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Sunday, March 28, 2010

What Leader-Coaches Do To Help Their Teams Win

Watching the recent Six Nations rugby championship makes you think about what coaches do to help their teams win. If your coach is any good, he or she does all of the things listed below:

  • Makes sure you know the rules of play
  • Gets you in shape
  • Drills you on plays
  • Plays to your strengths
  • Defines your role
  • Challenges you to improve
  • Boosts your confidence
  • Builds team camaraderie
  • Helps you win during the game
  • Thinks long-term about the team’s needs
A leader-coach also does all of these things. Consider for a moment: drilling you on plays and helping you win during the game.

When your actions affect hundreds of people, you need to be drilled in advance so you’re prepared to do the right thing: how to communicate, who needs to be in the loop, what pitfalls to avoid, how to detect early signs of trouble. A leader-coach will take his or her team through simulations and exercises designed to get you prepared. At HSBC Bank, for example, managers are drilled on how to handle cross-border disputes. At Sprint, IT managers are drilled on crisis management. It’s easy to see how this investment can pay off. At Sprint, dozens of network problems are headed off each day because their teams are prepared.

Leader-coaches also help you win while you’re playing the game. They provide real-time feedback as you’re handling an issue, offering support and giving useful insights. Their doors are open, they keep their heads, they offer perspective. 


Have the Courage to Follow Your Heart and Intuition

“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” Steve Jobs, Founder Apple  


Leaders Need to Focus on More than the Bottom Line

We hear the economy is on the right track. The dark clouds are lifting. Leadership is praised. But really, wasn’t it leadership – or lack of it – that landed us in this mess?

When banks were handing out mortgages for a smile and a signature, then bundling exotic instruments with unknown global impact, where were senior leaders to put a stop to it?

When accelerators started sticking worse than gum on a shoe, where were Toyota leaders to stomp the brakes?

Recent research on key leadership questions, including: what constitutes effective leadership in the 21st century? how has leadership changed to keep pace? what are today’s leadership best practices? leads to some interesting conclusions:

Our study found that leaders have focused on financials, both before and now during the recession – with a kind of tunnel vision on the bottom-line. Asked about their top challenges, U.S. leaders selected “cost pressures,” followed by “growing the business,” and “driving sales.” Beyond that finding, three of five U.S. leaders in the study (60.8 percent) rated bottom-line business results as more important than any other leadership concern.

This focus on financials begets lopsided leadership prone to errors in judgment and action. Take another area of leadership action: diversity. Before the recession, encouraging diversity was all the rage. But last year, when U.S. leaders were asked to rate practices in six critical “zones of leadership,” more than half (51.8 percent) ranked diversity the least important zone (with similar results in three of the four global regions surveyed).

The many possible reasons for this result include perceptions that diversity is “political correctness” (rather than a critical way to leverage human potential), that “people at bottom are the same” (blinding leaders to the unique gifts of diversity), and that diversity, while important, is low-priority in a down economy.

Exacerbating these misperceptions is a global reluctance to reflect – defined as the leader’s skill and will to step back and ask, “What role could I be playing in the problems I’m facing?”

The poor ratings for diversity also likely reflect the fact that it’s harder to manage diverse people, that some countries surveyed (e.g. China) have very little diversity, and (let’s face it) that ethnocentrism still lives.

Whatever its causes, this result reveals a pernicious blind spot among today’s leaders about the meaning and, yes, the bottom-line value of diversity. For companies with global operations, the research does predict that renewed focus on diversity may happen sooner rather than later: these businesses identified their most pressing challenges in the broad area of diversity, notably in “creating virtual workplace structures” and “succeeding with mergers and acquisitions.”

To survive our economic maelstrom, however, leaders would do well to leverage the unique contributions of diverse people, driving innovation and honing a competitive edge in a shrinking global workspace.

Looking forward, the research revealed that long-term success will take a new leadership mindset. While business is one undeniable focus for most leaders, success in the 21st century requires leaders who can assess their own strengths and liabilities in several “leadership zones,” adjust current strategies, and adopt new strategies. Only then will they be ready for the unknown challenges and opportunities to come.