Successful leaders tend to be excellent planners, and that requires a good track record of predicting the future. I worked with effective leaders to find out how they go about predicting the future? They observe the trends that have occurred and what is going on around them. Back, when I was in corporate America, they called this management by walking around. Today I am no longer in a corporate position and have observed that this lesson applies to much more than business.
If you look at a business, you would see that it is more than leaders, it is something about people that get ahead. I have seen the most skilled worker in an office get skipped over for a promotion. When I examine what happened, I discover that this person had great skill in their chosen field but had no expertise outside of that environment. They could be a skilled Paralegal but unable to put paper in a printer.
I began to realize that this is tied to expectations. The business owner expected the whole job to be done, no matter what it took to get it done. This idea transferred over to life outside of the office.
We all develop expectations and broadcast expectations every day. I may say; In three days we will go to the beach. This statement both develops and broadcast an expectation. Your leadership ability will be judged on how well you coordinate the four primary skills to deliver on the expectation.
- Ability to predict the future
- People skills
- Ability to deliver
Leadership is about being able to stand back and view the bigger picture so that you realistically appraise the situation. Once you develop this picture of what you want, you set goals that are realistic and take sensible actions toward meeting those goals. I have heard this referred to as common sense, but I believe it is based on awareness. You can not see the big picture without some awareness. Common sense builds on your understanding of past experiences, enabling you to refine your understanding of the world and how it works.
That is great, but without some awareness, you will miss what is going on around you. You don’t catalog past experiences. Without awareness, you fail to build your skill base. Simple things that may become important when making future decisions are missed. Going back to our beach trip;
- How will we get to the beach?
- Who wants to go to the beach?
- What should we wear?
- How much time will we need to prepare?
- What could go wrong?
Ability to predict the future
Just knowing stuff is not enough, you must be able to use that knowledge to form an opinion. I have met people that are in the moment and have no idea what will happen in the next few minutes. If you ask them to commit to a plan – say a beach trip in a few days, they may agree because they like the idea but have no idea what that means. In a few days or even a few hours, they could develop an unrelated expectation that overlays any plans for a trip to the beach. On the day of the trip they will not be prepared and may even have no idea that a beach trip was scheduled.
Without some awareness of future possibilities, you are stuck in short-term discussions all the time. You tend to be in react mode most of the time.
Understand that people all come with their expectations and experiences. If they are part of your team, you need to be able to factor in their contribution to the project. What are their skills, what is their focus, and how excited are they about this project? They may have no interest in going to the beach but said yes because they wanted to be part of the group. You could ask them to fill the car with fuel, but they have no idea what that means or why it is important.
There is a Kenny Rodgers song about a gambler; you got to know when to hold them and when to fold them. Good advice for any project. Even with the best plans, there will be circumstances that come up that you have not considered. Learn from those to be better in the future and decide if it is enough to cancel the project. Another lesson I learned when I was going through management training, in the long run, it makes little difference if you were right or wrong if the project ends well. What makes an impact is how well you played the game.
If you can predict correctly all the contingencies, you are a winner. If you have a good plan and can react positively to events, you are still a winner. If you have no plan, have no idea what is going on or do not react to change, you lose.
Ability to Deliver
This is the ability to take all you know and predict the probability of success. This is planning. Gathering all the resources and skills you need, developing contingency plans and assigning the task. Your reputation as a leader will be influenced by what you deliver. It is not just a trip to the beach. A job well done is a positive impact. Did you deliver a great trip to the beach? If not, did you provide a positive experience to your audience?
I have talked with business people who have said; if you want a book published get dave but if you want a pot of coffee don’t ask him. Why is that? We tend to focus on different things, so learn to plan and delegate areas you are weak. A good leader can handle many situations and knows how to delegate when needed.
Probably a skill but I think more of a characteristic, a good leader will accept the responsibility for the failure of a project but will spread the praise for success over the team. We will talk about that next time.