In The Missing Piece of Leadership by Doug Krug, a leader is defined as someone who has a responsibility to produce results through people. As an owner, regardless of the size of your company or market, your main challenge each day is to drive results. Whether it is billing, sales, or company employees, each day you are working within your company to create value. Therefore, the question becomes, are you leading to succeed or managing to fail?
So how do you do it? What can you do to inspire others to see your vision and align themselves with you? Do you find yourself managing fires rather than leading to the next success? Each day brings an opportunity to decide how you will act or react. However, the first thing you must do is realize how you currently react.
I would imagine that your day starts with something like this: you wake up, put on a pot of coffee, and make a list of all the tasks that need to be accomplished. You just paid for a new stack of leads to input into salesforce so that you can begin the mining process for new clients. In a perfect world, this would be a full and productive day. But as you get into the office, you realize your team failed to run payroll correctly. Additionally, several invoices were transposed into QuickBooks. You also have a list of vendors that need to be paid, but your assistant left the envelopes on the desk. Your phones and internet are down, and everyone is looking to you to tell them what to do and how to fix it. You immediately realize that your new leads and prospects will have to take a back seat, which also means that you will lose your planned sales growth. You begin directing traffic and “managing” the process to get the day going forward. Sound familiar?
As a small business owner, you cannot prevent fires. We are all human, and no one is perfect. What we can do is plan, train, and execute. As a leader, you must plan for mistakes and vulnerabilities. You must train and empower your employees to know what you expect of them and how to act accordingly. Finally, as a team, you must execute the plan. By doing so, you stop being the managing “fire” chief and instead become a leader who can grow and help make your business thrive.
There is an old adage, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” What is your plan? In most cases, this plan is more of a manual, a playbook if you will. Depending on the size of your business and the number of employees, this playbook can be as simple as a few daily, weekly, and monthly checklists. For more complex roles within your business, a formal manual with detailed and precise instructions may be needed. The goal of this playbook is to set expectations, and your team will appreciate the direction. People tend to live up to whatever expectations are set for them. Moreover, in addition to guiding the team, preparing this playbook will also help you identify gaps and opportunities where improvements are required as well as identify inefficiencies and waste. While you are writing the playbook, consider these few questions: is there more than one right way? When do I need to be brought into the decision-making process? Is there someone else who knows this better than I do? As you finish creating the playbook, you will have a better understanding of everything that goes on and, even more so, by how often you are managing rather than leading.
Now that you have the playbook, the next step is to teach and train your employees and empower them to run the plays. You must communicate and share the manual. Be open to suggestions and recommendations for improvement as you do so. You will also find that many of your employees already know about potential traps and hurdles that were not addressed in your first presentation. Additionally, it is acceptable not to be one hundred percent perfect the first time. In fact, you will receive more acceptance as you adjust and edit with the input of the team as you present.
The most important action is sharing and training. I also recommend listing the responsibilities of individuals in smaller businesses and the actual role/title in larger and more developed companies. Let your employees know that they are in charge of the tasks assigned to them. Also, make sure that they know you are counting on them and that you are confident in their ability to execute the plan. People tend to live up to the expectations set for them and like to know what these expectations are in advance. If your employees don’t know, then how can they perform for you and for themselves? During the training process, you realize that the more your people feel as though you’ve listened to their input, the better acceptance you receive. More importantly, you’ll discover unsolicited “plays” that can help you win more and manage less.
Once you complete the training, you are now ready to begin executing. You have probably realized by now that training never really stops. Continuous improvement and training are an essential part of a growing and living business. Moreover, you must remember to execute the game plan every day and learn to adjust as the day progresses. But the most crucial component of execution, requiring the most of your focus, is positively reinforcing successes while also handling the misses and fires in a way that becomes a training exercise rather than a fire drill. As a leader, you must be able to reinforce the good behaviors that you see each day. I also recommend that monetary rewards be used infrequently. You will be amazed at how successful a few positive words, or recognition in team meetings, can be regarding building loyalty and shifting morale in the office and in the field. This is not to say that you can’t give spot bonuses or raises, but more money does not necessarily inspire loyalty. Handling the failures and misses is just as important.
Treat each event as a training opportunity as well as an opportunity to update and improve your playbook. Do you have the wrong person doing the wrong task? Is the person unsuitable for the role? Are the instructions wrong? Was it just a mistake? I also recommend allowing the mistakes to be corrected by the person who made them. This will empower self-improvement, and act as another training opportunity. You must, however, be consistent. You cannot play favorites, let mistakes slide, or ignore the issues. Address them in a timely manner and do it with the mindset that you are leading to be, and do, better. Remember, you will get more flies with honey rather than vinegar.
So how does this change the situation we described at the beginning? Well, instead of greeting a team full of panic, your office manager has used her mobile device to call the phone and internet provider, and a technician is already in route. The bookkeeper has called the bank and is working with your banking team to correct the payroll errors before the end of the business day. Does this change the mistakes? No, but what has changed is that your team knows how to put out the fire without your input and you can continue to build your business. Finally, you can lead them to trust themselves and their abilities, so that you are no longer the only one managing to put out fires.
At Cogent Analytics, we never stop looking for ways to improve your business and neither should you. So, check out some of our other posts for helpful business information: