Leading the way

Carry your business through the economic downturn by exercising your leadership skills, advises Leslie Kossoff.

When you're starting up an organisation or moving up the corporate ladder - no matter the size of the enterprise - the only thing on your mind is making the next move work. It's a focused approach. You know what needs to be done and you do it.

The only "strategy" is getting to where you're going. It's all movement and it's all in the direction you want to go.

In good economic times that is even more the case. There's so much going on and it all seems to be great. Lots of money coming in. Lots of opportunities to pursue. The corporate strategy is working. So is your own. There's too much to do - but all on the upside. Who's complaining?

Then there comes the day when things aren't going so well. When the money stops rolling in and the opportunities seem to be drying up. You look at what you've done - and you are rightfully proud - but you look at what's on the horizon and you wonder what's next - or, in these times, whether there is going to be a next.

Allow me to put some of those worries to rest. There is a next. Moreover, you are the one who will determine what it looks like for you and for those around you.

It's time to step up to being a leader.

The leadership choice

If you look at the research, you'll learn that leaders are tall, well-built and charismatic. And the majority are male. At least that's what the researchers find when they ask.

Male or female. Tall or short. Charismatic or boring. It doesn't matter. The question is whether you want to be a leader. Because leadership is a choice. It is the willingness to look above and beyond what currently exists while still living and working within the current confines.

It is the ability and desire to see the forest and trees simultaneously. And even while you're looking at old and new growth, figuring out how far you can expand the forest beyond its current geography - as well as what new species of plants you'll both want and need to create the most beautiful forest possible.

It's knowing that there is something more and being willing not just to look for it but to take the appropriate actions - sometimes counterintuitive, sometimes frightening - to lead your enterprise where it can go.

And the leader is you. Were you not, you'd not be in the position you're in - no matter what the job title you hold in your enterprise. After all, that's only the now. Leadership is all about the what's next.

Management versus leadership

There is a very real difference between management and leadership. Both are important. In fact, both are requisite for the success of the enterprise. But they are mutually exclusive.

Management, of necessity, is inward looking, tactical and real-time. It oversees exactly what is going on now in the context of the stated direction of the enterprise. Management delivers what has been asked. And, if those requests change, management delivers that too.

Management requires a more intimate understanding of the people who are doing the delivering. It is a willingness to be interested enough to determine what the various talents are of the people in the reporting structure. It is the creativity to move those people around so that their talents are best displayed - both for their own satisfaction and the greater gain of the enterprise.

Management is measurement. The old adage "What you measure, you manage" is absolutely correct. However, there are two reasons for its acceptance as conventional wisdom.

The first is that the measures that are put into place - whether new or historically designed and designated - are the guideposts for the success of that part of the enterprise. They are the goal to which the managed function is working. They represent achievement - or the lack thereof.

The second, and frequently of greater interest to the manager, is that the measures are the ones on which rewards are based. Management By Objective and its associated annual rewards system has not been replaced - no matter whether there are any other management development tools in play, from 360 degs feedback to the balanced scorecard. Managers are still rewarded for performance against a set of predetermined measurable goals. Financially, personally, for them, that's the win.

Leadership wins in other ways - because leaders create the environment and opportunity for everyone else within and outside the enterprise to succeed. Yes, leadership creates wins for outsiders too. Because when you've designed your organisation to be what it needs to be in a larger context - whether business to business or business to consumer - you are creating a win for your end user, who may never know your company's name. Nor does it matter.

Let's take ornamentals. You grow them - beautifully. You look at the marketplace to determine what the trends are, from colours to species. You time the seasons or work around them through the use of technology. You work with your retail customers - whether directly or through a distributor - to ensure that they have what they need when they need it in the form best suited to their planterias. No matter how many different retailers and planterias need to be serviced, you've got them covered. Moreover, your pricing is such that the retailers have beautiful product, well displayed, at a price point on which they can make a satisfactory margin.

That's level one. Level two is the retail customer - your average person who comes into the garden centre because it's a chance to go somewhere pretty that distracts them during these bad times and presents a break from their problems. They may think they won't buy, but at least they can look.

And then they see your product. Beautifully displayed. Priced within reason. It makes them smile and think, just for the moment, that maybe everything isn't quite as bad. They buy it and bring it home - and every time they look at it, they smile again.

You may have never met these people. But you created the organisation that was designed to ensure that exactly the right products at the right time came their way.

The only way that happens is if you have been willing to look outward to see the opportunities and possibilities on the horizon and then to take risks. Measured risks, granted, but risks, nonetheless.

Leadership operates in longer-term horizons. Leadership means seeing competitive opportunities next year, the year thereafter - and 10 years beyond that.

It is creating something far beyond you and this moment. It builds a legacy for the enterprise that far outlives your tenure. It does more than create current success. Leadership breeds future success - because great leaders pave the way for future leaders.

Moving from management to leadership

Stop right now and take a look at what you're doing. Assess how you're spending your time. Then think about whether you're operating as a leader or a senior level manager.

If it is the latter, it's time to take a different look at your organisation as well as at how you work. And that's the first step to moving from management to leadership.

It's easy within organisations - as soon as there is more than one person involved - to want to be continually aware of (and usually involved in) every decision that is being made. You believe you need to be in on everything that is done at every point. Management by Walking Around - that wonderful concept first introduced in the 1980s and 1990s - isn't just a way of seeing what's happening, even though that's what you convince yourself is the case. It's a means of making sure that everything is being done exactly the way you would do it if you were managing the area you happen to be visiting at that moment.

Keep walking around. Keep looking. But look outward and elsewhere too. If you've done a good job of selecting, developing and promoting your people, you can leave the day-to-day management safely in their hands. In fact, you must. Because if you keep sticking your nose into their business, not only is it a waste of your time but it disempowers them. That means that whatever leadership they would display is being systematically snuffed out - by you.

Instead, let their numbers speak for them. You've got the measurement systems in place - or you should have - to ensure that you know how everything is going. Even better, if you've got a Lean initiative up and running, you've got exquisite, real-time measures that you can check to your heart's content - and still leave the management oversight to those who are being paid to take those actions.

If decisions are being delegated upward, re-delegate them downward. Don't allow your management team to abdicate responsibility by making the decision your job. They're being paid to make decisions. You're being paid to ensure that they are the right talents, have the right information and know the right direction in which to make the best decisions. Tell them that it's their job and that you trust them to do it. Beautifully and successfully.

Get out of your own way. Stop thinking that you have to be in on everything. You really don't. No matter the size of your enterprise - from family business to multinational - business is not personal. It is a series of interconnected, integrated, collaborative systems - both within and outside the enterprise - that are designed to produce something that someone wants or needs.

What makes the difference from business to business is the people within the systems who bring their competence and creativity to the opportunities that their leaders identify and move toward. But it requires that leadership, first and foremost.

If you are spending too much of your time looking inward, you're missing the opportunities that are presenting themselves outside now. Yes, now.

There is no better time to take in the information that is being presented by all the talking heads - in business, government, economics and more - to see what the opportunities are on the horizon.

Mistakes that were made by others - because of growth in the wrong direction or growth occurring too fast during the upturn - are all on view to see and to learn from. Holes have been created in what is on offer that still need to be filled. New vistas are being created for existing and emerging organisations.

You have a choice. And the timeline for making that choice is not a long one - it's right now. If you're not being a leader now, start. If you have been a leader, continue.

In either case, grow yourself just as you would grow your organisation. Trust yourself to know your strengths and weaknesses - and to build positively on both. Surround yourself with good information and great minds. Know that you are doing something more. Something important that makes a difference to those you know and to those you'll never meet in person. Take risks. Be brave. Be a leader.

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