Being a truly effective leader means being in the know about everything that is going on in and around your company. But being in the know about “everything” is impossible and would probably cause your head to explode. Yet, every day there are forces at work that could impede growth, hinder productivity, drain cash flow, degrade your brand or cause you to miss a major opportunity. By forces, I’m referring to the people side of your company where decisions are made and where thinking and behavior deviates from the company’s vision and core values. This is where personal or collective compromise can throw a wrench in what should be your well-oiled machine.
In business, believing in the old adage, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you,” is like avoiding reality by sticking your head in the sand. If you’re having cash-flow problems and you’re not paying attention to – or can’t read – your financial reports, and you don’t have a cash-flow plan/budget … then you don’t know what you need to know. If you’re having productivity issues and pushback on much needed changes, but do little to change your “I don’t like structure” leadership style … then what you don’t know – you need to know. If you’ve ever discovered a major problem and uttered the words, “How was this happening right under my nose?” … then you don’t know what you need to know. Got it?
Since it’s impossible for any leader to know and do everything, here are some no-compromise strategies to keep you in the know more effectively than ever before:
- “Myopia” isn’t a Greek island: In business, the term myopia refers to that very narrow field of sight we fondly call “tunnel vision”. A leader may see what’s directly in front of him, but be oblivious to hazards and threats coming at him from the sides or behind. So often, what leaders need to know is readily available, but they’re “too busy” or preoccupied to really see or even be aware of it. Even with the best intentions, some leaders shut themselves off from what they don’t want or care to know – or believe that others are paying attention for them. Strategy: Schedule time to come up for air so you can pay attention to and check in on what’s going on in your company. All it takes is asking a few questions and setting aside the time to really listen to the answers. The intent is not to catch people doing something wrong – it’s to ensure that they’re doing their jobs right … and to coach them where needed. Avoiding myopia is the best strategy to avoid problems before they occur.
- Upgrade U: You can stick to the business and leadership skills you have and are comfortable with, but it is unlikely that your current skill set will keep pace with the growing complexity of your company. The problem is that a leader’s pre-ordained obsolescence creeps up almost unnoticeably until time and circumstance takes the leader to task. Yes, you have unique skills and talents that got you to this point … but that’s no guarantee that those skills can or will take you any further. Strategy: Make a plan to upgrade your skill set at least once a year. Challenge yourself to get better. And guess what? It will actually feel good and broaden your leadership horizons.
- OK, stop avoiding it: We each have natural skills and interests that we build our careers on. But when leading a business, there are skills you need to know that are beyond your interests, abilities, and comfort zone. Nevertheless, there are specific skills that your leadership position requires you to learn and know – but not necessarily master. For example, the need to know and understand your financials and practice financial disciplines is a non-negotiable for all leaders. You can delegate the bookkeeping and accounting – but you cannot delegate the knowledge of what your financials are telling you. You may have a low tolerance for confrontation, but knowing how to navigate tough conversations that must take place is non-negotiable. Strategy: I bet you have a couple of non-negotiable skills that you’ve been avoiding like the plague. Well, it’s time to make peace with these imaginary monsters because in this case, you know exactly what you don’t know and it’s time to do something about it.
- Every company has ick: It’s that festering, toxic stuff that lurks in dark places with names like “resistance”, “resentment”, “attitude problems”, “egos”, “entitlement”, “laziness” and “indifference”, to name a few. No one aspires to be a leader because they want to deal with ick … but it’s part of the job. What’s interesting and remarkably clear is that as ick accumulates over time, it does so right under the very noses of the leaders that build the company structures, layers and levels that feed the ick. Ick feeds on stagnation, lack of information flow, lack of opportunity – and lack of appreciation. The point here is that what you need to know is all around you. Strategy: The best way to know and prevent ick is by involving all employees in the process of business growth. Contrary to popular belief, people want to be a part of something that’s worthy of their effort. People want to contribute. That’s why I believe in open companies with open leadership and cultures. That’s why I believe in transparency and open-book management. What you need to know resides in the hearts and minds of those you lead. Tap into the knowledge of your people and you will know more than you could ever imagine.
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