Realize Your Greatest Potential

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Most of us who assume leadership roles are promoted to those positions because of exemplary work in our core skills. Sometimes a promotion to department manager or senior staff position is welcome as a path to more money and more influence. Sometimes it is a train wreck to force a talented software designer to run a department of his or her peers.

I was hired by a software company to start an electronics manufacturing operation. We started with 3 people and had 13 within 5 years. Our GPM was greater than 45% and our defect rate was near zero. The software side of the business had 102 people. Most of those who were promoted to leadership positions were very unhappy having to supervise others. I designed a parallel career path for them with roles starting at the programmer level, and the highest level was staff scientist. I taught them the principles of self-directed work teams and they too thrived, technically and monetarily.

Others seek people roles and plan their career around the most direct path to the leadership level they desire. These aspiring leaders often seek an MBA and volunteer for leadership roles in peer organizations. Unfortunately, they do not always understand the fundamental tenants of leadership that are not taught in B school or in business success books. We will cover these in #4.

The following five tenets of effective leadership will help you decide if you have the potential, aptitude and desire to grow on a career path of excellence in your core skills, whether they be to CEO or to Staff Scientist.

  1. Who Am I?

I am age 70 and still do not know what I want to be when I grow up. I did discover, years ago, that I had aptitudes in quality management, supply chain management, organizational excellence, writing and training. I have spent the last 20+ years working as a facilitator in organizational excellence and as an expert witness, because that is what I enjoy doing the most. I also found out, after writing 12 books that had limited success, that writing did not pay the bills.

Discovering what makes you the most satisfied and what you are best at doing should drive your career path. Technology and changing business needs, may pull you in an unforeseen direction, but make sure it has the potential to be financially and professionally rewarding. The alternative is to continually dislike your job and never achieve your potential.

  1. Management versus Leadership

The two terms are often used interchangeably. Management is skillful control of processes and their effectiveness. Leadership is creating an environment where the people you influence can achieve their greatest potential. Process Management is a one of the most needed skills in any company, yet codifying and formalizing processes is typically a very low priority as businesses struggle with the realities of running a business.

Leadership is creating the vision, mission, and value system that everyone must live each day. It is role modeling personal accountability, assuring that agreed upon processes are being followed and that each individual can flourish in their chosen career path. True leadership is a state of mind, not an activity.

  1. Do I Have the Right Stuff?

In the early days of NASA, our leaders were fighter pilots, test pilots and uninhibited risk takers. They knew how to fly, but they also knew how to create a cadre of support organizations that would build the machines and infrastructure to allow them to push the envelope into space. We followed these inspirational leaders, who typically had no training in running large organizations, but they instinctively empowered the rest of us reach our own level of greatness.

If you were a drill instructor in a Marine boot camp, likely you have the right stuff to teach discipline and warfare tactics, but not to be an inspirational leader of a marketing team. The right stuff for leaders is a fundamental belief that humans have unlimited potential when they are given the right environment to excel.

  1. The Tenets of Effective Leadership

Effective leaders have a clear vision of what their organization does and of the path they need to follow to achieve that vision. They communicate it daily to their leadership team, to everyone who works for them, to their suppliers and to their customers. The communication tool is living the vision, not preaching it.

Effective leaders have mapped a mission plan to achieve their short and long term goals. They have collaboratively created a plan that will make the vision a reality. They continually evaluate the mission plan for effectiveness and make mid-course corrections when needed.

Effective leaders have codified a specific set of values that are instilled in everyone in the organization. The value system is immutable and there are no exceptions to what acceptable behavior is and what behavior is never tolerated. The values must be lived every day by everyone and metrics put in place to ensure the outcomes are measured for effectiveness.

  1. Leadership is a Learned Skill

If you are disposed to model Michael Dell or Elon Musk in creating a unique success story, the only prerequisite is the unbending intent to create your own success model. Forget about the product or service, and concentrate on creating an inner circle of complementary entrepreneurs. Successful organizations must have leadership in people, finance, marketing and core skills. They cannot be the same person.

Successful leaders must concentrate just as diligently on Tenet #4 as the do to marketing, sales and customer satisfaction.

Successful leaders must learn how to create inner circles of trusted advisors and collaborators who run their business by consensus and do not allow silos or sub-groups to exist.

Successful leaders must learn to focus on zero outgoing defects and making every customer an enthusiastic referral. Profitability will be an inevitable result, not a process of manipulating numbers.

Successful leaders take risks by giving everyone permission to push the envelope, within the vision mission and values. Failure is treated as a learning opportunity, not a disciplinary activity.

 

Enlightened leadership is the result of a rigorous discipline to achieve greatness by creating the environment for everyone around you to be great. Do you have the right stuff?