, you’d better have a grasp of the issues, a soft hand, and a steel resolve…
I recently surveyed a group of senior Leaders. These people are or were successful executives of their respective organizations. Companies and enterprises of different sizes, complexity, and across diverse industries.
Included in this group were Chief Executive, Financial, Marketing, Information and Human Resource Officers, as well as Entrepreneurs with extensive Startup experience. A good cross section. People whom I admire, trust, respect, and have known for years. Immensely successful people. I can count on them for straight answers.
I asked a very basic question:
What are the 5 areas of the business that are keeping you awake at night?
Their answers did not disappoint.
There was quite a lot of commonality as you might expect. All of these areas of concern cross the boundaries of industry, organizational size and geography. And there was a lot of color added to the responses, especially in subsequent emails on certain areas that elicited passionate and healthy dialogue.
Perhaps the commonality is proof that there is nothing new under the sun. That getting the basics right is what makes for successful Leaders and organizations.
I culled and collated their answers into these 9 categories. Areas of the business that they focus on and pay attention to.
Without further preamble. here are the results.
1. Talent, People, Teams
This was the most common and arguably the number one area of concern and focus of the surveyed Leaders. After all, a Leader is dependent on great people to execute and operate. Some of the specific matters of concern in this area included the following:
- Finding competent and qualified people
- Developing skills and enhancing talents
- Establishing functioning teams that collaborate and succeed
- Creating a learning environment and organization
- Bringing together Teams including Baby Boomers, Millennials and Gen X
- Establishing and Cultivating an agile and flexible culture
2. The Leadership Agenda
This was an area that stimulated a healthy discussion and strong opinions. The main issue driving some debate was that of Leader versus Coach. One of the executives flatly stated, “It’s time to retire the term ‘Leader’ and replace it with ‘Coach’”. Not the first rime I have heard this. As a Life, Executive and Career Coach, I totally get the sentiment.
Some took exception to such a strong position. After all these are Leaders!
Personally I think great Leaders are always evolving, and looking for ways to be more effective, especially with their people and teams. And coaching, as a particular passion and focus of mine, should definitely be one of the key arrows in a Leader’s quiver. Whether they do it themselves or engage someone with great coaching skills to carry it out.
It seemed the consensus was that it’s not all or nothing. That perhaps “redefine” was a better choice of words than “retire”.
The specific matters of focus and concern in this area were:
- Traditional Leadership versus fulfilling the role of Leader Coach
- Leading in a way that will inspire both confidence and loyalty
- Creating, evolving and maintaining relationships across the entire organization
3. The Customer, Client, Guest
Great Leaders have always understood where the bread is buttered. It’s all about the client. The source of revenue and profits should be the focus of everyone in the company. As such, every one of the respondents had something to say in this area as well. Here are some of the details:
- Establishing and keeping a customer-centric culture across all areas of the organization
- Understanding and fulfilling customer and market wants and needs
- Personalizing the customer experience
- Retaining existing clients while appealing to other market segments
4. Execution, Operations, and Foundational Running of the Business
A major theme of the Leaders responding to my question was that we’d better not forget about the basics. There are may shiny objects, solutions “du jour”, and plain old fads out there that will tend to distract any Leader from the core mission. There is no substitute for basic operational blocking and tackling though. It might not be sexy and new, but operational excellence is absolutely vital.
Here are the specific details in this area.
- Ongoing Operational excellence. Getting the operational aspects of the business stable and more on autopilot versus day to day fire fighting
- Getting the basics right. Then focus on the higher order elements of the business
5. Establishing Accountability and Shared Values
Want to ensure the Team is focused on the right things, executing as planned, taking care of the customers and marching towards the finish line across the business? Especially when the Leader is not watching? Pay attention to Core Values and the Accountability agenda. These were the specific comments made in this area.
- Establishing and living company and team values
- Holding people accountable and establishing a culture of ownership and responsibility
- Teaching gratitude. It shouldn’t always be about wanting more
The great Leaders I have known and worked for, including this bunch, were all great communicators. You might then wonder why this was an area that kept them awake at night. It’s because even areas that are considered strengths, when they are vital to organizational and individual success should be constantly monitored and improved. Here are the details on Communications.
- Clear, Appropriate and Transparent communications
- Having the courage to speak out when you believe in something
- Being able to confront issues clearly and effectively
- Honest, frank and effective communications within the Leadership team
7. Vision Mission and Strategy
They say a mediocre strategy executed brilliantly, beats a brilliant strategy executed poorly. That being said, these Leaders thought this was an area of concern and a cause of some sleeplessness. Getting the organization aligned and everyone rowing in the same direction was a key to success. The details they shared included these points:
- Establishing effective vision mission and strategy
- Communicating each of those clearly
- Getting buy in from the organization
- Executing against those and having the organization walk the talk
8. Managing Change
Change. Inevitable. Constant. Relentless. It’s no surprise that this would have been one aspect of today’s business environment these Leaders would have recognized as requiring attention and focus. To them it was all about risk, avoiding change for change sake and being able to Lead effectively through potential disruptions. Specifically, these were the details around change.
- Innovating while avoiding chaos and disruption
- Avoiding paving the cow path and reinventing the wheel
- Identifying and managing the risks of change
Last but not least. The “T” word. About half of the Leaders I polled come from the Tech world. No surprise that Technology should cause some serious thought and consideration on their part. But even those Leaders who self-admittedly are not especially technology savvy mentioned this area as an important one. They were wanting to define the role and qualify the impact that Technology should play in their business. Here are the specifics.
- Rethinking what the business should be through the use of technology
- Understanding the impact of technology on the industry and specific business model
I am confident, knowing these Leaders all too well, they don’t suffer from insomnia. They are not actually losing sleep over these areas of their business. These areas are merely the list of items they keep in front of them and on their radar. Important areas to focus on as well as to ensure their people and organizations do as well.
While “important” issues come and go based on the needs of the business and ever evolving industry trends and world events, this list resonates as a set of truly important aspects that all successful Leaders should have top of mind.
This is a Simple Leadership Lesson. Visit my publication Simple and Practical Leadership and follow me for more short, useful, and practical Leadership Wisdom.
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