By Kathleen O'Connor
Change before you have to. The external world always demands
change and improvement. Beat the market. Create internal
mechanisms that force you to make changes long before you have to.
- Kathleen O'Connor
A strong leader is always thinking ahead - anticipating - ready
with solutions when problems arise. S/he has a finger on the pulse
of staff and customers alike and uses that information to grow the
Here are 7 leadership strategies I include in my coaching sessions
with managers and entrepreneurs. They'll help you reach your
Strategy #1: Effective leaders master their time
Effective leaders are relentless about clearing items off their to do
list. What's more, it helps them control their time.
Once a focused leader decides that what is in front of him/her is
important, they will focus and deal with it. If it takes 90 minutes
instead of the scheduled 60 minutes, then so be it.
This habit can be frustrating to others, but it makes a major
difference in a leader's effectiveness. Critical conversations and
transactions are consistently brought to closure. Result? Fewer
matters remain unresolved and leaders are free to focus their attention
Strategy #2: Three questions to boost productivity
As the number of knowledge workers continues to grow, it becomes
increasingly urgent for managers and leaders to find ways to measure
and boost their productivity.
Ask your knowledge workers 3 questions:
** What tasks do you perform?
** What do you believe you should contribute to the organization?
** What prevents you from getting your work done?
Whether they are programmers, editors, surgeons, analysts or urban
planners, knowledge workers almost always know the answers to
these questions. Find ways to take action based on those answers and
productivity will rise.
Strategy #3: Work/life balance -- a leadership issue
In times of uncertainty, employees often put in long, long hours. That
leads to burnout. Workers suffer and so does their work.
To ensure that employees' personal time remains personal, take these
** Limit or do away with Friday meetings. Allow your employees to
enter weekends free of work-related responsibilities.
** Alter travel weekends. Limit employees' nights away from home.
** Limit technological "tethers." It's difficult to be off the job if
staff feels compelled to check voicemail, e-mail, their PDAs and pagers.
Ban calls and emails that require a response on weekends, evenings or
vacations unless it's an emergency. You can't grow a department/company
on a foundation of exhausted staff.
Even in a tough economy, top performers often find new jobs. Don't lose
your most valuable resource to stress and burnout.
Strategy #4: Silence is golden
You might be surprised to learn that many leaders' most harmful behavior
is adding too much value. This behavior is triggered the moment an
executive comes to the senior leader with an idea that s/he thinks is really
good. "Great idea!" the leader enthusiastically agrees. But because s/he
can't resist, the leader gives "input" about executing the idea.
This may improve the idea by 5 percent, but the incremental increase is
drastically offset by as much as 30 percent. Why? The executive who
conceived the idea feels a loss of ownership. His/her commitment to
execute the idea is substantially weakened.
Express enthusiasm for fresh ideas while keeping improvements to yourself.
I tell my coaching clients: The higher up you get on the corporate ladder,
the more you need to make other people winners.
One of my clients really took that advice to heart. Once he got into the
of curbing his impulse to "add value," the manager realized that half of
he had to offer wasn't worth mentioning. He realized he had more to gain by
That's for sure. His silent approach helped him win a CEO spot. Silence
can be golden!
Strategy #5: Put together a great problem-solving team
To meet the demands of one city's recycling plan, engineers designed a new
truck with a hydraulic arm on the right side to pick up and empty specially
designed trash barrels. But when the real experts - the drivers - saw the
expensive new trucks, they immediately pointed out that they were useless
for picking up trash on the left-hand side of the one-way streets!
Blunders like this are not uncommon and share the same root cause.
Problem-solving teams often bring together all kinds of people to create a
solution except the solution's ultimate users.
Eliminate this liability when you put together your next problem-solving
Besides including the experts and decision-makers on your team, be sure to
include one or more users.
Strategy #6: Solve problems with the right question
A good strategy to finding the right answer to a problem is to start with a
solution-oriented question that requires a simple "yes" or "no" answer.
If excessive staffing costs are cutting into profitability, don't ask, "How
can we reduce overtime?" Instead ask, "Do we have a large enough workforce
keep up with the production that's required?"
To arrive at a simple answer, you must analyze several factors such as
per-employee profit and sales, the overall workload and other objective
If you conclude that yes, you do have a large enough workforce to keep
up with the required production, then you have to keep probing to uncover
the reason(s) for your excessive overtime costs.
But if the simple answer is no, you'll know that your system should begin
reassessing your basic staffing needs. And your next question will be: "If
we hire more people, will our staffing costs go down?"
Strategy #7: Smart leaders build bench strength
In baseball, managers often talk about their "bench strength" - their
to call on any of a number of talented players throughout a game. Without
bench strength, your company can't grow. When you have great players on
your team, you have the freedom to make critical decisions that will ensure
your company's growth.
Develop great bench strength by sticking to two simple rules:
**Insist that every supervisor have his/her own replacement trained and
ready to move up.
** Defer salary increases and promotions for anyone who has not done #1.
These 7 strategies will strengthen your abilities as a manager, increase
productivity within your department/company, and show others your true
leadership qualities. Start applying them now and watch performance soar!
Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous
- Peter Drucker
Kathleen O'Connor is the owner of the O'Connor Success System
which provides professional growth programs for managers and
entrepreneurs. To access our free resources, visit our website at
http://www.OconnorSuccessSystem.com You can sign up there
for your free 4-part mini-course on communication skills and a
free subscription to our monthly e-zine, "The Edge."
O'Connor Success System
511 Avenue of the Americas, #276
New York NY 10011-8436
Phone: (212) 924-9339
Fax: (212) 924-3222