Contributors

Smarter Leadership, Part 2

The second of two analyses about way to chart change.
 

By Laura Stone
 
 
Last month, we looked at smarter ways to lead others in a company undergoing change. Now it’s time to explore the more “personal” side of smarter leadership that’s required for successful transformation. Four principles apply here.
 
 
1. Schedule “thinking time.” This is so basic that it’s easily overlooked. Executives don’t usually give themselves time to do the single most important activity that no one else can do for them: think. How much time is scheduled into your week for just thinking? If you give yourself permission to schedule “thinking time” and ensure your assistant protects your calendar, you’ll greatly improve your leadership performance.
 
 
Whenever possible, block off Monday morning as a “no-meeting” zone to give yourself time to think about your week ahead. What outcomes do you need from each meeting, and what preparation and support will you need to make them productive? Hold Friday afternoons open to review your week, think through what needs to be followed up, and to look ahead. Even if you keep this schedule only every second or third week, you will be using a technique common to elite high-performing executives.
 
 
Look at your calendar. What top three activities consume most of your time? How should you shift this to coordinate with the outcomes you want? One executive we worked with made an explicit shift in his priorities and time usage. When he was working “in” the business, he would travel to a region and make client visits, talk with other top-level executives, attend leadership meetings, and attend “town hall” meetings. Now that he is working “on” the business, he spends 75 percent of his time on leadership and town halls and the other 25 percent on client/sales visits, only if time permits.
 

2. Align with other leaders. Although at times you might disagree with them, you probably feel you have a good relationship with your company’s other leaders. However, the rest of your team might perceive the situation differently, interpreting any disagreements to mean that you and other leaders have not aligned on priorities or how to work through their implications.
 
 
Address this critical alignment issue by modeling the value of a "one team" approach. As a first step, align your annual priorities with overall objectives, working together through priorities and what they mean. Raise concerns and risks, and establish measures of success—beyond the bottom line—that impact processes, morale, cultural values, behaviors, and performance recognition to support the above. If you wonder about the biggest obstacles, ask your team(s) and a few of their direct reports to get closer to the issues.
 
 
As we noted last month, leadership teams benefit significantly from time spent together working through areas that impact them. This alignment process allows you to surface the messy areas that require coordination and communications, and goes a long way to getting you to the state of truly being one team.
 
 
3. Vent without creating excess “heat.” As an executive in a high-pressure position, you need to vent your frustrations and concerns. Do this constructively, by creating your own “inner sanctum” of two or three trusted people to vent to, and no one else. Choose people who will give you direct, candid feedback about how you are perceived. Raise concerns with them and then listen fiercely. Give them license to be authentic with you on the subtleties. Since they are your direct reports, this can be difficult for them, but it’s essential for your success as a leader. The higher up you go in the organization, the less truth you will hear. If you already have this kind of relationship with several trusted people, consider ways to improve on it.
 
 
It is normal to share frustrations, but do so with balance and clarity about the impact it has on others. Don’t allow the way you let off steam to poison important internal relationships, which are like emotional bank accounts. Some acts withdraw a huge amount from the account that is difficult to replenish.
 
 
Everyone is watching. Since you are a high-level executive, everyone watches your every move — what you say, the way you say it, and what you don’t say. Understand how your thoughts affect your behaviors, learn how to best manage them, and be aware of how your thoughts impact others. The more we trust and let go (and move on), the better the decisions and performance we achieve.
 
 
The old saying that “it is lonely at the top” has an element of truth, but it doesn’t have to be so. Your fellow leaders and your team can be your partners as you lead your company through the challenges of change. All it takes is smarter leadership on your part.
 
 
Laura Stone is CEO of Stone + Company, a firm that specializes in solving the most socially and organizationally complex issues. To learn more, please visit: www.stoneandcompany.com or call 781.383.8383.
 

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