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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 department/company.

Here are 7 leadership strategies I include in my coaching sessions with managers and entrepreneurs. They'll help you reach your potential, too.

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 elsewhere.

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 anti-burnout measures:

** 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 habit of curbing his impulse to "add value," the manager realized that half of what he had to offer wasn't worth mentioning. He realized he had more to gain by not winning.

That's for sure. His silent approach helped him win a CEO spot. Silence really 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 team. 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 to 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 measures.

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 ability 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 decision.
- 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 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
E-mail: info@O...
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