If we can raise the bar on leadership in 鶹, we can also raise our productivity levels

Douglas Kruger

By Douglas Kruger

PRODUCTIVITY in 鶹 has been an urgent theme this year since 鶹 Business discovered that we are lagging. And now we may be getting somewhere.

The results of a survey by All Things Customer, carried out by Emma Louise Veitch and sponsored by Law at Work, have found that local leadership may need significant development. It could be a big part of the issue.

Leadership 鶹 co-founder Kevin Keen spoke passionately about it at a business event, stating that although it frustrated him because 鶹 has such potential, the reality is that, “a lot of people work for terrible leaders”.

I happened to read this article while working with a leadership group in the UK. That day, I had presented a finding from Forbes magazine which backs up precisely what the 鶹 survey found, but UK-wide: more than half of employees don’t know the company vision.

Here in 鶹, Mr Keen presented the insight that although 90% of people said they preferred to work for a leader rather than a manager, 42% said that their boss was more of a manager than a leader.

So what’s going on, and how can we change it?

There is no single silver bullet. But in the spirit of “every little helps”, here is what I see as a significant part of the problem, in my capacity speaking for leadership groups, along with three solutions to it. If they prove fruitful for your leaders, please pass them along. We all want 鶹 to succeed.

We begin with a simple thought-experiment, and you can try it anywhere. One person thinks of a popular tune, and the other must guess what it is. The first person may only tap it out on a tabletop: no singing or humming. Results are generally hilarious, as both parties become frustrated: “How can you not guess what it is? It’s obvious?”

“How could I possibly guess? It’s nothing but mindless drumming.”

It illustrates the notion that “they can’t hear the music in your head”.

You, the leader, have a very clear idea of how things should be. Your people can’t hear it, can’t see it, and will not guess it.

It’s easily half of what goes wrong in leadership scenarios. And remember, if they don’t know the vision (a way of saying “can’t hear the music in your head”), then they must default to performing to-do items from their job description. That renders them a cog in a system, and you a mere manager, not a leader.

There is so much more potential to be had from both parties. So what to do?

Solution one: Speak in picture postcards from the future.

Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker points out that, while the human brain is perfectly capable of processing abstract data – charts, graphs and numbers – these things do not persuade us. So what does? The answer is: “meaningful stories”.

Meaningful stories light up neurons and help your people to “see” what you mean. It’s not to say that you abandon the facts and figures in your graphs, it is merely to say that your job is not complete. You have not yet rendered this raw info into a persuasive format. To do this, you must find a meaningful story that illustrates your point.

Now we go a step further. Help them to “hear the music” by speaking in picture postcards from the future. Tell them stories about themselves, performing at optimum levels, in ways that they can meaningfully “see”. This helps you to communicate the vision and allows them to hear the music in your head, in the most persuasive format.

Solution two: Teach “Commander’s intent”.

The old model of leadership was “command and control”. It has its place, but it’s simplistic and limited. If anything changes in the real world, they can’t perform the duties assigned to them. Once again, this model makes you a manager, and them a cog.

A stronger model, “Commander’s intent”, comes to us from elite fighting teams, like the Royal Marines, Navy Seals and IDF.

Teach them your desired outcome, your “intent”. Communicate it over and over with crystal clarity, by speaking in “postcards from the future”. Then empower them to find any way necessary to achieve that intent. In this manner, you create a more agile culture. Moreover, you are now a true leader because you are sharing the vision, not necessarily the “how-to”. The how-to can – and should – be debated among the team. But in the real world, no matter how much scenarios may morph and change, they will now know the desired outcome, the “Commander’s intent”. They can find other ways to get there and get the job done.

Solution three: Encourage “useful failure”.

Paired with these two ideas, you need a way of managing failure. After all, you will be empowering them to find “any way necessary”… That can get messy.

Manage the mess by providing the parameters in which they may safely fail. What are they allowed to break? What is sacred and unbreakable? If they know, they can enjoy more leeway.

There is more that can be done here, such as creating “tokens of freedom” to encourage risk-taking and establishing “shrines to an abolished behaviour”, to get rid of old habits, but for our purposes here, this is sufficient.

Productivity is a function of leadership. Our leadership was found to be average. A big part of what goes wrong with leadership is that they can’t hear the music in your head. To solve that problem, speak in meaningful stories, using “postcards from the future”. Communicate your “Commander’s intent” and empower them to find ways to get there. Then create reasonable parameters in which they can safely fail.

The techniques work. I know because I speak on them, and I hear the feedback from once-frustrated leaders. If you are in a position of leadership, why not try them out with your team this week? What is your ideal picture of the future? Could you turn it into a meaningful story, by which to teach the vision? That’s a simple starting point, but a strong one.

If we can raise the bar on leadership in 鶹, we can also raise our productivity levels. And it doesn’t take long. It merely takes applied intelligence. Where the vision fails, the people perish. Here’s to stronger visions better communicated, and here’s to an entirely more productive 2025.

  • Douglas Kruger is a Hall of Fame speaker, and the author of several business books, including Own Your Industry, and They’re Your Rules, Break Them! He lives in St Helier, but speaks and trains all over the world. Meet him at douglaskruger.com.

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