Three noted business authors combine their career-long insights to offer clear, basic, comprehensive rules great leaders should follow.
A leading trio of business experts has figured out what leaders should do. Dave Ulrich, business professor at the University of Michigan and prolific HR author, founded The RBL consulting group with Norm Smallwood, co-author of multiple business books. With former Harvard Business Review editor and RBL principal Kate Sweetman, they sifted through overwhelming information about the elusive subject of leadership and actually made sense of it.
The authors boil down their research into five essential rules. They tell readers how to strategize, execute, involve their employees, develop a base of talented people and grow as leaders. With the vocabulary – even jargon – of business as their common language, this is a book by businesspeople for businesspeople.
The authors’ detailed study of leadership theory led them to conclude that great leaders model the behavior they want others to emulate and enable their followers to excel in reaching their goals. This holds up even though no two leaders are ever the same. External factors, such as position, industry and company culture, are just some of their differences.
To excel as a leader and to create an organizational leadership culture, the authors urge you to develop and incorporate each of the following five areas into your daily leadership practice.
First, Shape the Future
To become a superior strategist, determine where you want to go, your mission, goals, vision and values. Develop a point of view about your future by always asking, “What if?” Hire your most intelligent, effective critics, a step Cisco Systems took with successful results when it wanted to revamp one of its weakest areas. Don’t lead alone; solicit help from people on every level and from every part of your organization. Involve everyone in developing strategy.
Second, Make Things Happen
Execution means transforming strategy into action. Leaders set and reach short-term and long-term goals by managing their time, enlisting widespread participation, and setting deadlines and accountability measures. They provide consistent results.
Effective leaders inspire loyalty and goodwill in others because they themselves act with integrity and trust.Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood and Kate Sweetman
Leadership requires decision-making to spur action. Leaders’ decisions shape their reputation. Accountable leaders use clear goals, measurements and consequences to make sure their employees and teams take responsibility for their work.
To motivate stronger team performance, the authors say you should set ambitious long-term goals and clarify each employee’s role. Create a mutually supportive team atmosphere, and help the team and its members develop themselves continually. Become a change agent by understanding that customer requirements evolve, technologies progress and new opportunities develop.
Third, Engage Today’s Talent
If leadership is yin, the authors say, using a metaphor that is surprising in this context, engaging followers is yang. The two must work in harmony. Communicative leaders engender confidence and loyalty. They connect with their staffers intellectually and emotionally through candid give-and-take dialogues. They help employees understand and embrace their organization’s purpose and connect to it emotionally.
Look carefully at yourself to see if you embody and live the employee brand you articulate.Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood and Kate Sweetman
To help employees excel, align their tasks with their abilities and competencies. Provide the resources they need to handle the stress and demands of their work. Celebrate successes, holidays and milestones. Create events, such as picnics, and invite extended family members. Use contests to motivate people to reach their goals. Recognize and reward outstanding effort. Make your staffers’ lives healthier and easier by providing nutritious food and a place to exercise.
Fourth, Build the Next Generation
Reinforce your long-term strategy by developing the insight to assign your people to three types of jobs. Critical positions – 10% to 20% of your workforce – are pivotal to your company’s success. The rest of your staff members are either supporting or nonessential. Identify and match your A-players with your most crucial positions.
Delegation is about coaching and teaching, not judging and evaluating.Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood and Kate Sweetman
Invest in tomorrow’s talent. Guide and encourage up-and-coming employees with coaching and mentoring. Give them opportunities and responsibility. Share the rewards of your firm’s success.
Fifth, Invest in Yourself
Great leadership requires self-awareness and strength of mind. Know thyself, so you understand your strengths, weaknesses and predispositions.
Handle the stress of making decisions and taking risks by understanding them in context and reducing your fear that something will go wrong. Confident leaders are emotionally resilient, even in the face of failure, because they maintain an optimistic attitude and do not internalize every setback.
As a leader, you have a responsibility to pass The New York Times test every day: if this action showed up on the front page of the Times, would it look OK? Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood and Kate Sweetman
Learning agility enables you to harvest lessons from your mistakes, stay curious, be unique and creative, and avoid extremes of emotion, behavior or strategy.
The authors believe that following their leadership code will prevent you from focusing too much on any one aspect of leadership and neglecting others.
Being a leader does not mean never having to say you’re sorry.Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood and Kate Sweetman
Effective leaders are naturally strong in one or two leadership spheres. Senior executives must develop the other aspects of leadership. Define the unique factors of your leadership style to establish your identity, reputation and personal brand.
A Single Rulebook
Any leader would be glad to have a single volume offering sound, actionable advice that is neither too industry-specific nor too general, that does not vest in faddish thinking, and that honors common sense and plain speaking. Ulrich, Smallwood and Sweetman offer precisely that book. Their rules may not seem groundbreaking or revelatory, but each builds on the next, and together they constitute a firm leadership foundation.
Prolific authors and insightful business thinkers, Ulrich, Smallwood and Sweetman move from one rule to the next with admirable economy and lively readability. Their insights and recommendations will serve current and aspiring executives seeking to crack the code of great leadership.
Dave Ulrich’s many books include The HR Scorecard: Linking People, Strategy, and Performance with coauthors Brian E. Becker and Mark A. Huselid. Norm Smallwood, along with Jon Younger, wrote Agile Talent: How To Source & Manage Outside Experts. Kate Sweetman co-wrote Reinvention: Accelerating Results in the Age of Disruption with Shane Cragun.