By Kim McKinnon, PhD
Author's note: This is the third in a six-part series focusing on
some of the latest things we know about effective leadership - recent
research, best practices and a specific approach leaders can use to
improve their own effectiveness.
When leadership guru Tom Peters shared the opinion a few years ago that,
"We are in a brawl with NO RULES!" some thought he was exaggerating quite
a bit. Today, Peter's description of a confusing state of world affairs
seems to be quite accurate. At the time of this writing, dramatic
fluctuations in the world's economic markets seem to be governed by -
"no rules!" Further, other major challenges exist that weren't on the
radar screen of any previous generation - global terrorism, constantly
"improving" modes of communication, ethical disagreements about advances
in health care and even arguments about the planet's ecosystem.
Although some may not have noticed - rapid and significant changes have
been taking place within organizations as well. All organizations -
including yours - are experiencing major challenges in greater number
than ever before. Specifically, re-organizations, cost-containment programs,
changing government regulations, reductions in the workforce, information
system upgrades and many more "improvements" have resulted in a workplace
which, for many, is uncertain and difficult to understand.
In conditions like this, you do your job as a leader when you step up to
the challenge and function effectively in your role as a Navigator - the
person who takes time to meet with employees and discuss what's really
going on - and what we're going to do about it.
Of course, the Navigator role is one of what we've been calling "The
Fundamental Five" -- the five critical roles of leadership. In earlier
articles, we've summarized each role as follows:
As we focus on the role of Navigator, we discover that success in this
area doesn't just happen - rather, "great navigators" become "great"
through focusing on three important tasks:
- Guardian - establishing TRUST
- Navigator - clarifying PURPOSE
- Coach - building engaged PEOPLE
- Architect - strengthening TEAMWORK
- Revolutionary - leading CHANGE
Keeping Informed ...
- Keeping Informed
- Clarifying the Purpose
- Communicating the Purpose
Those who have served in the armed services are probably familiar with
the concept of "Situational Awareness" or "SA." This term has grown out
of the critical need many military people have to keep informed about
quickly changing conditions. Excerpts from military publications explain
"SA" like this:
"SA stands for the real-time ability to acquire and process different data
in a constantly shifting environment and the ability to translate an
assessment into action aimed at maintaining integrity. Sounds corny, eh?
It really means "know what goes on and adapt to it."
-Air Force SOP
"Situational Awareness is the ability to identify, process and comprehend
the critical elements of information about what is happening. More simply,
it's knowing what is going on around you."
-Coast Guard Training
Effective leader Navigators don't wait for the unexpected; they tend not to
be surprised too often. Rather they construct a systematic way to keep
informed about the things that are most important to them. They typically
have a well-defined approach - whether it involves networking with others,
reading selected publications, participating in relevant professional
associations - to keep them aware of "what's going on" and how it could
affect them and the success of their work. Some have adopted the P.E.T.S.
approach to ensure they are keeping aware of a wide variety of issues.
Because "information overload" is one of the challenges facing many leaders
today, effective Navigators are selective about what sources they use and they
manage the amount of information they include in their "keep informed" system.
Stacks of professional publications on your desk are an indication that you
could be more "selective" about what you include in your system.
- Political Issues:
- Economics Issues:
- Technological Issues:
- Social Issues:
Clarifying the Purpose ...
We often define an "organization" as "a group of people with a common goal."
Such a definition can be used to describe your department or work team as well.
While we enjoy this easily-understood description, we should be distressed
when we learn how "uncommon" our department or organization's "common goal"
really is. Studies examining how well employees understand and if they can even
identify their organization's "mission" or "purpose" or "plan" uniformly show
that the vast majority of employees report that they "don't know" or, as one
stated, "we don't have a clue."
Navigators are leaders who have taken time to thoughtfully compose a meaningful
statement of purpose which clearly, and ideally succinctly, identifies "why we
exist" or "what our most important work together should be" or "how we need to
work to be successful." Effective Navigators are careful to be focused on only
the very few and the very most important areas. In their book, The Discipline
of Market Leaders, Treachy and Wiersema outline how there are really only three
basic strategies for success in organizations - "customer intimacy" (focusing on
service), "operational excellence" (focusing on cost) or "product leadership"
(focusing on innovation). They suggest that "leading organizations" choose one
of these three approaches as the way they accomplish their mission. (They also
propose not ignoring the other two areas - but working to be about the same as
similar organizations). This focus on the most important thing reminds us of a
pithy statement by Stephen R. Covey -
"The Main Thing is the Keep the Main Thing, the Main Thing."
Although this statement may sound kind of funny, it is easy to remember - and it
is very, very true. The Navigator understands the need to design a clear "main
thing" - and to communicate it often - our next area.
Communicating the Purpose ...
Noted Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner teaches us,
"Stories of identity - narratives that help individuals think about who they are,
where they come from, and where they are headed - constitute the single most
powerful weapon in the leader's arsenal."
Dr. Gardner's ideas are supported by the thoughts of others who agree that
people (including your employees) are interested in being "part of things,"
"being in on things" and feeling like they are an "important contributor to
success." When employees don't know the real purpose of the department or
organization, they have difficulty feeling "in on things" - because they don't
know what the essential "things" are.
Cognitive psychologists - those who study how we learn and remember and use our
brains - have long suggested that people need to hear things a number of times
before they really remember them. Some have even suggested that "seven" is the
average number of times people need to hear something before they really remember.
One thing we know is that most leaders rarely talk about "the purpose" a sufficient
number of times for it be become embedded into most employee's memory. And though
some leaders may think they talk about "the purpose" or "mission" quite often, they
usually share their ideas with seven different people one time - rather than all
people seven times. In any case, the effective Navigator is wise enough to talk
about the "purpose" a lot; he or she makes the statement of purpose memorable due
Making "main things" memorable is also something Navigators do well. They may
have learned from advertisers whose messages have stayed with us over time
("Look Mom, no cavities!" and "A mind is a terrible thing to waste" and "It
takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin."). Some such slogans are no longer in use
and are decades old - yet we still remember them. While not suggesting that we
turn our purpose into a simplistic slogan, talking about it - a lot - will make it
memorable, and will result in your employees: (1) knowing the purpose and (2)
really using it to guide their work.
Finally, it is important to remember the sequential nature of "The Fundamental Five"
leadership roles. Before focusing on being an effective Navigator, make sure you have
first laid a solid foundation in your work as a Guardian - that you have established
trust with your work team. Adding an effective and compelling "statement of purpose"
works best after your Guardian work is well underway - meaning, employees have confidence
in you, they believe what you tell them and they feel they can really trust you.
Next time we will explore the leader's role as a Coach - the person who "builds engaged people."
Kim McKinnon, PhD is a leadership development consultant and executive coach in the
Phoenix area and has worked with a number of ACMA members. In addition to his
consulting, he also is on the faculty at Arizona State University and the Fielding
Graduate University in Santa Barbara. Kim has enjoyed the feedback he's received
on these articles and can be reached at: McKinnonConsulting@Cox.Net or through
his website: McKinnonConsulting.Net