Professor Christopher McCusker of the Freeman School of Business MBA program (Tulane University) is leading a dynamic class to identify successful business leadership techniques. Dr. McCusker invited me to share some ideas on leadership and here are the 13 critical leadership development techniques I spoke about with the class:
1. Swim In “Blue Oceans”
Leaders need to pull followers to Blue Oceans where companies can prosper and thrive. Markets appreciate the contribution a company provides when their offering is unique and will pay them handsomely. Exit out of the Red Oceans which are filled with sharks and you and your competitors are sure to bleed. MARLIN STEEL exited the Red Oceans of commodity bagel baskets and transformed itself toward a model of “Quality Engineered Quick” baskets for precision material handling applications. Where are your blue oceans? Read Professor W. Chan Kim and Rene Mauborgne legendary studies about seeking your blue ocean.
2. Create Entrepreneurial Culture
Compensate your employees with aggressive large cash bonuses to keep them engaged. Your team craves an achievable carrot that provide frequent gratification. This will encourage out-sized dedication and engagement from your employees. Eliminate the finger wagging middle management roles that monitor bathroom breaks and chatting about sports. Dedicated employees have no time to waste time.
3. Best Tools for Team
Provide superb support (equipment, software, etc) for your team and they will provide extraordinary results. At Marlin Steel, we purchased the best laser (it cuts steel 1 foot a second with 0.004″ accuracy) from a factory in Connecticut. It costs more than their competitors however it enables our engineers to get more creative so we can solve our clients challenges. Clients are inclined to choose best of breed companies that utilize the best equipment.
Put a cork in it and listen to your clients or vendors or employees. Really listen. Turn off your cell phone. Listen intensely. You will get more out of meetings and will draw conclusions that will pay dividends. People will notice you are attentive and take meetings more seriously. The duration of the meetings will decline since meetings will go faster since everyone is engaged.
5. Continuous Improvement
Improve yourself and your company 1% each day. By the end of the year you will more than double your productivity or sales. Never be complacent. Even if your team is better than your competitors, they are gunning for you. Up your game so your clients are enchanted with your performance.
6. Cure Mistakes Fast or “Hire Fast, Fire Fast”
In prior Inc Articles, I discussed some of the following techniques like assessing mistakes and then lancing the boil quickly. As the economy picks up, hire people to keep up with demand. Be picky. Purge the mistaken hires quickly so that your “A” players do not become disappointed.
7. Grant Freedom–Hire Great People
Hire great people and get out of their way. If you have a wonderful person, why would you want to slow them down with pestering questions? It slows them down from their mission and makes them second-guess themselves. They will make mistakes but you will be way ahead on the deal if you give them opportunities for an unfettered launch.
8. Mentor, Not Bully
When discussing topics with your team mates, be a counselor. Mentoring talent is the best way to get a dedicated engaged employee. Many leaders get a thrill bossing around people. This bullying tendency drives down employee motivation.
9. Failure is the Leader’s Fault
Ted Williams, the best baseball batter there ever was, never batted 50%. Mistakes will happen. Failure is common. Don’t throw your team under the bus. As Truman said, “The buck stops here” and the leader should take the fall. Improve systems so failure does not occur again but stand in front of the troops or clients and take the blame. This conduct will ingratiate you with your associates and your team will embrace you for taking the heat.
10. Success is due to the team
Wins happen. Lavish praise on your team and thank them for the success. Do not take credit. The team won the game–you should not call out your contributions. People follow humble leaders.
Be unique and call it like it is. Do not beat around the bush. When you first observe a problem, share the concern with the person that tripped up. Clearly articulate the failure and suggest ways to improve. Strike when the facts are in and be concise in your description of the problem and the remedy. Do not tolerate lies of omission.
Be the most honest person on the team. Do not cut corners. Do not enter the “grey areas.” People like working for honest people.
Leaders should be even keeled. Quiet understated approach is more likely to generate loyalty and trust. Raising your voice and getting in people’s faces do not encourage long-term devotion.
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