Ten Spartan Leadership Lessons from 2021
2021 was a year when I confirmed the idea that no business school or previous leadership experience can prepare you for volatile markets, changing environments, and real-life business. Even my ten years at Cisco Systems Canada and seven years at Flawless Inbound couldn't help because the last two years were 100% learning in the arena. Lesson learned: it does not matter if you are leading a team of 60 or 600; building and working with cross-functional teams is a critical skill.
Here are some lessons I learned in 2021 while still applying my servant leadership style.
- Consistency is harder when no one is clapping for you. Hint: find a peer group to connect with outside of your organization to make sure you are not lonely at the top, especially when you have to make mission-critical decisions during a crisis.
- We're all human, so be ready to make mistakes. Hint: lead with empathy. People around you will understand, and you will be pleasantly surprised.
- Coach your mind and your direct managers to remember to celebrate the small wins. Hint: measure what matters and focus on the leading indicators, not just the lagging indicators.
- How you make people feel about themselves says a lot about you as a leader. Hint: read "The 5 Levels of Leadership" by John Maxwell.
- Success is never owned; it is rented, and the rent is due every day. Hint: don't let big wins get into your mind and failures get into your heart. Stay humble all the time, whether you are managing a team of 60 or 600.
- You will never have all the data you need to make decisions; that only works in MBA classes. In the real arena and during volatile market conditions, leaders only have 50-60% of data. Over the last two years, we have been operating and making decisions based on only 20% of data, when no one really knew what would happen in the next week), but the rest of the decisions come from our teams and customers. Hint: if you are coming to a new role or inheriting a new team, don't expect someone to bring ready-made answers. Be ready to build internal and external cross-functional teams to find the truth and, from it, decide on the direction of your division, region, or company.
- It is not the critics who count. Strong leaders will stumble as they are breaking new grounds. The credit needs to be given to those leaders and their teams who really stayed connected to the cause. Hint: what is the value chain of your organization? There is no one right answer, but be very clear on this value chain and then build an execution plan and a management team with an extremely high discipline to execute those value chain points.
- As a leader, make sure that you are investing your time fueling the correct three or four programs that will help move your teams to the next level. Hint: focus on the big three or four rocks that your division needs to work on every 90 days. Do not worry about the 12-18 month strategy; the market is moving so fast that everyone who has a strict plan will probably get punched in the face.
- Strong leaders are leaders who are willing to fail, but at least fail while daring greatly and spending themselves on a worthy cause. You decide whether it's customer care, customer delight, or connected culture.
- Leaders are not always coaches; I'm afraid I have to disagree with this. A good leader who has led 60 to 600 team members knows that they sometimes need to be self-aware of the hats that they will have to exchange. Hints: read my bonus lesson.
Welcome to the leadership framework in the world of new normal. I am always a student of my own mistakes, history, business books, and my executive committee team, and here's what I learned in 2021.
Very experienced leaders who are not theoretical in nature have real scars on their backs. They should have a framework on how to build creative tension. Yes, I mean tension. It is the tension that will usually rise between being creative and thinking outside the box, pivoting, and bringing uniqueness into the market. Yet, your managers need to follow a process and a system to ensure that the delivery is as expected. How can you manage entrepreneurial activities in your organization while ensuring everyone is moving still in one direction? Try executive alignment.
The framework that I am using is called the four P:
Strategy as a Perspective.
Our core values are managed using our belief system or culture code. Here, I put on my coach hat to manage the energy of my team properly.
Strategy as a Position.
What risk should be avoided, boundary systems? Here, I put on my commander hat and bring more clarity and discipline. Programs or tactics that we will pause, markets we will not step into, playbooks that we will not be using.
Strategy as a Plan.
What are the critical performance variables that we are measuring? Having a clear diagnostic control system that everyone should follow will help here–I put on my Boss hat. By the way, this is where you should get the best ROM (Return on Management). Your managers will focus on the correct KPIs to move the rocks forward.
Strategy as Patterns of Action.
What strategic uncertainties might we be facing or might emerge? Have an interactive control system that can give you real live data on how things are quickly evolving. Here, I put on my facilitator and executive sponsor hat. Although I will never have all the answers, I can rely on cross-functional teams that are specialized to find the close answer. We iterate a lot, and this is where agile operation comes in handy.
I hope this article either added value or confirmed your strategic direction for 2022 and beyond. Feel free to leave your comments below! I would love to learn more about other practices and frameworks that work for you.