The DEFs of leadership Featured

5:45am EDT April 30, 2002
In recent months, our firm has been involved with several client situations that reconfirmed the overriding need of an organization to have a clear direction and focus. This need can only be met by the leader.

In two cases, we were hired to assess organizations in which management was concerned their companies "were just not operating up to their potential."

After extensive discussions with managers and employees, it became evident the root cause of the problem did not lie with the organizations or the employees. It was coming from the executive suite. The employees, and thus the organization, could not operate to their potential because they lacked clear direction, expectations and focus.

These are the basic DEFs of leadership. They are what the leader must provide the organization with if there is to be any hope of operating at maximum potential.

A missed opportunity

One organization and its leader had a great opportunity to implement the DEFs, but missed it. The CEO had been hired a little over a year ago. Whenever a change of leadership occurs, the new leader has no choice but to establish leadership.

This CEO didn't do that. The employees, however, expected him to and waited for him to provide direction, set expectations and focus them on the goals.

When this didn't happen, the organization floundered. Employees and managers weren't sure how the new leader wanted things done. He sent mixed signals regarding which practices would remain and which would change. The organization wasn't performing because it was looking for the DEFs that never came.

Long-term lack of leadership

Another company had the same ownership and leaders for more than 20 years. When it was smaller, the two owners shared the leadership role and the organization rallied around them as they attempted to grow their company. The DEFs were obvious to everyone.

But as it grew, the needs of the organization and the leadership changed. It was no longer enough to have everyone instinctively understand that the goal was to grow the company and to do whatever it took to make that happen. With nearly 200 people spread over two locations, a different type of leadership was required, and with it, new DEFs.

Managers told us the actions of the owners made it difficult for them to determine what the future direction of the company was to be. This lack of direction made them tentative in their decision-making process.

They told us inconsistent expectations for performance from each owner made management difficult and created morale problems. The managers we talked to understood the need for a common focus and how much more productive their employees could be if they were all pointed in the same direction.

The bottom line is that great-performing organizations have strong leaders who understand they are the only ones who can provide their organization with the direction, expectations and focus that will make them perform to their maximum potential. They understand that whether they are new leaders or have been there for years, the need for providing the DEFs for the organization is always there. Joel Strom (jstrom@jsagrowth.com) is director of Joel Strom Associates LLC, the growth management practice of C&P Advisors LLC, which works exclusively with closely held businesses and their ownership, helping them set and achieve growth objectives while maximizing profitability and value. Contact him at (216) 831-2663.