Decisive Leadership for Recovery and Renewal in Q3: Part 2

In the first article we established the need for decisive leadership and the importance of listening to our people, leveraging their strengths and the key to building stronger teams. We learned that doing so reduces anxiety and sets in motion a path leading to recovery and renewal.

Our research shows that during times of great uncertainty business leaders delay decision making and tend to wait until they have all of the information they believe is necessary to make a decision. Yet, seeking certainty delays decision making and compounds anxiety. To avoid delaying decision making, strive to cross the 80% threshold. When you have most of what you need to make a decision, go forward.

In this piece, we’ll also examine a framework for sound team problem-solving.  Involving your people in the decision-making process goes a long way to generate their ownership for those decisions and their work. In addition, team problem solving takes the load off your shoulders.

Great execution is more important than perfect decision making. Once the decision is made, the key lies in setting up your people for a successful implementation by providing clear direction, which we will deep-dive as well.

Employ Team Problem-Solving – Challenges are not met on their own, and problems do not solve themselves. Problem solving is a core leadership and management skill. I like to say, “Make problem solving a team sport. Stop trying to solve every problem as an owner or leader of your company – involve your people!”

Just recently I was facilitating a management call, when ideas to solve a problem started to flow. Sharing ideas and solutions is a positive exercise and an important process. The issue was that, most of the ideas were not solving the problem they originally discussed. In the end, the process did not generate quality solutions.

Rather, as a team apply a purposeful and disciplined approach to solving problems in three steps:

  1. Define: Clearly define the problem, its root cause and the effect it is having on your people, your finances, your business and your clients. Ask WHY to drill down on the reason for the issue. If possible, quantify the impact. Are you solving the right problem? If not, then restate the problem. I recommend spending most of your time on this first step.
  2. Aim: Decide on what your aim is for solving the problem. Setting a specific and measurable goal will keep your team aligned and focused, leading to stronger team ownership for the problem and solution.
  3. Solve: Now your team is ready to develop ideas that line up with the problem you’re solving. Idea generation is a creative process. Once you develop a variety of solutions, choose the best solution that will achieve your stated aim and that is attainable to complete.

I know this might sound like a rigid process – yet a step-by-step process WORKS! Recently, I facilitated this process with the leadership team of a client – a company with about $30M revenue per year. At first the problem stated was quite broad. By focusing on just the problem and its effect, we were able to funnel down to define a more pressing issue – then, after restating the challenge, the goals and solutions flowed with greater relevance.

By applying this process, you will strengthen your company’s culture as problem solvers. Although your company is going through great change, make this difficult journey an opportunity to build new and better ways of addressing issues and seeing new opportunities. You will carry this practice forward once you start getting back to business more fully.

Also, applying a clear problem-solving approach will help you and your people draw from past experiences that can help address today’s crisis-driven issues, and even prepare your people for crises and situations that will invariably face your  business in the future.

Set Clear Direction – Keep in mind, your people are now working under unfamiliar conditions – and many are physically removed from their colleagues and from you. In the face of great emotion, people might not receive your direction with the right focus, which can lead to misunderstanding, poor execution and frustration.

Let’s look at a simple guide for providing sound direction to ensure your people and teams achieve the outcome you seek: What, Why and How. Yes, it can be that simple. Let’s look at each:

The What – Provide the nature of the direction. Specifically, what is the aim, objective and destination of your direction. As Stephen Covey has said, “Begin with the End in Mind.”

The Why – What is the purpose, context and rationale for your direction? Be specific and consistent with the mission, values and goals of your organization. This step kindles the buy-in you need from your people.

The How – What are the specific steps or processes needed for achieving the stated aim? Ask your best people for their thoughts on how to complete the work. Giving your people ownership for how to get work done strengthens their buy-in and motivation.

Once you have provided clear direction, ask your people not just to repeat back the direction, but more importantly, to state the action they are committed to taking. This will tell you if your direction has been received the right way and will reinforce their ownership for their work.

In working with the owner of a home fixture company who was frustrated with the lack of execution by his people, I guided him toward providing clear direction. He came from the old school method of telling his people the What without providing the Why and asking them for the How. In just one week of using the What, Why and How method, he noticed substantial positive change in the quality of the work of his people. Simple and elegant!

The collective result of these five practices is to build trust, focus and stronger decision making. Picture an old-fashion piggy bank with the round pink belly and coin slot on top. Let’s call it our leadership trust bank. The idea is to make deposits into the bank, building your people’s confidence in your leadership. Couple this with sound financial management and business strategic decision-making and you have the formula to carry you through to a new normal.

These five essential leadership behaviors will help you to ease the anxiety, lessen reactivity and open your people up to move the discussion from emotion to clear and aligned action.  We invite you to let us know how employing these practices is helping your business move forward.

Larry Prince is the CEO of PrinceLeadershipTM, a New Jersey-based business consultancy that works with middle market companies to create growth and sustainability. Contact: Mobile: 973.670.6304     larry@princeleadership.com

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