Over the 20 or so years I have been explicitly reading, writing and thinking about leadership, I have tried to see it in simpler and simpler ways. Originally, I was captivated by vision. Whether you lead from “above,” or, from below-where-the-action-is, you can generate power by helping people to focus on just what we are trying to accomplish, our end state, our destination, a great picture of us-as-successful.
At the other end of THE spectrum from vision is NOW, our current reality. Great leaders keep looking at the current problems and opportunities. They see reality through others’ lenses – their customers’, employees’, competitors’, always trying to tell the full truth about what’s happening. So, they end up with a clear picture of the future, and a rich picture of the present.
Over time, I have come to appreciate more and more, the domain of management: managing the steps that get us from NOW to our future vision. Fifteen years ago I was enthralled when my friend Brad Zimmerman spoke about management as a system of promises, and I now teach that the heart of great management: is personally making and in turn inviting credible promises. It’s awesome when “people of their word,” repeatedly say what they will do and deliver on what they say. They feel great and the organization moves decidedly toward its future. Each person says: I will get X (a mini-vision) done by Y (a specific future moment). This ties into the core of “leadership credibility” that authors Kouzes and Posner put at the heart of “modeling the way.” We’re credible when we DWWSWWD or Do What We Say We Will Do. “The” leader can only deliver on her organizational promises when the members of the organization all DWISIWD, Do What I Say I Will Do.
So, then, we can simply lay out the steps:
- Vision is always the starting point,
- Looking at our current reality, we then
- Set goals that move us clearly in the direction of achieving the vision, and then as managers:
- We invite our people to set personal goals, or make promises that aggregated together mean we will reach our collective goals.
So, do YOU do it? Do all your people commit to meet goals and to meet the milestones they set along the way? Each of us, in my view, faces predictable yet different habitual obstacles to managing promises. I invite you to peruse the list below and identify your challenge(s). I offer this list, not so you’ll point an accusing finger at yourself, but to see the likely place where you can get better at generating promises to achieve the goals that are key to your organization. As always, I’m curious to hear your thoughts.
Do you see your typical, habitual challenge(s), so you can help others to make and fulfill their promises? Do you:
- tell people their goals, so they feel compelled rather than feel like THEY have willingly made a promise.
- fail to focus on the detail enough to insist on specific measurable goals.
- invite people to “try,” but not get them to commit to specifics.
- micromanage people and end up telling them how to meet their promises, whether they want that “help” or not.
- hate to micromanage people, so you kind of just set a direction and trust they’ll do their best.
- let people off the hook when they don’t meet promises (e.g., by doing it for them, or telling them “not to worry”) rather than helping them to really figure out why they didn’t meet their promises, so that they’ll do better next time.
- help you team set clear and timebound goals, but then not perform disciplined follow up at the specific times you have set for performance.
I hope this list might help you find some of the ways that your management gets too loose — or too tight — and keeps you from
Leading with your best self?!