SOMETIMES A BOSS has to deliver bad news. It is not part of the job description, but it is part of the job, and the way it is done says a great deal about the leadership style and overall competency of the person in charge.
Depending on the organisation and context, what constitutes bad news can be one of many things. It might be about an impending corporate restructuring with anticipated company-wide layoffs, a move to less convenient office premises, or the non-payment of discretionary bonuses. Whatever the case, one thing can make all the difference in gaining acceptance and maintaining staff morale – the way the message is delivered.
One type of boss is likely to call the team together and open with a phrase like: “It’s not easy for me to have to tell you about the corporate downsizing.” In contrast, another would start by saying something along the lines of: “You will probably want to know how things stand with the possible takeover.”
At first glance, the difference might appear negligible, but even those few introductory words say a lot about the extent to which the two individuals are emotionally aware of others. In a situation which obviously creates major concerns for everyone, the first person is focused primarily on his or her own feelings. The second, while no doubt still having all sorts of personal worries, can see what the occasion demands. That is to show empathy for others by taking full consideration of their perspective, realising what they want to know, and trying to understand exactly how they feel.
Beyond the strict confines of the world of business, people are commended for having empathy and being in tune with the needs of others. Members of the medical profession are expected to be caring; teachers think about the welfare of every single pupil; and social workers are trained to help the less fortunate.
However, as soon as you put someone in a manager’s office, a different set of rules applies. There, a caring attitude and displays of empathy are generally frowned upon. As a result, recent appointees soon learn to conform to the accepted stereotype by becoming increasingly detached and steely-edged, seeing people as “headcount” and, as far as possible, eliminating the “human factor” from any important business decision.
The best leaders, though, have recognised that this is not the way to go. In fact, they realise that showing empathy and getting close to members of their team creates definite advantages and makes it easier to guide the company in good times and bad. They know it is possible to be emotionally aware of others, while still being able to take the tough business decisions. And by creating an environment where people can see their feelings and deeper concerns will not be dismissed out of hand, the result is stronger team spirit and better overall performance.
Interpreting emotions correctly and acting on that understanding can have an immediate positive impact. Consider, for example, a manager who has heard that the daughter of one team member is ill in hospital. It would be easy enough to adopt the “business as usual” approach, demanding that all sales reports are completed by month-end and that an unconvincing client presentation is completely rewritten over the weekend.
Alternatively, the manager could be emotionally aware. That would simply involve acknowledging the circumstances, admitting that the employee will perhaps be feeling worried, angry and scared, and making concessions. If a report is late, the world won’t stop turning, and someone else can always fix up a presentation.
In such a case, taking the second course is not only practical – it will also benefit the business in the long term. Seeing what’s happening, other staff will be happy to help out and a greater sense of teamwork and unity will develop.
Today’s best leaders also see that emotional awareness is important for three other reasons. Firstly, with so many companies now operating on a global basis, it is vital to be sensitive to the differing attitudes, beliefs and feelings of people from diverse backgrounds brought together in a multicultural workplace. For example, in a company with a western-style management, it might be common practice to convene brainstorming meetings at which staff are encouraged to say whatever comes into their head. Transplanting the same approach to an office in Asia may simply lead to puzzled looks and long silences. Therefore, if you are in tune with how people from different cultures feel in certain situations, you will be a far more effective manager.
Secondly, a successful modern business depends on good teamwork. Within each team, though, there are almost sure to be personality clashes, alliances and conflicting priorities. If a leader can discern what people feel about the key issues and about each other, it makes it much easier to circumnavigate problems and achieve the desired goals. By using emotional awareness to find the right direction and the best combinations, both collaboration and productivity will improve.
Thirdly, in any competitive market, companies find it hard to hold on to the best staff. One of the best ways of enhancing retention is to create an environment where staff want to work, If they know they are listened to, appreciated and cared for, they will not be tempted away by promises and the prospect of a few extra dollars.
Of course, there is a degree of skill required in picking up the various emotional cues and responding to them in the right way. In most cases, though, the key is to listen, observe and, importantly, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. With a little bit of imagination, that’s not so hard to do.
What is Empathy?
Empathy is the recognition and understanding of the states of mind, including beliefs and desires, of the people around you. It is a matter of knowing what is important to them and what is not. However, it should also go beyond that to understanding why other people are likely to feel a certain way. In the workplace, showing empathy does not mean the same as giving agreement. It is perfectly feasible to understand how someone feels without being obliged to agree with their point of view. In the same way, nothing stops you from seeing why an advertising campaign is effective, without particularly liking the background music or the celebrity endorser.
Most of us recognise the importance of rapport, even if we cannot precisely define how to build it. In essence, it is a question of reducing the differences between two people at a subconscious level. This can be done by noting similarities, highlighting common goals and identifying shared goals or beliefs. A good level of rapport makes it easier to manage and lead a team. Usually, the best way for managers to start building rapport is by talking about what most interests members of the team, or what they find important. Too many managers only talk to their staff when they need something and are then surprised when, in a crunch, subordinates are not prepared to go the extra mile.
When something happens at work, we are likely to experience one of three different types of emotion. We may feel positive, excited and optimistic; neutral and basically content; or negative, frustrated and annoyed. For any leader, a useful exercise is to ask your team to list the work-related events or activities which cause them to feel positive, neutral and negative emotions. Afterwards, you can arrange a brainstorming session to devise strategies to help maximise the positive events and emotions, and minimise the others. You can progressively implement the best ideas before periodically repeating the exercise.
DO NOT BE surprised if you find a sports coach attending your next annual meeting or sales conference. It has become common for leading companies to invite successful coaches to give motivational speeches on leadership.
If you think about it, the principles of leadership and team building are the same, whether on the sports field or in the boardroom. The vocabulary – competition, winning tactics, team spirit and motivation – is virtually interchangeable.
Coaches and business leaders must have the skills to get the best out of people and resources. To do that, they have to create a shared sense of purpose, a vision that everyone can aspire to and have the values they can believe in.
Think about your organisation. Are the essential elements that help a team win a championship in place? Does everyone act upon these elements effectively? Or, are individuals unaware of what they must do to contribute to the company? Is there a feeling that some departments are isolated, while others lack the tools and training they need?
If everyone in the company is not working towards the same goals, the problem is almost certainly a lack of communication from management. After all, communication is what ensures that intentions, behaviour and action are aligned.
Some companies go to extremes when it comes to communicating. On one hand, they produce endless newsletters, paste bulletins on notice boards, send emails about routine matters to everyone on the internal distribution list, and spend hours on long conference calls. While the intention may be good, the sheer information overload is counterproductive. Employees start ignoring messages and feel their time is being wasted.
On the other hand, there are companies in which leaders run their own version of the “need to know” system. They believe instructions are the best form of communication and think a few off-the-cuff remarks at the staff party or annual dinner are all it takes to guarantee morale for the next 12 months.
Obviously, extremes are not the answer. Here are seven recommended steps to help leaders communicate with maximum effect and ensure the rest of the organisation is in tune with their ideas.
Explain vision and values
Employees need to know where the company stands. They need to know where it is headed and why. They must know what needs to be done to achieve the company’s goals, and which methods to use. The answers to these questions give people a reason to come to work every day – other than their monthly paycheque. Remember that a recitation of data or target figures for new customers, revenue, profit or return on investment is definitely not a vision. Employees want to understand what the future holds for them, what it will mean to work for a market leader and how they can contribute to positive change.
Share the strategy and plans
It is not enough to tell your team where you intend to lead them. They also need to know exactly what you expect of them and how their contribution will fit into the overall plan. Therefore, clearly spell out the strategy, business imperatives and required action. Preferably, do this in face-to-face meetings and, if necessary, send it in writing. Once you have done that, step back and let the team get on with the job.
Develop future leaders
Provide learning opportunities for managers at all levels. They are, after all, the future leaders of the organisation. Most companies are good at training people in the relevant technical skills, but often overlook softer skills such as relationship building, influencing and negotiating. This is a mistake since about 90 percent of a leader’s role is related to communication skills. Arrange courses to teach such skills because they make a significant difference to performance.
Put champions in place
Identify individuals in various departments who can help introduce new ideas and changes. Some people are natural influences, and colleagues look to them for advice and guidance. Recognise this and take the time to involve them in general discussions about the company and the work environment, so they can pass information on to the team and provide you with valuable feedback. Do not do this covertly; instead acknowledge their role and show that you regard it as important.
Anticipate the questions
It is best to deliver an important message face to face. When doing so, consider in advance what questions are likely to come up and be ready to address them. Be prepared with the necessary data to back up your answers if the subject is particularly difficult or controversial.
Start engagement programmes
Initiate a scheme to ensure every employee understands the company’s vision, values and strategies. Make this relevant for each person and use the programme to create a stronger, more united team that pulls together for the greater good. As a leader, your job is to make everyone feel important so that they want to stick with you.
Measure and adjust
If you have resolved to make good communication a priority, then you must also check that the intended message is getting across in the way you want it to. If it is not, there will be no change in the team’s attitude or behaviour. Ask for regular feedback, and put in place a system to assess responses and the speed with which new plans are being implemented. If you meet resistance or find that things are not working out as intended, listen to advice and modify your strategy. Even leaders are fallible.
By following these steps, you will be well on the way to developing a motivated and productive team that will work successfully towards clearly understood common objectives.
If you are unsure where to start, consider volunteering for a stint as a part-time rugby coach or training the firm’s football team. After leading a couple of sessions, you will know what teamwork and communication are all about.
TIPS TO WIN
Most effective leaders are capable of describing, in vivid terms, what the future holds for their teams. However, speaking passionately about the subject is easier than making the team members visualise the future and letting them see where they fit in. So do not expect to inspire people with an announcement that the company’s volume of online orders and product delivery will hit record volumes next year. Instead, say that the company aims to be No 1 in the region; it will invest in three new factories; it is in discussions with bankers about an IPO (initial public offering) and plans to introduce performance-related bonuses this year. Discussing such things is motivational and gives everyone in your team something to work for. Also, do not use jargon that is not appropriate for conveying a vision.
Effective communication has three parts to it; a clear beginning, middle and end. This applies whether you are making a presentation to an audience of one or 1,000. First, make sure the audience is ready to listen and there are no obvious distractions. Then, say what you have to. Finally, once you have covered all the major points, summarise, conclude and answer any questions that come up.
To deliver a message well, follow a logical structure that the audience can understand easily. One such structure is to go from the key message, which is the main idea or the inspirational part of your speech, to the point that explains exactly why it is important. Then, round off with the benefit, which shows how the key message will bring about a positive outcome for those involved. This basic format can be used for the whole speech and for dealing with individuals points. For example, if someone expresses doubt or cynicism about one of your proposals, you could say: “I understand your concern, but if we do things this way, we can serve customers better and consistently exceed their expectations. The point is, we will make it easier for them to do business with our company, which will increase our retention rates and create further opportunities. If we do manage to do this, it will help you achieve your sales targets.”
IF YOU HAD a blank sheet of paper and the task of developing a list of prospective clients, where would you begin?
For most of us, the first step would be to pull out some of the hundreds of name cards collected over the years and select the most likely prospects from among them. If asked to explain why those particular firms were chosen, your answer would probably be that they are big and have potential, have a large budget for professional services, that contact has already been established, or that some business has been done with them in the past.
There is nothing wrong with this approach, but it is not enough to define the best prospects in the market.
Think carefully about whom you want in the prospecting section of your pipeline. And remember that making the wrong choices could have negative results: the prospects may become clients – only to end up not paying their bills, making unreasonable demands, or giving work that turns out to be unprofitable. In a nutshell, they become a problem, and you would be better off without them. Basically, your sales efforts would have been wasted.
All that time, money and input would have been better spent on prospects that could have provided a secure, long-term income.
How, then, should you go about creating a potentially rewarding prospect list?
Ask yourself whether the selected companies are of the right calibre, and whether they are “winnable”. You could weed out potentially “wrong” choices by using a system of triggers and filters.
No senior manager wakes up with a burning desire to appoint a professional services firm. A company’s costs are always controlled, and professional firms are appointed only when there is no other option. This happens only when a company has to get something done but lacks the internal resources or relevant expertise.
Such a situation can arise for several reasons: a merger or acquisition on the horizon; market changes demanding new technology; new legislation or regulations affecting operating procedures; intensified competition; growth outpacing the capacity to handle it, or a key management position waiting to be filled.
These are the kind of triggers that compel an organisation to consider bringing in professional assistance from outside. If a quick decision has to be made, it is likely the incumbent or a previous appointee will be used again. However, if an alternative is available, and time is on the client’s side, most organisations would consider more than one option. This is your opportunity.
Even so, you must be careful. A “trigger-rich” company is not necessarily a great prospect. You must also use filters that show whether a prospect would be easy or hard to approach, and how much better they are than other clients.
There are various filters you can use to assess a client’s “approachability”: whether you know someone in the company; the ease of obtaining an introduction; your understanding of their decision-making process; your ability to match their needs, and whether you have a proven track record in their industry.
When examining the prospect, consider the company’s financial standing, size, image, corporate culture, and the way it uses the type of services you provide.
Using triggers and filters is not a complicated process, and you can train yourself to do it by following certain steps.
Firstly, agree on a total of six to 10 measures you can apply consistently to screen all prospects. Less than six may give an unbalanced view of the client’s value; more than 10 may complicate the process.
Next, devise a scoring system to measure the various criteria. For example, if “company size” is a filter, the prospect may get a zero if it has less than 50 employees; a three if it has between 50 and 150 staff, and a five if it has more than 150. Then decide on a minimum score for a company to qualify as a prospect, and screen all potential clients strictly according to the triggers and filters you have selected.
Finally, review and monitor your criteria and process from time to time to ensure they produce the desired results.
This all sounds like work – and it is. The process involves time and research on your part. You cannot depend on general knowledge or guesswork.
But once everything has been set up properly, you should be able to classify each company under one of three categories: unsuitable as a future client; definitely suitable to become a key client and meriting immediate attention, and those that fall in-between.
Information about the first group should be logged in your database. Changes at some point in the future may turn these names into viable prospects.
You may not have time to focus on the third group now, but keep them in mind and collect information about them with a view to approaching them later.
Your immediate targets can now be moved into the next section of the pipeline – promoting.
It is time to start revving up your marketing activities to make them aware of who you are and what kind of services you provide. The result: your first sales meeting.
By investing time at the very outset, you ensure better future rewards.
TIPS TO WIN
Triggers Without Filters
You could select your prospects based purely on triggers. However, you might then find yourself with a list of companies with work to offer, but little hope of winning the business. The opposite will happen if you use filters without triggers. The prospects will look interesting and approachable on paper, but they may not need what you can offer. Therefore, use a combination when selecting your key prospects.
When waiting before a meeting do not pace the room – it only makes the receptionist uncomfortable. But do not just sit there either. There is a lot to see and observe. Companies use the reception area to showcase their work, so read the certificates on the wall, pick up brochures and learn what they take pride in. Read the company newsletter, scan their press clippings for insight into the organisation. A reception area is full of valuable information. You may even get a chance to glance at the reception log and find out which competitors have been there lately.
How many times have you called a potential client in the hope of arranging a meeting, only to hear those dreaded words – “Not interested”. Instead of moving on to the next prospect, try something different. Tell the person that you would not expect them to be interested without hearing about the benefits their organisation could gain. Explain that a meeting would allow them to view those benefits and then gauge their interest. You may have to adapt your words depending on the situation, but do not expect interest if you have not shown value. Do not give up immediately without asking for a meeting. However, if you are clearly getting nowhere, drop it. Do not risk creating ill will with someone who might one day turn out to have an interest.
Look at Current Clients
When creating your selection criteria, take a look at your existing client base – both your key clients and the problem accounts. Look for common denominators. If most of your key clients share a trigger or filter, make sure you include it in your selection criteria. Also, identify what problem clients have in common and do not make the same mistake twice. Once you have your selection criteria, apply them to your client list. How do these companies score? You may be surprised at the insights you get.
IF YOU ASK any business executive to name a few direct competitors, the chances are they will rattle off at least three or four with no trouble at all. But then ask the same person what differentiates their company from the competition and the answer will usually be far less definite.
In reply, you may get an abbreviated version of a standard sales pitch, or a few improvised thoughts inspired by half-remembered figures or a couple of points repeated from a recent management pep talk. The answer, though, will almost certainly contain a large element of wishful thinking based on “what we like to believe”, and not so many verifiable facts that stand up to further scrutiny.
This happens because while companies perform all kinds of surveys and detailed analysis to understand their customers, they frequently make only perfunctory efforts to find out more about the competition.
What results is a situation where companies operate in a partial vacuum; perceiving potential threats too late and knowing less than their clients do about what the competition is up to.
Whatever the history or however close the relationship, customers will always judge your business by how well you compare to the competition. Their assessment of product, service, value for money and everything else depends not on what you say or what you have done in the past, but on how you shape up right now. To come out ahead, it is essential to keep track of your rivals, while remembering that long-term success is built on attention to detail and the knowledge that nothing ever stands still for long.
To do things properly, you will need to gather, organise, analyse and act on information about direct, indirect and potential competitors. This inevitably entails a considerable amount of work, but there are a number of good reasons for committing to it, namely:
- You will be able to adjust business and marketing strategies more quickly to suit changing circumstances
- It will prove easier to pre-empt actions and initiatives that might otherwise cause you to lose key clients or revenue
- There will be greater scope to learn from the successes and the mistakes of others and, thereby, avoid some unforeseen pitfalls
- It will ensure you maintain an approach to your business that focuses on customer needs and keeps pace with market changes
- You will be able to benchmark your own business and measure progress by monitoring each competitor’s sales activities and advantages
It is also vital to realise that the essence of competitive analysis is not about studying historical data, collecting annual reports or presenting last year’s market shares in colourful pie charts. The real purpose is to sharpen your thinking and develop a mentality that constantly questions long-held assumptions and naturally identifies each competitor’s comparative strengths and weaknesses.
This, of course, underpins the ability to anticipate change, shape strategy, outthink, outwit and survive in the world of business. Initially, one of the best ways to gain insights into your main competitors is by analysing your points of parity, and points of difference.
Points of parity
Broadly speaking, these are elements essential to the business, which most or all of your competitors also have. In other words, they are not unique attributes and not expected to be.
Enterprises within the same general band in any industry will have numerous points of parity, and the range is likely to shift and expand continuously. For example, in the financial services sector Citigroup and HSBC both have a recognised brand, global reach and advanced technology infrastructure. In the automotive industry, Honda and Toyota offer not just cars in the showroom, but also strong after-sales support. And customers of Microsoft, SAP or Oracle automatically assume that what they buy will offer security, reliability and scalability.
While the points of parity offer limited chance to differentiate, they cannot be ignored. On the contrary, they soon come to represent a required standard or a basic minimum, and failing to deliver will crucially undermine the likelihood of success. Thus, any luxury car is now expected to have air conditioning, airbags, leather seats and GPS. Without that – and indeed much more – a manufacturer cannot even claim to be part of that market. Besides features needed just to be in a certain category, companies must also adjust whenever a direct competitor raises the bar.
This has the effect of creating new customer expectations that become the norm. For instance, if a beverage company introduces a new fruit drink that proves to be a hit, others will be more or less obliged to follow suit. Having this “me too” product may not have been part of their grand plan, but it becomes necessary in order to maintain the overall points of parity.
In such cases, it is best to assume the customer’s market instincts are at least as good as yours. It is easy to downplay a competitor’s initiatives, making them out to be of little value or substance, but the customer is the final arbiter and will ultimately determine who comes out ahead.
Clearly, matching the competition in all the usual areas is just a starting point. If a business is to thrive, it must also consciously develop clearly distinct features. Some of these come about, in a sense, without even trying. Boards and management teams approach opportunities in their own way. Availability of funds may influence decisions. And partnerships can dictate which marketing strategies are pursued. All that leads to:
Points of difference
Lasting success in business requires that you stand out sufficiently from the competition and that customers know where you excel. Remember, though, that for every positive difference you claim for yourself, there might be a corresponding negative distinction noticed by clients and exploited by rivals. So, while you are stressing high-quality products, they may be seeing exorbitant prices or patchy follow-up service.
Logically, the way forward is to focus on your positives, while anticipating the possible negatives, thus forestalling typical criticisms and, ideally, making them appear like points of parity.
When deciding on, or reviewing, your company’s key points of difference, it helps to ask yourself a series of questions to test their merit. These might include what the presumed difference means to the customer; whether you can consistently deliver; how it will affect costs and pricing; whether it is truly distinctive; and what may happen to other parts of the business.
If you are unsure about such things, then it is better to pause, think again and find a course that allows you to differentiate your business or product more effectively.
As examples of companies with clear points of difference, consider the reputation for service of Singapore Airlines, the engineering of a BMW, Wal-Mart’s supply chain, and the sheer inventiveness of Apple.
The companies stand out because they can offer something desirable, deliverable, relevant, distinctive and, in most cases, which customers believe is better than the competition. In any industry or product category, there is really no limit on how or where you can establish points of difference. The important thing, though, is to focus on developing and explaining real differences that people will notice and remember. Good marketing can play a part in this – just consider how Starbucks goes to great lengths to highlight the quality of its coffee beans – but customers are astute enough to see what really makes a difference and will choose accordingly.
SOMETHING IS STIRRING in the corporate world as companies finally start to recognise the paradox they have created.
On the one hand, they have invested millions in computer-operated voice response systems, reducing customers and business processes to a series of acronyms and numerical codes. On the other, they wonder why clients complain so loudly about impersonal service and the inability to “just talk to someone”.
In the rush to cut costs or embrace the latest hi-tech solutions, companies repeatedly overlook what specially convened focus groups and customer surveys are telling them: what influences decision making and precisely how people feel.
By removing the human touch from so many day-to-day transactions, businesses may have achieved certain short-term objectives. But they’ve also eliminated the interpersonal or emotional element, forgetting that this is often the determining factor in a decision to act, buy or recommend.
Employees realise that similar forces have been active for some time in the workplace. Every major decision is based on a detailed analysis of spreadsheets, financial printouts, projected returns on investment and complex quantitative models. Emotions are considered a distraction, and the prevailing wisdom says that “gut feelings” have no part to play.
But an emotionally intelligent leader sees the world differently, and is brave enough to take an alternative approach. He or she accepts that emotions are an integral part of any decision-making process and will inform our behaviour at work, whether we like it or not.
Our feelings have an impact on everything, ranging from whether to hire a candidate or award a better than average bonus, to deciding whether to press ahead with a multibillion-dollar corporate acquisition. By accepting this, we can be more effective in many ways – thinking creatively, solving problems and building stronger teams.
There are many reasons why leaders should use their emotions in the decision-making process, but three stand out.
Firstly, people able to explain their own feelings when making choices or decisions are typically seen by others as more authentic, insightful and sincere. These attributes are widely viewed as the mark of a good leader.
Secondly, anyone who takes the feelings and perspectives of others into account can generate greater understanding and “buy-in” from those affected. This applies even when the ultimate decision is likely to create a less than positive impact.
Thirdly, if emotions are not suppressed in the workplace, they provide another valuable source of information. Of course, they never take the place of purely rational considerations, but they can complement all the facts and figures by prompting new ideas or stimulating “out of the box” thinking.
Most of us do not have a conscious thought process reminding us to take full account of emotions when making decisions at work. To develop this skill, you can follow the five steps set out below. They have been shown to help both individuals and teams reach decisions which are understood and accepted.
Logically, the process starts with rational aspects before moving on to the emotional ones. In that way, it ensures that you give fair weight to the relevant sources of information and effectively cover all the bases.
An important preliminary exercise is to think about the expected or desired outcome. If you begin with the end in mind, it is easier to articulate what’s required or the issue to address.
This may involve establishing what benefits will accrue or how the department or company will be better off.
Also, look ahead and consider the foreseeable results of the most likely outcomes. Remember that other people will automatically be thinking of them as well, and that will therefore be influencing their emotions.
Once you have done this, run through the following steps. If you don’t know all the answers, don’t worry about it. Move on to the next thing and come back later if necessary. The process is not linear. Rather, it is a method of balancing rational and emotional elements to arrive at the best possible decision.
Make sure that you understand the technical facts and background data. These may relate to price, timing, quality requirements or service aspects. If there is potential for confusion, separate the different elements on a chart and list the relevant facts and figures for each one.
Next, consider who will be affected by the decision, either immediately or in due course. This could be clients, vendors, colleagues or overseas offices. If necessary, map out the different stakeholders so that you have a visual representation and can understand the various roles and relationships.
When identifying these stakeholders, also consider their perspectives and likely feelings, both perceived and known. This is a matter of applying common sense and a modicum of intuition. Remember that your perceptions may be wrong, and that one thing can be guaranteed – not everyone will see things the same way.
After considering what others are likely to feel, reflect on your emotions concerning the issue in hand. Again, if there are several dimensions and some tough choices involved, list your feelings pertaining to each one.
To arrive at a solution, or decision, weigh up all the information and perspectives so far obtained. Review the facts, technical information and various feelings, then define a workable solution that you believe will be the best fit.
The final step is to communicate any decision in a way that reflects the process. This is particularly important when decisions have a direct impact on people who were not involved along the way.
Taking hearts and minds into account on path to EI
Know your Stakeholders
In any decision, the stakeholders can include everyone from senior management to colleagues, customers, vendors, regulatory authorities and the taxman. The key is to understand as much about these people as possible. This makes it possible to develop a higher degree of awareness and empathy, so that you know what they need and expect, and what they may want to see changed. With these insights, you can anticipate their reactions and understand what is important to them. Knowing about their achievements, present situation and future goals will make it easier to understand their viewpoint on rational things, as well as the more emotional elements. When making a decision, you can then take into account what is in their heart and in their head.
With self-awareness and observation, it becomes easier to interpret your own emotions and other people’s. To improve in this respect, pay attention to the following points. Consider how you currently confirm that stakeholders have committed to a decision you have made. Ask yourself if you are doing enough to convince them. In addition, make it a habit to consider the emotional aspects, not just the basic data, before finalising any decision. Finally, reflect on how you usually acknowledge other people’s feelings in the work environment. It can be a good idea to adopt three additional techniques to show or clearly explain that you have taken account of the different feelings surrounding a particular issue.
Personal Action Plan
Enhancing one’s skills in any area – whether learning a foreign language, mastering a software program or developing better leadership abilities – requires planning. Developing emotional intelligence (EI) is no different. The first step is to set your mind to it. Then, take a good look at the work processes or personal behaviour you may need to change to achieve your new goals. Finally, be ready to keep adapting as you move forward on the path to becoming more emotionally intelligent.
WHAT KEEPS A project leader or the head of a company up at night? There’s no single answer, but chances are the rising expectations of stakeholders will top the list.
The mandate is to do more with less, achieve higher targets, perform better, meet tighter deadlines – and do all that within budget.
There are seemingly endless challenges, but most of them can be overcome by adhering to a few basic principles. Most importantly, the mindset and behaviour of the team must be aligned with the company’s goals, and yet there should be freedom for individual initiative and innovation. To achieve this, the person at the top of the pyramid must be an excellent communicator.
As a leader, you communicate constantly. There are formal messages about the organisation’s vision or strategic direction, and routine motivational talks to improve sales, productivity or customer service.
Unfortunately, leaders sometimes forget that good communication is about delivering the right message at the right time, and in the right manner.
To make sure your communication has an impact, take the time to plan what you are going to say, and how.
When preparing, keep in mind the three Cs: context, clarity and congruence.
Have you ever left a meeting about a new strategy or restructuring, and thought: “That was nice, but where do I fit in?” It happens often and illustrates why a leader’s communication can miss its mark.
The problem is that the communicator is focusing on what management wants and not on what the audience needs. If individuals do not have their questions answered, they have little reason to take goal-oriented action.
As a leader, the first thing you should do is create a context for your message. Start by giving people a reason for listening and make sure they identify with it. Everyone should understand why it is important for them and what they will get out of it.
Once you have engaged their personal interest, move on to the intellectual reason or business rationale for what you have to say. Many leaders make the mistake of starting with the rationale, launching into details about market changes and the need to increase revenue. This will not win over an audience.
Next, go on to the “how” part, detailing the process and action points the team must now implement.
Finally, cover the expected outcome, showing what the future holds and how the team can assess its rate of progress.
By focusing on the “why”, “what”, “how” and outcome, and explaining their relevance, you will establish a personal connection with the audience. Any talk at the water cooler or in the lift will then be about what you said rather than what you did not say.
Leaders should know how to get a message across persuasively. Too often, they assume that calling for a meeting and making a statement is all that is needed. They forget good employees are paid to think, and are not inclined to follow instructions blindly.
Do not fall into the trap of expecting subordinates to respond as robots.
Make sure your comments are compelling – on a rational and emotional level. Talk about results and benefits. Be specific at all times because employees rarely pay attention to generalities.
Also, if you think the audience might overlook certain crucial points, highlight the relevance of such points. That is a part of your job.
Even a leader should be prepared to substantiate an argument. Seniority does not automatically allow you to speak with unquestioned authority, so you need relevant facts and figures to prove any point. You can also use case studies, visual aids, or anecdotal evidence.
Since people tend to be sceptical, especially when faced with impending change, there is no substitute for taking the time to plan thoroughly and present a message which is persuasive and backed by sufficient data.
In business, personal experience often shapes attitudes and opinions far more than a directive from the chief executive. Therefore, it is never enough for you, as a leader, simply to tell people what results you want.
The tone and non-verbal elements of your delivery must be consistent with your message and your body language must fit with the message. If you are talking about a vision for the company, maintain eye contact with your audience. If you are introducing a new cost control policy, make sure your voice has conviction, and give an example of what action you have taken.
How you explain something and what you do often has a greater impact than the words themselves. It is up to you to “walk the talk”. If you do not, colleagues will be quick to pick up clues that you do not really believe in your policies, and then neither will they.
Just consider the many instances of chief executives preaching the importance of customer service, but never bothering to meet any customer in person.
Make sure you create the right impression and remember that your gestures, tone of voice, movements and degree of eye contact say as much as your words do.
To inspire a team to follow your lead, you must also know how to speak the team’s language. That means showing an interest in their concerns and ideas, and making them feel you care.
Use the principles of the three Cs in your approach – each element is critical to achieving business targets.
You may still have sleepless nights, but at least the people around you will clearly understand their objectives and perform better as a team.
TIPS TO WIN
Senior executives have an understandable tendency to use email to communicate some of their most important messages. The reasons are obvious – instant circulation, immediate impact and consistency across recipients. But that may not be enough when you have to communicate something really significant. Before you deliver a crucial message to your team, ask yourself whether the idea is to inform, engage or persuade. Which method is the audience likely to prefer? Email and other electronic tools make it faster to share information. However, if you need to impress your team as a leader, it is best to communicate in person and follow up, if necessary, with something in writing. In a large organisation, where a face-to-face meeting with every employee is not possible, you could consider a webinar as an option. They are easy to arrange, cost-effective and more personal than email messages.
The Credibility Zone
To strike the right note when communicating, every leader has to walk a fine line. At one end of the spectrum, you risk sounding too “macro”, falsely optimistic or too assertive. At the other, you can come across as obsessed with details, worried, or uninspiring. Either perception can lead to unwanted consequences. Just a few ill-chosen words or poorly phrased comments can result in a loss of support and trust – and inaction. The daily challenge for leaders at every level in an organisation is to steer clear of extremes and stay in the “credibility zone”. To do this, you must ask yourself what you want the message to achieve and what you think the audience wants to hear. The answers to these questions will help you communicate more effectively.
Seven Things to Observe
The way subordinates perceive you directly affects their willingness to co-operate or go the extra mile. If they see you as unprofessional, you already face an uphill battle when attempting to exert authority. However, if you come across as competent and knowledgeable, the team is much more likely to work towards the goals you set. These perceptions do not have to be 100 per cent correct, but they certainly count. A leader must be sure to create the right impression and should be aware that people are forming perceptions by observing seven specific things: posture, movement, gestures, facial expressions, vocal delivery, choice of words and attire. It pays to take a moment or two to think about how you want to be perceived. Once you have done that, consider any changes to make in these seven areas to have a more effective style of leadership.
IF YOU’VE EVER had a conversation with someone in your company responsible for sales or business development, you have probably asked them a few of the stock questions. How’s business going? Any recent successes? Are the numbers up?
Chances are the answers you got will all have related to what has already been achieved – work done and invoiced, contracts negotiated and signed, projects confirmed but not yet started. By now, there is probably not much that can change the expected level of revenue. Of course, the entire senior management team will push everyone to “sell more” to the clients involved, but realistically that will have little impact on the bottom line.
This is a classic case of managing by results, otherwise known as “row boat management”. While your business is moving forward, you are looking backwards. Of course results are important, but they are only part of the picture. Unless you have a clear view of the horizon ahead of you, the business will be at risk. If the management is to make informed decisions, they must have an understanding of current results plus a way of assessing future business opportunities.
The best way to do this is by having a pipeline. A pipeline is a system of planning for future business flow generated by accumulated efforts and activities. In other words, it is about monitoring and managing what your company does today, since this will determine future success.
Many people in the world of professional services are notorious for not implementing long-term sales strategies. They concentrate on today’s work and only start thinking about how to find new clients when there is a lull. Therefore, it is worth considering the following statements:
1. There is always a time lag between business development activities and winning new work. It can take months or years to land a new client.
2. Not all business development activities produce results; not all proposals result in new business.
3. Recent results are history and do not guarantee future performance.
4. Business development can be planned, managed and monitored.
These points apply to virtually every business, which is why it is so important to have a pipeline to identify and develop new opportunities. It does not have to be a complex tool. You should have a simple and workable process like that described below. There are four key stages for any pipeline:
Assume that there are many companies in the market that could use your services – and probably an even greater number that cannot or will not at this moment. All of them are currently outside your pipeline. Let’s call them undefined prospects.
The key is not to try to be all things to everyone, but to select carefully the companies which have real potential to become valued clients. This smaller group should be made up of defined prospects which you have consciously chosen to focus on for a variety of reasons.
You want these companies to become clients, but before actively pursuing them you need to do your homework to understand them better.
After completing the prospecting stage, you will have a list of companies to target for marketing. Consider how best to approach them – send a newsletter or invite them to a seminar.
This allows you to target the client with certain activities, but you still may not have the opportunity to sit down with a decision maker and really talk about business or show how you can help.
Accept that things may not go as fast as you want and it will usually take time to secure the first “meaningful” meeting. This is all part of the process of “promoting” yourself and giving prospects a chance to size you up.
Once your marketing activities have started to pay off, you can begin an active dialogue about the prospective client’s business issues and your services.
Now is the time to redouble your efforts and find ways to close the deal. At this stage, you are “projecting” that at some future point you will work together, but should remember that nothing is certain yet.
The prospect is now a client. It may be a major contract or just a chance to get your foot in the door. You must execute every part of the job exceptionally well by delivering an unbeatable level of service. Further opportunities will then follow.
Consider how the pipeline relates to your business. Are you selecting suitable defined prospects from the total market? Do you maintain an effective marketing campaign targeting them and then find opportunities to have face-to-face contacts with key decision makers? Have you been managing the selling process effectively by using well thought out tactics? Do you really “protect” your existing clients and anticipate their ongoing needs?
These are the key steps to moving defined prospects along the pipeline so that they become and remain valued long-term clients. In some instances, the process can be relatively short. However, if it seems to drag on longer than expected, do not give up. A good prospect is worth the work. Also, note that the key word in managing the pipeline process is “activity”. By planning and tracking exactly what you have to do to develop new business, you will be in a far better position to assess opportunities for future business flow.
TIPS TO WIN
If you’re not concerned about the companies in the “prospecting” section of the pipeline, then, by default, you are probably not too concerned about the clients you may eventually have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. This is GIGO – garbage in, garbage out. If you select the “wrong” prospects, they may end up being poor or problem clients. You may have won the business, but it could be a hollow victory. Think carefully about your ideal client base, then carefully identify prospective clients that fit the mould.
Don’t Switch Off
The more clients you secure, the less time there is for sales and marketing. When results hit a peak, business development activities drop considerably. Although this won’t have an immediate impact on your business, it will have in future – the only question is when. You could work harder, recruit extra staff, or reduce your chargeable hours to focus more on sales activities, but it may be too late. This particular trap occurs because you’re only measuring results. The key is to make all business development activities ongoing and to keep reviewing your pipeline.
The Warm Lead
Even when you’ve done everything right and finally have a face-to-face meeting with a key decision maker, sometimes you don’t go further for reasons beyond your control. Maybe the client is satisfied with their current supplier or is in cost control mode. Keep these “warm” leads in the “promoting” stage. Plan extra marketing activities which will keep your name in front of the client and make sure they remain aware of what you can do for them. With hard work and a bit of luck, some of the potential clients in this group will respond to your marketing efforts and call you first when the time is right.
Many firms use newsletters to promote their activities and services to existing and potential clients. Unfortunately, most have the same look and this rarely differentiates the company from the competition. It provides little enticement for clients to study the content. Executives are busy and don’t have the time to read everything they receive. Therefore, if you are sending a newsletter to clients, it is essential to make it different, attractive, relevant and interesting. If it is “a good read”, it will enhance your reputation and standing. If not, you know where it will end up.
WHEN VILFREDO PERETO noted, in 1906, that 20 per cent of Italy’s population owned 80 per cent of the country’s property, he had no way of knowing how widely his observation would apply to the world of economics, and to businesses. Since then, the Pareto Principle, or the 80-20 rule, as it is usually known, has proven sufficiently flexible to turn up in all kinds of business scenarios and has become an accepted part of global management thinking.
Thus, we hear that 20 per cent of a company’s employees produce 80 percent of its results and, with suitable modifications to fit different areas or industries, the list of examples goes on.
However, one of the most important applications of the rule is that 80 per cent of an enterprise’s revenue comes from 20 per cent of its clients. If you accept that – and the consistency of those proportions turn out to be uncanny – then every company should try to understand as much as possible about the top fifth of its customers and listen closely to everything they say. Of course, that does not mean disregarding or undervaluing the rest. But there is no escaping the fact that the leading 20 per cent ultimately determine the success or failure of your product, service, sales and strategies and, therefore, whether your company stands or falls.
To obtain the necessary range of information and opinion, it is not enough simply to track monthly figures or lines on graphs. Instead, successful businesses conduct a complete and continuous analysis of their best customers to understand everything from who they are to what really motivates their choices.
Just consider that even industry giants such as Boeing and Airbus spend millions of dollars learning about the changing needs of airlines and the travelling public. Other big names, such as Pepsi, Nike and Procter & Gamble, conduct endless focus groups to gain new insights into consumer behaviour. And with the latest “big data” analytics, retailers are putting more infrastructure into tracking what their customers do online and in the store, in order to target promotions and recommendations as efficiently as possible.
In essence, though, all these efforts are no different from the owner of the corner shop asking if you like the selection of wines, or whether your newspaper was delivered on time. The principle is just the same: wanting to know more about the customer as a means of offering a better product or service that will increase revenue.
There are thousands of possible ways of analysing key clients, but three of the most important are:
Segmenting the customer base
The first step in the process is to be realistic about which individuals or companies can and will buy. Then dividing these existing clients into clear groups according to their relative rank allows you to focus on those that will give the greatest return. This entails nothing more than deciding who is an A, B or C customer, in line with your own preferred criteria. Decisions about which clients fall into which categories are usually quite straightforward, but should not be based solely on one measure, such as sales revenue generated during the previous 12 months. Although this is a good starting point, other factors to consider include net profitability, strategic value, presumed potential, and ease of service.
Another way to segment the customer base is by considering what “stage of life” the buyer has reached. This method works well for business-to-consumer companies which can define different client groups by age range, spending priorities, shopping habits and brand loyalties. Factors related to stage of life have an effect on purchasing patterns for everything from consumer durables and home entertainment to financial services and travel. The categories used can run from young singles to married with children and “empty nesters”.
A third approach is to focus on consumer preferences and behaviour. Some online retailers are able to segment customers in extremely precise ways, such as how Netflix assigns users into at least 1,300 different categories based on their viewing history. Depending on your business model you likely do not need to be as thorough as Netflix. The main point is that segmenting your customer base simply makes it easier to position a brand or product effectively and to build the loyalty of companies and individuals within that specific segment – especially useful where your top customers are concerned.
Understanding needs and drivers
The next step is to find out all you can about your key customers. John Pierpont Morgan, the American financier, believed that people do things for the real reasons and the right reasons. So, if someone was deciding to buy, the “right” reason might relate to price, timing or quality, all perfectly valid. However, the real reason people buy is often based on emotional factors such as pride, ego, fear, greed or love. That is why companies spend so much time and money on developing brands which, they hope, will create an “emotional connection” for the customer.
For instance, when choosing to stay at a five-star hotel, the rational drivers influencing a guest’s decisions might be location and amenities. The emotional ones, though, could be the feeling of comfort, a sense of luxury, or the prestige and self-esteem that comes from being able to afford it. Any successful business will understand that its own customers also have right and real reasons, and will cater to them accordingly.
Developing a customer contact strategy
When devising a plan of action to achieve business objectives, it pays to have clear strategies for addressing the needs of distinct customer segments. It is also important to balance the interests of shareholders and clients. Otherwise, there is a risk, on the one hand, of pricing yourself out of the market or, on the other, of cutting margins too fine.
One approach in developing a contact strategy is to emphasise deliberately the differences between customers, depending on their level of spending and their value to you.
A good example of this is the airline industry where the more you pay, the better the service.
If you fly first class, there is a wider seat and more of everything, and people soon become minutely conscious of the distinctions that separate one class from another. It goes further, of course, with reward programmes, upgrades, special lounges and other privileges, all designed to create multiple grades of contact and denote relative value.
The direct opposite is to simplify and, basically, to treat all customers the same. The best known example of this strategy is McDonald’s, where you get what everyone else can get, and no one much cares who you are. No express queue, no need to explain exactly how you like your hamburger prepared, no reserved corner table and no fuss or bother.
What this shows is that there are no set rules for running a successful business and building an enormous customer base. Ultimately it is a combination of art and science, but one thing is certain, you should always be supremely aware who your top customers are – in terms of market segments or individuals – and never neglect their requirements.
The needs and preferences will change and indeed can be led in new directions by various marketing initiatives. But whatever happens, the chances are that the top 20 per cent of your customers will continue to generate around 80 per cent of your revenue. And if that is the case, then it may well make sense to spend 80 per cent of your time on that 20 per cent of the client base.
ALLOWING FOR A FEW changes of detail, many executives will no doubt recall a formative experience like this.
Late one Friday afternoon an email arrives from someone high up in the organisation. The tone is uncompromising, and the content comes as a complete surprise. The message states that, by Monday morning, a financial analysis and marketing plan is needed for the possible launch of a new product, which another division has been working on.
As is usual on such occasions, the email is brief, open to interpretation, and includes no useful contact numbers or additional information about the product’s key specifications or likely manufacturing costs.
All plans for the weekend are cancelled, and the next two days are spent locked in the office with a few key members of your team. Though resenting the imposition and the short notice, professionalism prevails, and somehow the job gets done. By Sunday night, the report is ready and, after a final read-through on Monday morning, you send it off to the director concerned.
Then nothing happens, until you receive a short message on Friday morning asking you to “meet in my office at 2 pm”. You turn up armed with a copy of the report and any other data you could lay your hands on, expecting a word of thanks and perhaps a few constructive comments.
Instead, what follows over the next 25 minutes is a “roasting”. Apparently, the report lacked detail, included incorrect assumptions, omitted a roll-out plan for Asia, and miscalculated the costs for product development.
The boss is just getting into the supposed mistakes in your plans for third-party distribution, when you finally decide you have heard enough. At this point, emotions take over. Either you point out, with ill-disguised disdain, how hard your team worked throughout the weekend and what it took to meet the deadline, or you sit there dumbstruck, trying to suppress your anger and telling yourself that, if there are problems, they were all caused by the imprecise instructions and ridiculous deadline set in the original email.
Most people dream of taking the first course, but inevitably end up taking the second. They bottle up all the anger, frustration, discouragement and other emotions, nod their head, and maybe even spend the next weekend “fixing” the report to meet the new requirements. After all, the boss is always right, and having to accept that is just part of the job.
These two types of response represent different ends of the “fight or flight” spectrum. The terms essentially refer to how animals respond when faced with danger, but are applicable to the behaviour of humans battling to survive in the modern workplace.
Almost every day, there will be emotionally charged situations in any organisation. Therefore, it is vital to develop the skills to deal with these, since doing so has a direct impact on perceptions of ability and actual performance.
Remember that people who can communicate effectively about their emotions tend to be seen as genuine and trustworthy. Moreover, being open about your feelings on work-related issues can reduce misunderstanding and confusion. Achieving that leads to greater mutual trust, and is the basis for better understanding and stronger co-operation.
Unfortunately, many factors still stop us from expressing how we truly feel at work. There is the culture of the organisation, fear of what others will think, and the belief that nothing will change, no matter how you feel.
Besides that, most of us have been taught to hide our emotions and suppress the actions which would naturally result. The assumption behind this, of course, is that we hide our emotions well. But that is rarely the case.
The best solution is to learn to be emotionally intelligent. That doesn’t mean wearing your heart on your sleeve, bursting into tears when you lose a client, or running around the office giving high fives when the month-end accounts balance. Rather, the key is to express your emotions to the right person, at the right time, and to the right degree.
Clearly, if you want to express your emotions at work, this does not have to be done verbally. You can use body language – for example, crossing the arms to show disagreement – a facial expression, or recognised gestures, such as tapping your finger to show impatience. The other person may not comment directly on these actions, but they will get the message.
You also need to become adept at recognising your own emotional state and moods. Remember that every encounter with a board member, colleague or customer creates an impression. Therefore, if you want to make the right impression, assess each situation for what it is and try not to let extraneous feelings intrude.
In addition, you should let the people around you express their opinions and emotions. This improves teamwork and helps create a supportive work environment. There is no need to adopt a formal approach. Often, the best occasions for this to happen are casual lunches or after-work drinks, rather than in team meetings or individual appraisals.
As a leader, you should also make sure not to push your staff to one end or other of the “fight or flight” spectrum. A competent boss knows that a Friday afternoon email demanding a lengthy report by Monday morning will stir anger, resentment and much more. Someone with emotional intelligence would see that and take another more effective and considerate approach to achieve the desired result.
Are You Creating the Right Impression in the Workplace?
How others perceive us will affect how willing they are to work with us. If they see our behaviour and actions as unprofessional, they will hold back or look elsewhere for assistance. If, however, they see someone who appears reliable, hard working and sincere, they will assume that person is also competent, knowledgeable and worth listening to.
Perceptions don’t have to be right, but they do matter. When someone is forming an impression, it is usually based on five things: voice, facial expression, body language, dress and vocabulary. Consider these key factors and then ask yourself if you are creating the right impression.
Are They Right?
We’ve all heard about how much our body language tells other people. Leaning forward means we are interested in hearing more, while the degree of eye contact reveals our sincerity or lack of it. For this reason, it is important to be aware of the “messages” you are giving. The way you move gives an impression of your sense of urgency. Gestures can show nervousness or excitement. Your vocal delivery can show authority, while your words reveal your level of knowledge and experience.
Adapting Your Behaviour
Effectively expressing yourself in the workplace is an important skill. However, it involves adapting your behaviour when communicating with different people. In general, there are four types in the world of business – analytical, driver, expressive and amiable. When dealing with an analytical person, expansive gestures, excessive energy and overt expressions of emotion may put them off. So, be sure to maintain your composure. Drivers may appreciate a little confrontation, so it may be appropriate to be more direct and talk with more authority. Expressive people like to see someone who can convey enthusiasm. Amiable types want to avoid confrontation and tend to stop communicating when they feel pushed into a corner. The key is to recognise which kind of person you are dealing with and to adapt your behaviour accordingly.
THERE ARE VARYING notions about what makes a great leader, but everyone agrees there is no one-size-fits-all formula.
Attila the Hun, Napoleon, Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher and Jack Welch are all examples of successful leaders, but as individuals they could hardly be more different.
All strong leaders have their unique style – a distinctive brand of leadership. Whether you are leading a country, company, team or project, it is important to develop a leadership style of your own which people will recognise and respond to.
Your leadership style does not need to be set in stone. In fact, it can and should change over time. You need a high degree of self-awareness and understanding of your surroundings, so that you can implement strategies which maximise your effectiveness as a leader and minimise behaviour that works against you.
Over the years, styles of business leadership have been classified into various categories. Three of the most significant are known as charismatic, transactional and transformational.
Consider the key features of each leadership style of identify the one closest to yours, or the one that you respond to best.
The idea of a charismatic leader dates back to the early 20th century and the writings of Max Weber (1864-1920) in Economy and Society. Since then, different perspectives have been developed, but most share the common belief that a charismatic leader can connect personally with his or her followers and motivate them to action.
A charismatic leader has the ability to articulate a vision that touches an emotional chord with an audience.
Most organisations have goals but it takes a leader with charisma to transform these objectives from something that looks good on paper, or sounds interesting in the boardroom, to a dynamic message that captures the hearts and minds of the workforce.
This vision does not have to be tied to a specific time frame, but it must be attainable, desirable and, most importantly, serve to inspire others.
This leadership style involves taking people on an emotional journey. It depends on achieving strong empathy, which is usually created by listening, discussing things openly, and using examples and anecdotes to bring the business to life.
A charismatic leader with the knack of communicating in this manner will be able to connect with each individual.
A transactional leader is focused on the task at hand and not on outlining a vision as a way of motivating others. Of course, there must still be a strong bond with the team or the followers, but in this instance it is based on a transaction – if you do this, I will make that happen. In effect, a scale exists on which good performance will be rewarded positively and anything not up to the mark will be punished.
Such transactions often need a hands-on approach because only with close involvement can the leader monitor progress, measure output and enforce rules. Initially, that might seem a counterproductive approach, but it does not have to be.
On many occasions in business, transactional leadership is needed to focus the team on the immediate task. When there is a crisis, it is up to the leader to demand action and get the results. This is best done by being in touch with events, asking detailed questions and making on-the-spot decisions.
Project leaders tend to be more transactional in their approach. They manage timelines, negotiate resources and supervise deliverables.
The style was much in evidence during the dotcom era of the early 2000s. Decisions had to be make quickly to stay ahead of competition, though this was often done with limited information.
At the time, however, the business imperative was to move fast. That was the measure of performance and the basis of rewards.
When communicating with the team, a leader with a transactional style tends to take a very logical approach. The focus is generally on the process and the desired outcome.
They still find a way to connect with their audience, but it is on a rational rather than emotional level.
The third major style of leadership probably works best in most situations. Organisations run by leaders who have mastered the relevant techniques tend to achieve consistently higher levels of performance.
In 1993, C.D. Pielstick set out a number of reasons to explain why. Firstly, the transformational leader is able to create a shared vision – not just communicate his or her vision effectively, as the charismatic leader does. In this way, it becomes something owned by the team – not just by the leader.
Secondly, success derives from the ability to build and sustain teams that repeatedly perform to a high standard. By developing an environment in which differences, diversity and individual thinking are accepted, the leader creates a team whose output is greater than the sum of the individual parts.
Finally, leaders in this category tend to walk the talk. Their actions and personality are an example for the values and behaviour of the team.
By setting high standards and matching expectations, they can inspire others to strive for continuous improvement. By showing honesty, integrity, fairness and passion, a transformational leader is also able to create an atmosphere where success is achieved even in times of adversity.
When it comes to branding your leadership style, remember there is no right or wrong. It is more a matter of establishing what works for you, remaining flexible, and recognising there are many shades of grey.
The world’s most famous leaders are often considered transformational, but if you study their lives in greater detail, you will see they have also displayed many charismatic and transactional traits along the way.
As a leader, you should be ready to adopt the style that will work best in a given situation and remind yourself that the overriding objective is to get the results that you and your stakeholders desire.
Start exploring your own leadership style today. Read widely about famous and lesser-known leaders, and observe the people around you.
The way you lead will be a reflection of your personality, the circumstances and the people in your team.
TIPS TO WIN
The basic objective for any business leader is to direct individuals, teams or organisations to behave and perform in a way that supports corporate goals. This is achieved by communicating with team members so that desired outcomes can be influenced through personal interaction. Take a moment to think about some of the key elements. Influencing includes inspiring, challenging and persuading, whether as a coach, manager or mentor. The process involves give and take. It needs to get a clear, preferred, essential and owned outcome. Personal interaction is vital. Without that, the leader has little chance of getting a message across effectively or achieving business objectives. It can be a direct or indirect form of interaction. Whatever form it takes, communication is the number one skill that a leader needs to develop.
The strategic style of leadership is about looking towards the future. Executives who adopt this approach leave the routine management tasks to trusted lieutenants and concentrate on studying the big picture. Their horizon is not two or three years ahead, but perhaps ten or more years down the road. They want to get the right people on board, develop them to their fullest potential and lead them towards new growth opportunities. Leaders who do things in this manner should be flexible. More importantly, they also have to be comfortable with contemplating the unknown. They are not just planning for the future, they are actively creating it.
Leadership is about delivering a message that is aspirational. A core competency for any leader is to inspire and guide the behaviour of other people. When delivering any message in this vein, a number of key elements come into play. The leader should be able to articulate a clear vision about what the organisation can achieve. The company’s purpose and the overarching reason why people should feel enthusiastic about coming to the office every day should be explained. The stated purpose for global consulting firm McKinsey & Company, for example, might be to help leading companies become even more successful. This purpose must then be broken up into short-term objectives that are actionable. If organisations have several strategies to be implemented over the next three to five years, that usually results in a realisation of the long-term vision.
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