Over the past 20 years of my business career, I have had the chance to lead a wide variety of teams. Ranging from my first experience of leading a small brand team when I was brand manager of Breyers Ice cream at Kraft Foods (thank you Chis, Alan and Marcello for putting up with such a novice boss) to my latest role where I had the privilege of leading a large, highly performing, sales organization at The Coca-Cola Company. Regardless of size or structure, I learned that leadership is an art, and very different from management. I learned that you “manage” projects/timetables/initiatives/ etc but that you “lead” people. While this delineation seems simple, it is also vital! I have often seen leaders attempt to “manage” their teams in the same way they “manage” their projects, usually with very little success.
Through the course of my career, and through a great deal of trial and error, I started experiencing that my “leadership” actions seemed to be centering on three areas of my team’s “beings”. Now I don’t mean anything metaphysical by this, but I do mean that my actions seemed to be focused on three areas or “impact points” of my teams.
- their minds
- their hearts
- their hands and feet.
what follows is a review of this idea that I wrote a few years ago and recently edited. Take a look and let me know what you think!
Three Impact Points of Leadership
A team that is engaged, motivated, and well led is a potent business force. It must be remembered that a highly performing team is not an end in itself, but rather, a means to an end: superior business results. While I feel that this is self-evident, it is a point that should be reinforced. It is the business that often brings teams together. It is the business that needs, even calls us, to perform at ever-higher levels. Thus, the results of the business are a critical report card. With that said, it is my experience that only through teams that are in-synch, and working well, that superior business results can be not only achieved, but also sustained. The role of the leader is a vital part of a highly performing team. Unfortunately, it’s also often its weakest link. In my experience of leading teams over the past twenty years, a three-pronged foundational concept has emerged.
A leader must at all times:
Educating the Mind
First things first. A team must know what they’re supposed to accomplish. What does winning look like? What are the key priorities? This is primarily an intellectual exercise, the domain where the left brain does its real work. In the business context, this is may be captured in an annual business plan that needs to be successfully executed. It is critical in this step for everyone on the team to have a clear idea of the overall objective/issue/opportunity and a clear idea of how they fit in. Where do they, as individuals, as a team, and as a department, fit into the overall picture? Clarifying an individual’s responsibilities and accountabilities and clearly connecting them to the larger objective is a critical first step of leadership.
Inspiring the Heart
Once the team has some idea of “what” to do, the next required step is to determine “why.” Why is this important? Why is this important to me? Why is it important for me to play a role? Why should I go the extra mile? In my experience, this is the secret ingredient that differentiates great teams from merely productive work groups. When a team’s heart is “in” their work, they care not only for the project, not only for the business results, but more importantly, for each other. This is when amazing results or seemingly unachievable feats can be accomplished. This is the work of the right brain: the less intellectual side, the more emotional side of all of us.
Directing the Hands and Feet
Now that the mind and heart are engaged, the final required step is to ensure that the team is focused in the right direction. With the “what” and the “why” established, the last thing a team must know is the “how.” Inspiration, after all, still requires direction. When things get stressful, there can be a tendency to overly focus on this last “impact point”. Out of balance with the other two priorities, active direction can devolve into reactive “barking out orders”.” When a team understands what they have to do, as well as why their work is important, directing the “hands and feet” becomes more about leading people than about managing initiatives and activities.
These three leadership priorities are at the center of what I believe with regards to leading great teams. It is very important to note that a leader needs to be doing all three, all the time.
At times, based on the circumstances of the business and/or the circumstances of the team, one focus point will need to be emphasized over the others. A team may already have a clear idea of “what” to accomplish or “how” to get it done, but may have lost the sense of “why” it is important to the team or the business. Or a team might be highly motivated to “take the hill,” but have no clear idea of which “hill” to take. In this way, a leader must be nimble, always moving from one leadership “impact point” to another, always trying to sense where the business and the team are moving and what will be needed next.
To me, this is the challenging part of the art of leadership. In fact, I’m never sure I have it right. So I just keep trying. My hope is that you keep these three leadership “Impact Points” in mind and try to bring them to life as you work with your teams.