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My Leadership Checklist

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The path to leadership is long, steep and bumpy. This leadership checklist has helped me navigate my way through leadership in today’s business environment.

As leaders you have enormous power and responsibility. And you want to make sure you are doing everything you can to set yourselves, your organizations and your teams up for success. You want to make sure that you are not unknowingly creating dysfunction in your organization, or if there is dysfunction that you can recognize it and then do something about it.

In the season finale of my Voice America radio show, Chat With Chicules, I talked about providing a snap shot of the ideas, you have heard throughout my show, over the past few months. Here I frame them to become your Leadership Checklist. I had such great feedback from listeners on my Trust Checklist that I thought I would create one for Leadership. Recognizing that leading is complex, I want to highlight that this is not an exhaustive list. I welcome any suggestions to improve or add to this list, so please feel free to send me some of your ideas. I am sure other readers would love to read them and compare notes, as well.

So here goes…..

I have divided the Leadership Checklist into different areas of leadership:  innovation, style, teams, change, implementation and culture.  In different situations different aspects of leadership are needed.

Leading Innovation:

  1. Ideas are fragile, find your cheerleaders – Ideas need to be nurtured – you need people to say how we can make this work, not why it won’t work. You need to find cheerleaders to help you keep going, and you need to avoid the dream crushers – you know who I mean by those people. I was on a project for 3 years and it was someone in another province that got me to the finish line. Without him I would have given up long ago. The dream crushers can be anyone – keep an eye out!
  2. Consider different structures to unlock potential barriers – You heard this from Morley Katz (on my radio show), when he chatted about organizational behavior and design, and how different structures can determine different behaviours – make sure your structure is an enabler, not a barrier to success.
  3. Do the work and get the data – People think they can take short cuts, or their position/authority will get them there, but nothing speaks louder than facts. I was challenged on a project and people said that our volunteers wouldn’t like the brand campaign – this would mean that we could not deliver on our goal of integrating the campaign into the fundraising which was a big part of the strategy. So instead of just saying ok we did some focus groups, and guess what? The volunteers loved it. Those few interviews made all the difference. Facts are powerful, and quotes too. Hearing from your customer or your volunteers makes a difference – it stops becoming opinion and starts becoming a strategy.
  4. Develop a stakeholder engagement strategy – This is a critical step in bringing innovation to your organization – it is not easy, especially if your culture is risk adverse. And remember, it takes time, so take the time and plan it out – don’t just plan the strategy, plan the stakeholder engagement too. It will make the difference between success and failure. Think about: Who do you need to engage with, and when? Who are the potential barriers and enablers in your organization? What do they need to see to say yes? What is their fear of saying yes and then how do you overcome it – remember 9 out of 10 new products fail – or at least that is what someone said to me once – well how do you make sure that you are 1 of 10 that succeeds?
  5. Understand your culture before you begin – Is your culture risk adverse, is there a fear of failure or the freedom to fail? This will determine how much work you need to do upfront to ready your organization and to be open to innovation. As the leader you can evolve your culture.
  6. Don’t stop until you get to the finish line. Innovation is hard and if you saw the movie Steve Jobs it is clear that it is hard and he was not always successful so get to that finish line… Remember Larry Wiedel’s book titled: “The Serial Winner: 5 Actions to Create Your Cycle of Success”. His 5 Actions were: (1) Don’t Hesitate, Decide (2) Don’t Just Do It, Overdo It (3) Don’t Quit, Adjust, (4) Don’t Just Start, Finish and (5) Don’t Settle, Keep Improving.

Leadership Style:

  1. Lead with the whole brain. Understand your innate leadership style. The first step is to take a leadership assessment to understand your innate strengths as a leader, but don’t stop there. Use it as a tool to create a development plan to support the less developed parts of your brain so you can lead with your whole brain. You maybe unknowingly creating dysfunction in your organization, and understanding your innate strengths and your underdeveloped styles will help you lead with your whole brain.
  2. Create a safe place for ideas to flourish. From the episode on Theory U in my show, and leading profound change in an organization, we need to remember that new ideas cannot flourish if people are working in an environment of fear- if they don’t feel they can speak freely. It is our job as leaders to create a safe place for people to create, and for ideas to flourish. This is the idea of creating an environment or organizational culture with the freedom to fail, instead of the fear of failure.
  3. Remember the Laws of Leadership:
    • Influence versus authority lead through influence versus authority like Princess Diana – she had an incredible impact even without her HRH title. Leading through influence is the key to sustainable leadership.
    • The Law of Navigation: Chart a course, don’t just steer a ship. Don’t stop at the vision help your team see where they need to go and what to do so they can reach their destination. I talk a lot about how a leader’s job is to go beyond the vision and strategy. It is actually their job to make sure there is plan in place and that they have charted the course, so the team can succeed in delivering on the goal.
    • The Law of Buy-in and how people buy-in to the leader first and then the vision.
    • And the Law of intuition – As a leader it is critical to be able to read: the situation, the trends, he resources, the people and yourself – to deliver a strategy and plan for success.
  4. Move from ego system to eco system – Think beyond your own organization or ego system and consider the impact of yours and your organization’s actions on the community, the world and the environment – leaders have the potential and at times the responsibility to positively impact the world in which they are a part.

 Leading Teams:

  1. Remember The Law of Solid Ground and how trust is the foundation of leadership.  Every leader has a certain amount of change in their pocket when they start in a new leadership position. From then on they either build up the change or pay it out. If they make one bad decision after another they keep paying out the change. And when you are out of change you are out as a leader.
  2. Administer the Trust Check List: How well do you…
    • Keep promises and honour commitments?
    • Acknowledge and apologize for your mistakes?
    • Remain loyal to the absent?
    • Share information, both positive and negative, with the people who need it?
    • Involve others in decisions that affect them?
    • Give credit, where credit is due?
    • Communicate consistently, regardless of the situation or the person’s authority or influence?
    • Honour sensitive and confidential information?
  3. Thrive on the 4 Stages of team performance: form, storm, norm and perform and don’t be afraid to storm. You know after doing the show on “Teams” I realized that I had not stormed with some people in my advisory group. I was being nice and not wanting to rock the boat – and thought perhaps I should leave – and then someone on the team who had listened to the show (thank you for listening…) said, “hey Lisa, you haven’t stormed yet.”. She was right. I am in the process of doing that right now – it is so easy to avoid because it is uncomfortable, but once you get through, the rewards are worth it.
  4. Be a corporate athlete, and train your team like one. Remember to take the time to train, perform, celebrate and recover so you don’t burn out – the Celebrate part has not always been easy for me – I think, “well, that’s done on to the next thing.” And then a colleague of mine reminded me that when we celebrated the new fundraising product that we had developed, not only did it help the team get through, but it also helped her to get things done, as other members of the organization wanted to be a part of the success.

Leading Change:

  1. Trust and nurture the people who brought you to the level of success you’ve achieved. Prepare them and include them in the future phase of your growth.
  2. Resolve issues at the top. Success and growth can sometimes hide underlying issues – like differences of opinion within senior management. If you can, make sure these are addressed before bringing significant change to the organization like an IPO, or a merger. Make sure everyone at the top is in agreement on where you want to take the company, and the roles and accountabilities of each leader.
  3. Invest in your capacity to Produce and Manage Growth. Infrastructure and Operating Plans = The capacity to produce. Understand the deficiencies of your infrastructure (systems and processes) and commit to addressing them before the growth hits. Listen to the devil’s advocates and Morpheus-es within your organization. Establish a COO with the authority needed, and have them focus on building the organizations capacity to produce and manage growth.
  4. Strengthen your HR Leadership & Capabilities: Develop a strategy to support your growth plans and establish scalable recruitment, hiring onboarding, and talent management practices. You won’t always be able to promote from within. Having the tools and expertise can go a long way in making the right decisions.
  5. Be prepared to make big changes – There will be challenges along the way and sometimes bigger changes are needed to prepare you for growth.

Leading Culture:

  1. Don’t underestimate the Power of Culture – Culture is not easy to define but do not underestimate its power in organizations. Ravasi and Schultz (2006) wrote that organizational culture is a set of shared assumptions that guide what happens in organizations by defining appropriate behavior for various situations. Think about this impact on your ability as a leader to deliver our visions, strategy or project results.
  2. Define the culture you want for your organization – ask questions like:
    • What 10 words would you use to describe your company? (Exciting? Competitive? Cutting-edge? Creative? Boring? Meeting-focused? Risk-adverse? Fun? Not fun?)
    • Around here, what’s really important? (Getting the job done? Being innovative? Meeting targets and deadlines? Being nice to people? Customer-service surveys? Performance appraisals? Revenue….revenue…revenue?)
    • Around here, who gets promoted? (The teacher’s pet? The rules stickler? The highest achiever? The hardest worker? The best fit for the job? The friend?)
    • Around here, what behaviors get rewarded? (Customer service? The sale? Innovation?)
    • Around here, who fits in and who doesn’t? (trickier to define, but think of really specific cultures)
  3. Find a way to articulate your culture so it can be shared. Write it down or video-tape it. Whatever it takes so it can be shared and understood, and leveraged as a powerful tool for attracting talent.
  4. Assess your culture, and if it is holding you back evolve it. Assess whether the current corporate culture is moving the company forward or holding it back. If it is moving it forward – make sure you are harnessing it, using it as a tool in hiring practices, and on-boarding of new employees. If it is holding the organization back, consider an evolution of your current culture – change is not a 180-degree change – you don’t want to break the back of the organization and go into culture shock. Nothing will decrease profits faster.

If you keep these leadership concepts in mind, you will be way ahead of the curve in unlocking your potential as a leader. Good Luck!