There are hundreds and hundreds of books available on effective leadership. And the number of books sold seems to be more of a reflection on the size of the market for management help than the number of key principles of effective management.
So who am I to tell you what the 5 great rules are?
Hey, it’s my blog.
These rules are based on my experiences consulting with organizations of many different types and sizes:
- Put important things in writing. Throughout our lives, important things are memorialized in writing – from report cards and diplomas to marriage certificates and deeds.
Written documents form the basis for agreement, and they allow for information to be shared in a reliable way.
Put your company description in writing so that it can be handed out to prospective employees at the interview. Job descriptions should always be in writing and up to date. Your company policies and procedures manual should be in writing. And if there is a specific set of goals and values that drive your firm, put them in writing as well.
- Confirm mutual expectations. One of the most common reasons for disputes at all levels of an organization is a lack of agreement on expectations about everything from who does what to how things will get done.
For example, a lack of agreement on a corporation’s values can lead to different expectations on how employees should be managed. In terms of managing others, division and department heads often assume that the staff understands what the managers expect of them. To avoid jumping to incorrect conclusions, interview each staff member individually. Make sure they know what is expected of them, what will happen if they meet those expectations, and what will happen if they don’t.
- Identify the source of the problem before you start solving it. This sounds easier than it is. We often assume that the first information we get about a problem is correct. For example, a manager in a bakery wanted to fire one of the bakers because he wasn’t turning out enough pies. The assumption was that the baker wasn’t skilled enough to do the job. After just a few questions, we learned that there were equipment and management problems that were affecting productivity, and not one worker’s skills. Make sure you’ve looked beyond the surface to identify the true source of the problems that come to your attention. Typical areas to consider are systems/processes, skills, shared values, and communication styles.
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This is one of the key principles in Stephen Covey’s wonderful book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, although he didn’t create the concept. Listening to someone you manage not only provides you with data that’s essential for making good decisions, but people are much more willing to listen to you as a leader if they feel that you’ve heard what they have to say first. Defensive managers often fail to do this. If you are in charge of a defensive manager, they may need professional development training to help them improve in this area.
- Never criticize. The first principle of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.” Most of the people you supervise know when they’ve made a mistake. Criticism makes a bad situation worse. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give corrective feedback. In fact, I encourage clients to give positive and as well as corrective feedback on a regular basis so that everyone they supervise becomes accustomed to it. To make it even easier to provide this feedback, learn from your direct reports in advance how they want you to tell them what they’re doing well, and what needs to be improved. Once you’ve agreed on a method, they will be well prepared to receive your comments.
These basic principles can help strengthen your company, whether your firm is a small entrepreneurship or a large corporation. This isn’t an exhaustive list. And you didn’t have to buy a whole book! Following these simple rules can help improve your leadership, strengthen your team or organization, and allow you to use more of your energy in constructive ways.
Question: Are there any rules you follow in your own leadership?