Those, like myself, who are drawn to the discipline of “leadership” have read our share of articles, research papers and oodles of third-party opinions on the subject matter. However, most if not all of us, will agree that the definition arrives at the same conclusion: Leadership is a skill and talent, mainly by an individual, to lead, motivate, influence other individuals, teams, and entire organizations to act toward achieving a common goal. In business, this implies directing colleagues and workers with a strategy to meet the company’s attainable goals and objectives.
For leadership to possess credibility, it must earn three sacred principles: Truth, Trust and Transparency plus an additional and equally important one ─ Teamwork. These elements will be expounded below.
Regardless of leadership style applied, the four T’s presence are not to be discounted.
Without going much into detail on the eight leadership styles, as this subject is an article or book unto itself, its effectiveness is summarized in the following table:
The four T’s of leadership
The four “T’s” are considered the cornerstone to a leadership’s personality and long-term success. Those skills are all within reach and should be brought to the top of a leadership personality.
Truth: Lack of truth expressed in any organization can take many forms. It could be departments not sharing information because it might put them in a bad situation with peers or it could be information not reaching a manager because no one wants to pass-on any bad news. Leaders need to know the truth to make intelligent business decisions and the employees at all levels should know the truth to do their jobs effectively.
Trust: Without trust, a leader will not succeed instigating a productive team culture. Moreover, the most important attribute building trust is transparency. Leaders build up their team members’ trust by communicating transparently and truthfully – in other words, by being trustworthy. In addition to the importance of team members trusting their boss, it is essential that supervisors also trust their direct reports and facilitate their success by creating the conditions for it.
Transparency: A recent Forbes poll revealed that 50% of employees think their organizations were held back by a lack of transparency. When an individual or an organization is transparent, there are no hidden agendas and no information is being kept from people who need to know it. Transparency also promotes recognition of common goals. This is important because you are not stating one thing while covertly trying to achieve something else. Trust and transparency go hand-in-hand because transparency builds trust.
Teamwork: Teamwork is critical to success in any effort. Excellent leadership requires inspiring the people around them by empowering them, by enabling them to contribute their expertise as a collective and cohesive team, and ultimately trusting them. Teamwork and leadership in tandem are important because they provide clarity for your team and have a direct impact on the vision of the company and its results.
The way these principles need to be applied will vary with each circumstance. However, the principles themselves remain the same. Therefore, leaders can and should apply these principles in an adaptable way.
Leaders must create the conditions in their organization to succeed, as well as trust their colleagues and workers to do so, and verify that they have done so ─ by keeping in consideration the proverb, “Trust but verify.” By applying the principles of trust, truth, transparency and teamwork, leaders will help ensure their teams’ success. I realize that helping others grow brings me fulfillment. I see how being an educator, mentor or coach and an advisor, as well as an employer are rewarding roles for me.
How often do you come across a company, either as a consumer or at a business relationship level, and realize how frustrating it is to deal with?
To understand and penetrate the corporate governing structure and “culture”, you need look no further than the upper echelon of the hierarchical tree. It is here that procedural decisions are shaped and executed. An entity’s leadership is expected to head the enterprise by governing its long-term growth and sustained wealth. Moreover, there is a constant search for the “right” human resources. Recruited and fresh talent must resemble the leadership in tone and style. Call it the organization’s DNA. Exceptional organizations are good at these types of corporate strategies, thus strengthening performance effectively.
We notice that in certain types of B2B transactions, there can be scope for unscrupulous behavior. One or both parties are tempted by “disservice” during their business exchange. Shortsightedness might lend itself to make this underhanded approach appear “profitable” on paper. Such relationships inevitably end badly because they are not conceived with trust or respect.
Success Breeds Success
Companies that foster the right attitudes and strategies put the firm on track for success. Examining their corporate histories, you can witness a trajectory of growth. They have a tendency to dominate their markets and “win” through competent talent, innovation, and an entrepreneurial mindset within the leadership at the executive level. These choices underscore the prosperity and rapid growth of the institution. An examination of Alphabet (Google) or Facebook shows this quite nicely. They are not built like “traditional” corporations nor do they act like them.
Organizational leadership is accountable for creating value for customers, employees and its owners/investors. When Bill Gates conceived Microsoft, he put the firm on track for providing constituent audiences with what nobody else could provide. Understanding “asset” management in an expanded meaning of the term guaranteed that Microsoft would succeed under Gates stewardship.
The opposite is equally true. When top executives lack knowledge or experience for board positions, they should not be promoted to these leadership roles. Some family owned firms run afoul here and this brings up the issues of sustainability and corporate governance. Another weakness in running an organization, in my view, is pushing for short-term profitability at the expense of solid planning. For example, with large organizations, competence is not the primary value but rather connections, politics, and clever tactics. Such “benefits” can usually compensate for incompetence.
No business can continue to prosper unless it attracts fresh and eager talent. Despite the dilemmas within the financial world, top organizations consistently lure new talent with lucrative compensation packages. It is easier for a firm such as Goldman to tap the “best” because of its reputation, size and success than a small local financial player. When Goldman recruits they know where to look, whether it is Harvard or the London Business School. Prospects will already contain the seeds of the corporate culture in their past. Given the “right” conditions, new talent blossoms. Qualifications are never enough. They are a starting point reinforced by attitude and values. The selection and screening process is designed by HR to weed out inappropriate candidates.
Established software companies’ interview process include quizzing candidates with challenging technical questions. This practice not only assesses problem-solving and knowledge ability, but also explores the ability to perform under pressure, which is a key skill required for software engineers to succeed in their intense work environment.
One thing is firmly certain ─ the best-managed companies have “one” factor in common: They are constant achievers in their respective industries. These companies exude managerial excellence. Financial performance is the result of this style of management. Consider companies such as Amazon, Apple and Cisco, among others, which thrive and ranked in 2019 by the Drucker Institute as America’s largest publicly traded companies according to Peter Drucker’s principles of effectiveness—“doing the right things well.”
Deeds Not Slogans
Companies with inept leadership usually fail in the first year or two, but even established companies can stumble badly when they outgrow the capabilities of the founding team. Research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates that nearly 6/10 businesses shut down within the first 4 years of operation.
To be a successful entrepreneur is not an effortless task. It takes plenty of sacrifice. A new generation of young entrepreneurs think the road is smooth and a fast track to easy wealth. Not everyone will become Jeff Bezos. Obstacles and sacrifice are part of the deal. Harnessing opportunity and overcoming challenges daily to top the competition is constant work. These conditions are true no matter what the sector of business engagement or company size.
Telltale signs of weak organizations can be traced to inept leadership. The following points highlight the deficiencies: • Poor customer service – slow or no customer inquiry replies – abysmal handling of sales and service complaints. Service is portrayed as a reward, not a right or benefit. • No Unique Selling/Value Proposition – Companies need to define and articulate their unique value proposition and deliver on it consistently. Create the platform for sustainable and competitive advantage. • Operational deficiencies – various ailments and no structure • Absence of or very little communication among staff and management – Divisions aren’t well-coordinated and do not function as a team. • No transparency – There is hardly any openness from management. • Unethical practices – short-term selfish objectives in search of market share. Top executives should promote social norms and principles as moral agents. • Lack of proper execution of decisions and with new products/services. • Productivity incentives should be implemented to boost results and employee morale. People must be given a reason to work hard and be efficient. • Creativity is practically non-existent – An absence of innovation and employee empowerment will hurt progress and stifle new ideas. • No clear vision/strategy – there needs to be a strategic vision that reflects a truly unmet need and has the commitment of a dedicated CEO. That means that there is a well-defined target audience with a distinct value position that is differentiated, meaningful, and deliverable. • A weak sales force along with an unattractive compensation plan. • Favoring nepotism and bias – promoting family members over other qualified employees often leads to resentment or, worse, prompts valuable non-family employees to leave the company. • Poor hiring practices – should hire for attitude and train for skills. • Slow/delayed decision-making process – too many layers – overwhelming bureaucratic structure. • High turnover, which leads to poor employee morale, reduced intellectual capital, lower service levels, higher operational costs and decreased productivity. • Management in a state of denial about their organization’s shortcomings – remaining with the dysfunctional status quo • No specific and/or stable channel strategy – Some companies focus on building a product, but don’t think through how to get it into the hands of customers. Even if your product is great, unless you can sell directly, you may be dead in the water without strong channel partners. • The hidden game – corporate politics – power plays by a handful of individuals for their own benefit to the detriment of their colleagues and the company. • Misrepresentation of brand(s) – too much hype – empty promises – not delivering on expectations – leads to dissatisfied clients who will alienate the brand. • Weak financial controls – cash flow dilemmas – over leveraged/undercapitalized (high debt-to-capital ratio) – not reinvesting a certain percentage of profits for future growth. • Absence of sound marketing program(s) and/or brand strategy – A brand is defined by how it behaves, from the products it builds to how it treats its customers, to the suppliers with whom it works. • Growing too fast and not staying on course as the company grows. • Lack or very little employee training & development. • Deficient in control systems – reactive rather than pro-active. • Lack of continuous improvements or complacent.
Top executives need to be accountable to the ownership or Board of Directors – whichever applies, or at least to an outside arm’s length and neutral party such as an adviser who can also play “devil’s advocate” when necessary.
Good Organizations Matter
The way to solve an organizational problem is to confront the structural issues with a moral sense of purpose and ethics. For its clients to receive stellar service, the firm must have its house in order. Besides structure and an efficient operation, employees should be trained and empowered to do their jobs efficiently.
Seth Godin, a renowned marketing strategist, stated succinctly: “If you want to build a caring organization, you need to fill it with caring people and then get out of their way. When your organization punishes people for caring, don’t be surprised when people stop caring. When you free your employees to act like people (as opposed to cogs in a profit-maximizing efficient machine) then the caring can’t help but happen.”
Companies that disrespect their employees and shut-out clients get willfully isolated and have a short life span through an erosion of market share and significant loss of revenue. A company’s goal should place emphasis on serving its people properly and fairly. Higher morale generates higher profits – though occasionally other priorities hinder that objective, for example, self-serving behavior by certain executives.
Enterprises spanning a wide array of industries, have earned distinction as “well-” or “best-” managed” by demonstrating business excellence through a meticulous and independent process that evaluates their management abilities and practices – by focusing on innovation, continuous training, brainstorming and caring for their employees’ well-being – as well as investing in meeting the needs of their clients.
In a nutshell: Well-run companies thrive no matter what by hiring the right people, taking good care of them, listening to customers and never ceasing to innovate and improve.