Seven leadership questions
Written by Cora Lynn Heimer Rathbone
Over the last six to 12 months our TV scenes have been full of examples of regional and global leadership – not all good, not all bad. Think Ukraine/Russia, IS activities, Brexit, Iranian nuclear negotiations, migration crisis, Cuba/USA and Pope Francis. In the background, previously solid economic engines are faltering, destabilizing markets. Think China’s GDP trend, Glencore and the excavation industry, Volkswagen and emission testing.
Such realities raise paradoxical perspectives and seven leadership questions for me - a Cuban-born American/British citizen exiled by the Cuban revolution who, as part of a wider career working with global brands and SMEs, has worked with two nuclear-electricity-generation giants and senior leaders of some of the most significant organisations in Libya.
- How do we create, protect and build trust -the only currency that ensures sustainable collaboration, the bedrock of high-performing teams. Research suggests that trust is: (a) at the heart of our ability to influence, (b) built through shared experiences and sustained by the memories those experiences create, (c) sustained and extended by the “fairness” with which we deal with others. Trust is not simple, hard to establish, needs to be nurtured, easy to lose.
- What do we frame as truth - given confidentiality, unmatched information and perspectives that are sincerely different? “What is truth” echoes down the centuries. It depends – you say? What are the facts - observable, quantifiable, in full – not part? What are the values that sit next to those facts? How straightforward are we as leaders and how transparent does our leadership task allow us to be, given competitive issues and stakeholder demands?
- What do we propose as options – and how - given the impact of each on implicated parties? We know, and research tells us, that if we formulate options by engaging implicated parties and people who bring different perspectives, (a) creativity and innovation grow, (b) objections are exposed, (c) the likelihood of group-think is reduced. Gaming aside, engagement of interested parties in the ‘process’ of identifying options creates greater buy-in and sense of ownership amongst those who take part in the thinking.
- How do we reach and what do we present as decisions? How do we hold tight to those decisions through adverse reactions, or change decisions given legitimate new perspectives, without losing the credibility and the confidence that inspires others? It takes as much courage for a leader to change their mind in light of new evidence, fresh perspective or new realities as to hold fast to a controversial decision in light of fierce opposition. Yes, and being able to lay out the key factors that influence decisions helps greatly.
- How do we organise for the implementation of decisions in a manner that sustains change and fully engages the virtual teams in which most of us work today? Well, who has the passion for turning the decision into reality, and who has the skills to make it happen? This “Will” and “Skill” combination, in the context of a coherent team, are key to organised implementation that produces a new business-as-usual.
- What messages do we communicate consistently – individually and collectively - as the bedrock of the trust we seek to preserve and grow? Today we live and die as teams - and are held accountable as individuals. So what is the core message that we will deliver individually and in unison - however different we are in style and personality? And how do we deliver that core message to reinforce trust, respect truth, honour options, support decisions, inspire (breathe life into) what has been organised?
- How do we scope and position the end-goal that engages those from different persuasions to align - with ongoing creativity - for the attainment of a shared and greater result? Though last in this series because it appears as a lagging indicator in many of the events of the last 12 months, this question is of the highest priority. Why? After all a shared end-goal captures the voices of all implicated parties and creates the context for the other six questions. Absence of a shared end-goal lies at the heart of conflict.