Leadership by Design

by Stew Bolno


As an owner, principal, or executive of a business you recognize that you have authority over those who work with you. You may refer to yourself by your title, but you have a more important job; that of a leader. Leader -- this conjures up visions of power, charisma, and great people. Most of us don't really connect these images with our own businesses and, in some respects, this is correct. However, before you dismiss the comparison, it is important to recognize certain fundamental principles of leadership and how you can apply them to your role as a leader.

The defining proof of leadership is the ability to obtain followers. It really is that simple - and that difficult. Since most individuals do not follow people easily or blindly, it pays to understand and apply two business concepts and three fundamentals of effective leaders within the small or medium size business environment.

Most courses or articles about leadership speak about the importance of a vision and a mission. Do you have a clear understanding of these terms?

Vision Statement - How the organization wishes to be viewed as a result of its accomplishments.

Mission Statement - Clear statements defining what the organization needs to achieve and how it will be measured.

A Vision Statement defines the reputation you wish your organization to have; how you want to differentiate your company in the marketplace. After all, if you can't make doing business with you distinctive, you fail to give your customers a compelling reason to buy from you. Also, when you identify and transmit a clear vision, your employees will be able to move in a consistent direction towards that vision. This will result in better decisions because, whenever your employees are confronted with a variety of alternatives and a difficult choice, they merely have to ask themselves "which of the options is more in line with the vision of the organization?" Try this simple test: Ask your employees what the vision of the organization is. If there is no consistency in their responses, you can understand why the teamwork in your company is less than you desire.

The Mission Statement is more specific. It tells your employees what success looks like and describes the concrete ways in which success will be evaluated. Quantitative ways of determining success provide truth in results. Measurement areas may be revenues, sales growth, profit margin increases, and retention rates of customers, among others.

There are also three fundamentals that must be mastered in order to be an effective leader.

1) Communicate the vision to others.
This is accomplished by comparing existing viewpoints of the vision and the vision as you see it. Where there is a gap, encourage the other person to offer a reason for the gap and suggestions as to how the gap can be closed. By asking others for suggestions, you increase their willingness and motivation to become engaged in making things better.

2) Learn and master the art of effective questioning.
Too often, owners and managers direct individuals by doing all the talking. Effective leaders are skillful listeners, too. They ask the types of questions that challenge others to offer their solutions to problems. Those closest to the situation are often able to identify the reasons for breakdowns and ways to avoid them. No leader has ever been criticized for "listening too much."

3) Be willing to praise early and often.
Dr. Ken Blanchard, who wrote The One-Minute Manager, said it best when he coined the cliche, "Catch someone doing something right." The optimal leaders are those who are always on the lookout for appreciating the good work done by others. They recognize that the best type of complimentary feedback is sincere and specific. This approach has power, because the person on the receiving end is already aware of the things that he or she is performing effectively. It also lets employees know their efforts are not being taken for granted. By creating appreciation and goodwill, any improvements you suggest will be received with less defensiveness.

All leaders should recognize that they have a powerful impact on those with whom they work. When you apply the essential elements of vision statements, mission statements, communication, questioning, and providing feedback, you dramatically increase the chances that you will receive better performance from your employees. Do you really want better followers? Then try being a more effective leader!