Strong leadership

Leadership has some basic tenets that we all need to be reminded of sometimes. The golden rule, simply put, is that leaders lead. What does that mean? Leaders set objectives and define the direction for their organization. Too often, people in leadership positions simply manage.

They focus on day-to-day tasks and operational efficiency and ignore, or simply don’t recognize, that the people in their organization have the energy and skill to improve operational efficiency on their own. People often just don’t know what direction to take, so they wait and continue to do things the same old way. Set the objective, and you might just be surprised how well your people will respond to clear direction.

How can you avoid the pitfalls of the “management versus leadership” conundrum? Here are the first two steps to follow.

Set objectives
It seems simple, but it is often the first thing that is left out of a manager’s crosscheck. You know, or you should know, what you want your organization to achieve and when you want to reach that goal. This is true whether your organization is a department, division or the whole company.

For example, a company goal may be “profitability for each division of Builder Corp. by the end of the fiscal year, measured quarterly, with a net corporate profit of at least $2.5 million for the fiscal year.” This is a clear goal for the company and for each division of the company.

Say Builder Corp. has two divisions. The more established Commercial Division has more profit potential and less growth potential, while the newer Luxury Home Division is the opposite. When setting divisional goals, consider the challenges each division may have to overcome to meet that goal — they may be dramatically different.

The Luxury Home Division is in its second year, and it recently launched new projects to expand the geographic reach of Builder Corp., requiring substantial investments in marketing, so the profit potential is limited this fiscal year. Taking this into account, the company leadership still expects it to be profitable by the last quarter of the fiscal year. So from this example, the Luxury Home Division head knows that she needs to manage her division to achieve this profitability objective.

Once you have a clear idea of where your organization needs to be, you must communicate that objective and a realistic time frame for reaching it. An objective unbounded by time is simply a suggestion.

The best way to communicate an organizational objective is to do so in writing at a time and place (such as a staff meeting) where key stakeholders have the opportunity to ask clarifying questions. As the organizational leader, it gives you an opportunity to see if your people view the objective as clear and realistic. If not, it should be revised and re-communicated.

In today’s communication environment, e-mail is a good avenue for mass distribution and ensures that everyone in the organization has a written copy. This gives people a reference that they can come back to.

These ideas are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to implementing strong leadership practices. But they’re the big tip of the iceberg, and they can effect big changes in your organization. The true power of setting and communicating clear objectives is that they become the point of reference from which decisions are made.

Many decisions become no-brainers when held against the standard of a clear objective. Members of an organization become empowered to make decisions at the lowest level and have confidence that they can build strong arguments to support their decisions.

When you have people in your organization making decisions that support your objectives, you have accelerated the efficiency of your organization.

KIRK GILPIN is president of Smartalk Communications Inc., a provider of business communications solutions. He is also a vice president of Fighter Associates LLC (, a provider of leadership training and consulting services. Reach him at [email protected].