The difference between leaders and managers is not as large as one might think, leaders, focus on the vision and managers on the execution. To be a successful leader you have to be involved in the execution as well. Execution is where the rubber meets the road and the vision comes to life.
“The Work of Leaders” by Straw, Scullard, Kukkonen, and Davis provides a wide-ranging education on driving execution in your organization, which I have found to be quite insightful in my work with leaders in diverse industries. The primary facets of successful execution involve you, as a leader, driving and/or creating a culture supporting three best-practice drivers: Momentum, Structure, and Feedback. As leaders, championing this culture by being an advocate, lobbyist, defender, and proponent will create a sense of belonging and a shared vision in your organization, which will help drive execution even in the difficult moments.
Momentum is the forward inertia of the organization that is needed to overcome natural resistance as an organization moves towards a specific vision. Momentum is generated by leaders who are driven and willing to initiate actions to bring the vision to life.
Not all leaders are naturally driven or willing to initiate action. The good news is that if a leader recognizes when he/she needs to be more driven and/or initiate action, he/she can invest more energy to perform consistent with these best practices.
This week our family is celebrating our youngest son’s graduation from high school by spending time at the Hunewill Guest Ranch. Earlier in the week, we were on horseback helping to move cattle from one field to another. It was interesting to watch as the riders started to ride toward the cattle. The cattle weren’t sure what to do. Some moved in circles, some ran one way and then another, and some did nothing. It wasn’t until a few cattle started moving in the right direction that the others began to follow. You could see the momentum of the herd slowly pick up the pace and follow the leaders.
Remember: Leaders set the tone. You can build momentum by being an example of how to move projects forward with quick decisions and by increasing the frequency of project meetings when there are multiple steps. Encouraging team members to initiate action also creates momentum. Many people are paralyzed by inaction because they don’t want to fail or look foolish.
The structure is made up of planning and in-depth analysis. Planning is sometimes considered the task of managers, but a leader’s responsibility does not end at idea generation or vision setting. A good leader will be involved, in some capacity, in the start-to-end process of making that vision a reality. Depending on the experience and capabilities of the team and the leader’s mindset, this engagement with planning may be hands-on development of the plan or coaching other leaders to focus on planning.
Tip: The best tip for creating a successful plan is to include those who will execute the vision in the planning process, so the plan has buy-in from the start.
Another aspect of Structure is creating a focus on analysis. Identifying what can be improved upon and considering upcoming risks and threats to a project is important to bring that vision to life. One way to think of in-depth analysis is in terms of developing an implementation plan that identifies all the actions that need to take place to breathe life into the vision.
Change is hard. Despite our planning efforts, not everything goes the way we anticipate and not everyone willingly changes. Best practice leader behaviors in Feedback are addressing problems and offering praise.
Let’s be honest. As leaders, we sometimes make mistakes. Owning our mistakes helps set a tone that mistakes happen, we learn from them and keep going. This makes it ok for others to admit mistakes and helps to create a culture of transparency and trust.
Some leaders are inclined to maintain harmony, rather than address problems. If we are to bring a vision to life, we can anticipate there will be problems. The sooner we address them the easier it is, and less correction is needed. In my experience, leaders with a DiSC behavioral style of Influence (I) and Steadiness (S) tend to lean toward maintaining harmony. This means that they may need to expend more energy to address problems. On the other hand, DiSC behavior styles of Dominance (D) and Conscientiousness (C) tend to be naturally more inclined to address results and accuracy, needing to expend more time energizing people and creating harmony.
In the execution process, people need to know they are doing things right and that leaders value their efforts. It is critical that leaders offer praise. Interestingly, people-oriented DiSC styles, “I”s and “S”s are more naturally inclined to do this than “D”s and “C”s who are more logic-oriented.
Case Study: In working with a client, I asked the leadership team to complete a Work of Leaders assessment. When I looked overlaid the results of the entire leadership team, I could see where they had blind spots specific to Championing Execution. A very high percentage of the team scored opposite of best practice. In other words, they were more inclined to not offer praise or to offer it only in situations where it was really significant. How much more successful could they be if they were positively recognizing and praising the actions of their team members more readily? Doing so could change their culture by letting people know their efforts are valued and appreciated.
Want to bring a vision to life? If so, keep in mind that Momentum, Structure, and Feedback are essential elements of successful execution. The related behaviors are available to all leaders, it’s just that they come more natural for some leaders than others, but with awareness and a willingness to invest energy you can respond consistently with best practices.
For the Faith-Based:
The Bible refers to our work lives by teaching, “In all labor there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23). Hard work is good but it is the execution of a plan that leads to a successful outcome. An important key to successful execution is creating an environment necessary for the employees to effectively perform their job. As a steward of leadership, you are constantly acting in service of someone or something; the vision of the company, the needs of the customer, and/or your team of employees. Driving a culture that supports execution as a leader, your attention will be focused on ways to establish the best practices that drive momentum, provide structure, and offers feedback to your team.
For 18 years, the Jews looked at an unfinished Temple because they became discouraged and lost momentum to build it. Then Zechariah came along and is credited with being the driving force that inspired the people to turn to God by prophesying “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty!” (Zechariah 4:6). Inspired by God, the people regained momentum and finished the temple for the glory of God. Zechariah reminded the people of the glorious future of the physical Temple. He exclaimed the prophecies to the people and reminded them to have steadfast perseverance in the vision that God called them to complete. People need a good leader to come in and give them an encouraging word that inspires them to keep up the momentum.