Recently I started noticing how often I hear comments
such as these in organizations: "We're not allowed to say
no, and there's never enough time to do everything we've committed
to." "They just keep piling more on me with all these
downsizings -- there's no way I can get it all done." "I
don't have time to get to my normal work with all these crises."
In response, I find myself asking, "Where's
your leadership?" Of all the roles leaders must play today,
one of the most significant is that of time-maker. . When you
work for an organization, you have given over some of your time,
in exchange for pay and other rewards. You can end up in a pressure-cooker
unless your leaders do their job well. Leaders need to make the
hard decisions that prioritize. In doing so, they give people
the gift of time - time to do well the things that really matter.
This does not mean that leaders must make time
through command and control. Collaborative leadership is the ability
to produce an environment where goals are clear, people's knowledge
and talent gets used to reach the goals, and relationships with
customers and suppliers are fruitful.
To act as a leader in this way, five skill sets
The first is developing a clear sense of the organization's desired
outcomes -- where it is headed, what heading in that direction
will get it, and how everyone in the organization can tell they're
on the right track. This focused sense of direction enables leaders
to hold clear boundaries for themselves and for the organization.
In holding those boundaries, the leader plays one of his or her
most crucial roles - that of creating the psychological container
within which work can get done. With good leadership, people are
freed of distractions and able to concentrate.
The second and third skill sets that are needed
are building strong relationships and getting good information.
I tie the two together because, without trust, leaders are often
denied access to critical information. In other words, if leadership
is known for "shooting the messenger", they are unlikely
to get the message. And certainly not in time to do anything.
By building strong relationships, leaders encourage people to
come forward with the bad news as well as the good. Then and only
then can they coordinate action in ways that give people enough
time to deliver results.
The fourth skill set needed by leaders is balance.
Balancing needs of internal or external customers, employees,
and other stakeholders, keeps agreements current and avoids the
time-consuming hassles of broken deals or catch-up activity. Constant
clarification of expectations gives leaders the ability to be
the calm center in the eye of the storm. Timely management of
tasks that reach goals and meet needs is the leader's balancing
act. . If leaders practice the skill of making requests and agreements,
people have time to do what needs to be done.
The fifth skill leaders need is the ability to
learn. In our turbulent world, just because something worked yesterday
doesn't guarantee it will work today. If leadership doesn't understand,
bone-deep, the human interactions that made something work, they'll
focus attention in the wrong places. Learning to recognize the
fundamental architecture of what makes their organization effective
gives leaders powerful leverage in the marketplace and in prioritizing
their own efforts.
Smart leaders know it's not enough for them to
understand these realities -- learning needs to occur enterprise-wide,
across the whole organization, if the people doing the work are
going to make the decisions they need to make with as much knowledge
On a day last October when the value of his company's
stock had dropped 45% in a week, the CEO of BankOne, the Richmond,
VA-based credit card company, spoke to the National Leadership
Institute's conference on coaching. He credited his two years
of executive coaching with having given him the ability to "keep
his head when all around were losing theirs." "I knew
our model worked and would continue to work. And I knew I had
to keep my head so that people wouldn't panic and would get back
to work." In doing so, that CEO demonstrated all five skill
sets - and made time for his people. He kept the organization's
boundaries intact so that people could stay focused on what really
mattered, and gave them time - time to recover and move on. That's
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