In our last article on the topic of leadership, we explored the first dimension of leadership influence, which is who you are being, or the behavioral attributes that you should strive to exhibit, as a leader. In that article, we established that leadership in business is the art of influencing others to do the things you need them to do to meet their objectives, which should translate to meeting your organization's objectives.
In this article, I'll discuss the second dimension of leadership, which are the activities that affect your influence over others. These activities give leadership its momentum and can be undertaken by anyone in your business or practice, regardless of their role or title.
In fact, if you are committed to developing a company or firm that is filled with leaders, I suggest that you teach all of your team members, no matter their position, about the leadership activities that will be discussed in this article.
So, what do leaders do?
Leaders undertake at least eight impactful actions that help them influence the direction and performance of those around them. These actions, or activities, include:
* Cultivating a vision. In this activity, you develop an idea, or vision, of what is possible in the future. It can be as far-reaching as a method to solve world hunger or revolutionize an industry, or as focused as envisioning a better entry experience for clients who call or come into your firm.
When cultivating a vision, contemplate your personal mission in life and in work and "dream about" the way things could be in the future related to your role in the workplace.
For instance, if you are a partner in a CPA firm, you may develop a vision for transforming your firm's tax department so that your team members can work productively from home on evenings and weekends during busy season.
* Planning and decision-making. This is where you will identify the steps to be taken, or the work to be done, to achieve your vision. In addition, in this activity you will weigh choices and make decisions.
When planning, identify in writing the specific steps that you foresee are necessary to bring your vision into reality. These steps will be formative at first, and will become more detailed as you move through the process of communicating and implementing your plan.
In this activity, you will also take risks after weighing different alternatives and commit to a specific plan to meet your end game. Exercise flexibility and modify your plan based upon your actual experience during implementation.
* Communicating. Share your vision and plan with others so that they can visualize it and believe in it. Many firms fail to communicate the results of their strategic planning session, the details of the firm's vision for the next year, or the status against the firm's annual plan, and then wonder why the outcomes aren't what they had hoped for. These firms have "skimped" on leadership communication, with "no time" as the reason for bypassing it.
In this activity, take the time to express your ideas and plans to others and ask for their input and help. Frequently, your manager, your peers, fellow team members and subordinates will all have insights and ideas that can help shape your vision and plans. Further, when you ask for their input and help, give them an opportunity to contribute to the vision and plan, enabling them to begin the process of feeling, and then taking, a sense of ownership for their part in implementing it.
In the tax department example given previously, you would share your vision and plan with your fellow partners and the staff and ask for their input. You might ask for volunteers to join a short-term task force to refine and then implement the plan.
Another critical element of this leadership activity is the ongoing nature of it. Leadership communication is never-ending, with an ongoing two-way dialogue on the status of the plans, refinements and changes to the vision and plans, and then the sharing of new ideas and new plans with others in perpetuity.
* Organizing and empowering. In this leadership activity, you'll organize yourself and your resources (time, money and people) to achieve your vision and implement your plans.
When organizing your resources, devise a plan to develop a functional work team, time line and budget to help achieve your goals. The "art" of organizing resources is learned and is best taught by someone who has done so before with a similar project, company or issue. Organizing is part science, but also part experience and conjecture, and it requires you to flex your risk-taking muscles yet again.
In addition, this activity contains a second element, which is empowering. When organizing people, you have to be sure you've given them a clear charter with guideposts - like deliverables, due dates, budgets and outcomes. Then, vest them with the authority they need and support them with help (when they ask for it) and accountability mechanisms along the way.
* Motivating. Your fellow collaborators need encouragement in achieving the vision. To ensure you're providing that encouragement, or motivation, you'll want to first understand what motivates your team members - because one size does not fit all in this area.
Some people are motivated by money, and so tying their key milestones and deliverables to compensation may make sense. Others are motivated by additional responsibility, so their "payoff" may be a promotion or additional authority. Others are motivated by flexibility and time off, so you may provide them some flex time or additional vacation or personal days (but check with labor counsel on what's allowed in your state).
All people are motivated by acknowledgement and respect, so you can't go wrong by publicly (and privately) thanking your fellow collaborators for their efforts and progress when meeting a key objective or due date.
* Demonstrating your commitment. This sounds easier than it is. In this one, you will do the things you have asked others to do and behave in a way that you expect others to.
This means working the hours that you ask others to, handling difficult conflicts, meeting deadlines and keeping up on administrative tasks just as you expect those around you to do.
* Problem solving. In this leadership activity, you will identify roadblocks, disappointments and differences of opinions, and then develop solutions to them.
The topic of managing conflict is an enormous topic in and of itself, and we don't have the space here to tackle it. However, it is important to note that you'll maximize your leadership influence when you identify the source and potential solutions to problems and conflicts collaboratively, including those people with differing views or disappointing performance, who are more likely to "buy in" to your solutions or ideas when they have shared in developing them.
* Maintaining accountability. When maintaining accountability, you'll ensure that you are using a consistent method for measuring progress along the way. This leadership activity requires you to measure progress against the milestones or guideposts that you generated with your team when organizing and empowering them.
A powerful leader will not use accountability mechanisms as a method for micro-managing, but rather as a method to identify problems that need solving and performance that should be recognized.
I recommend that any significant project include regular group meetings, with someone responsible to draft a recap of the key ideas and actions that are agreed to in the meeting, with owners and by-when dates attached to each. Then, at each meeting, the prior meeting's recap can be used as the basis for checking progress and identifying issues that need group problem-solving.
Now that we've outlined the eight key leadership activities, take a moment and see how you're doing in each area. If there are activities that you've forgotten, minimized or never learned, make a commitment to weave them into your daily actions as a leader. The results will speak for themselves.
And if you're wondering how to motivate others to undertake these activities, stay tuned. In the concluding article on this subject, we will explore the steps to applying both the leadership attributes and the activities we've discussed to developing leadership in others.
Jennifer Wilson is co-founder and owner of ConvergenceCoaching, LLC (www.convergencecoaching.com), a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that specializes in helping CPA and IT firms achieve success.
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