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What Do Leaders and Gerbils Have In Common?

Hamster Still Sits In A Cage

I was recently asked, “What should leaders think about?” Yikes.

If I had been asked that question years ago, I likely would have answered: negotiating, hiring, firing, motivating, influencing, planning, leading, managing (yes, leaders also manage), strategizing, inspiring, measuring, tracking, delivering, correcting, communicating, presenting, developing, improving, helping, modeling, driving, prioritizing, aligning, supporting…


…performance, customers, stakeholders, employees, financials, ethics, values, culture, engagement, processes, tools…

…to name just a few!

A Little Back Story…

I was going through a tough time when I felt so overwhelmed trying to keep on top of everything I thought I was supposed to be thinking and doing as a leader, or even remembering it all for that matter. I was a brand new director of a large organization, and we were facing some mighty big initiatives and challenges (the hair-raising, make-or-break kind of challenges!).

Every minute, there seemed to be an important decision, a brand new scenario to handle, a process breakdown, or someone with a problem to solve. At that time, I think I would have struggled to come up with ONE single answer to the question, “What DON’T leaders think about?”

As I look back at that time, it was not so much a problem of what I should be thinking and doing, but WHEN I should be thinking and doing all of this. There were only so many hours in a day and there was no way to do everything at one time.

We can feel like we are running on the giant gerbil wheel of work: running and running and running, but not moving ahead. Ever feel that way? I sure did!

In my exhaustion, I started to wonder: Was there a simple, systematic way of thinking about this leadership thing? Was there an organizing, over-arching concept that could drive it all?

After a lot of reading, asking, thinking, and trial and error, I got my forehead-smacking breakthrough. The skies opened up and angels sang! Ah-ah-aaaah!

Everything we do and everything we should think about as leaders must support one overarching driver: TRANSFORMING A COMPELLING VISION INTO GREAT RESULTS.

That’s it in a nutshell. And it only takes 3 things to do that:

1. Create and communicate a clear and compelling Vision

I know you have seen the less effective leader who handles every decision as a one-off, often influenced by those who talked last or who shouted the loudest in a meeting. And as you know, the longer that approach goes on, the worse things get as employees get more and more frustrated by the lack of consistency or predictability in the answers they receive.

Confidence in the leader dwindles and morale tanks.

Compare that to great leaders who always seem (almost magically) to quickly and effectively make great decisions for their organizations that not only make good sense, but are consistent with the direction they want their organizations to go.

Do those great leaders have more information? Maybe, but not necessarily. What they do have is a deep understanding of the purpose of their organization, what they stand for, and the big needle-moving things they need to accomplish.

They have a crystal clear Vision.

2. Develop a solid Game Plan to make the Vision a reality

Back to our poor leader. You know him. He’s the guy whose organization is always too busy to do anything for anybody, but never seems to get anywhere. His people are involved in umpteen different projects that never get fully implemented and which certainly do not move the organization forward.

His people are burned out by constant, random changes in priorities, and they feel pummeled by the endless tide of initiatives du jour.

Great leaders are known for successfully implementing high impact initiatives that make a noticeable, positive difference in their organizations and their companies.

People in their organizations are set up to succeed by considering approaches, processes, tools, and resources that will be needed to fully implement their projects and by proactively planning around limitations. They confidently know their next steps and are aligned across the organization.

Since they are not constantly being caught off guard, they are actually more agile and able to deliberately course correct to meet the changing needs of customers.

These leaders have a solid Game Plan.

3. Mobilize the right people the right way to successfully execute and deliver great results

One last look at our weak leader — gosh, this poor guy seriously needs leadership training!

This leader’s people are busy, but are often under the wrong assumption that they are doing a great job when in fact they are not. This is the result of many execution failures, most notably poor expectation setting by the leader, lack of adequate performance measures, no feedback, impossible processes, and mismatches of people and roles.

Great leaders have all of the above covered. They hire right and develop their people. They create an environment of execution excellence by setting expectations and having robust and relevant metrics. They recognize and reward appropriately and provide useful feedback on a regular basis. These leaders communicate clearly and often, and they don’t shy away from honest performance management discussions.

They have a results-oriented mindset and drive for execution excellence.

(btw, “mobilizing the right people” also includes influencing peers and management as needed)

So, what should leaders think about??

Our success as leaders depends on our ability to effectively drive a compelling vision through execution and deliver great results.

The good news is that leaders don’t have to think and act on everything real-time, all the time.

What we need to do is to prioritize our attention and actions using two questions:

• What’s hindering our ability right now to transform our compelling vision into great results? Go solve that.
• What should we do now that will make the transformation of our vision into great results happen faster, more easily, and more effectively in the future? Go do that.

Take the time to stop and ask yourself these questions periodically throughout your day. If you find yourself ruminating and doing activities that do not support the transformation of your compelling vision into great results, you might want to double check if you are prioritizing your precious time the best way.

So, what IS getting in your way right now to getting the great results of your compelling vision? What SHOULD you be thinking about?

Send me your answer…I’d really love to hear from you!

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