The real issue is that all leaders can improve. Whether you’re a seasoned executive or a high-potential team member, you can boost your performance in five crucial leadership areas.
More than half a million business books deal with leadership acumen, but studying the most respected experts’ ideas reveals a consensus on the foremost roles required for effectiveness.
In The Leadership Code: 5 Rules to Lead By, (Harvard Business Press, 2011) Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood and Kate Sweetman have synthesized current thinking on leadership and developed a framework that blends idealism with realism. They’ve distilled leadership into five core roles, regardless of one’s industry or business environment:
1. Strategist — Leaders shape the future.
2. Executor — Leaders make things happen.
3. Talent manager — Leaders engage today’s talent.
4. Human-capital developer — Leaders build the next generation.
5. Personal proficiency — Leaders invest in their own development.
Five Golden Rules
Having a framework for the most essential leadership skills will help you avoid quick fixes and business-book fads. While the scope of leadership may seem overwhelming, five golden rules provide much-needed focus.
Leaders must excel in many areas: innovative strategies, long-term customer relationships, quality execution, high-performing teams and accountability. They need to manage people, communicate well, engage and inspire others, exercise keen judgment and decision-making, excel at emotional intelligence and demonstrate ethical integrity. It’s easy to get lost if you pursue the wrong priorities.
With a clear and concise framework that covers the entire leadership landscape, you can concentrate on how to become more effective and determine the best ways to develop talent. The Leadership Code offers five pivotal rules that lay out how the game is played. Knowing them enables you to modify your behavior and ultimately succeed.
Rule 1: Shape the future. As a strategist, you must answer the question “Where are we going?” for the people you lead. You not only envision the future, but help create it. You need to figure out where the organization must go to succeed, while pragmatically testing ideas against current resources and capabilities. Work with others to figure out how to move from the present to the desired future.
How informed are you about future trends, both inside and outside your field? How much time and attention do you allocate to future planning? How will you inspire your people with vision, purpose, mission and strategies?
Rule 2: Make things happen. As executors, leaders focus on the question, “How can we ensure we’ll reach our goals?” You must translate strategy into action. You’ll need to transform plans for change into measurable results by assigning accountability, knowing which decisions to manage and which to delegate, and ensuring that teams work together effectively.
This means keeping promises to multiple stakeholders. It also means ensuring that systems are in place for others to perform with the support and resources they need. Discipline is required. How can you help your people create their own high-performance results? Do you know when to step in or, conversely, step back?
Rule 3: Engage today’s talent. As a talent manager, you’re in charge of optimizing teams’ performance. You must answer the question, “Who goes with us on our business journey?” You need to know how to identify, build and engage talent for immediate results.
How can you bring out the best in people? Do you know which skills are required and where to find talent in your organization? How can you best develop and engage people, guaranteeing that they turn in their best efforts? When you excel at talent management, you generate personal, professional and organizational loyalty. Talent thrives when you provide nurturing and developmental opportunities.
Rule 4: Build the next generation. As a human-capital developer, you’ll need to plan for the next generation. You must answer the question, “Who stays and sustains the organization for the next generation?” Just as talent managers ensure shorter-term results through people, human-capital developers make sure the organization has the longer-term competencies and people required for future strategic success.
This rule requires you to think in terms of building a workforce plan focused on future talent, developing that talent and helping employees envision their future careers within the company. You cannot overlook the fact that the organization will outlive any single individual.
Rule 5: Invest in yourself. Leaders must model what they want others to master. Leading others ultimately begins with yourself. You cannot expect to influence followers unless you invest time and energy on your personal proficiency, individual strengths, self-awareness, and emotional and social intelligence. If you’re not working with a mentor or executive coach, you’re missing out on one of the most effective ways to build strengths and talents.