Leadership Practices That Drive Results

By Dianne Durkin  |  Posted 2010-04-08

In today’s fast-moving global economy, change is inevitable, and the primary responsibility of leaders is to initiate and deal effectively with change. Leaders need to be creative problem-solvers who use their imagination to re-examine the status quo, visualize new possibilities and ask, “What if?” They need to continually seek improvements in processes and procedures to maximize efficiency and effectiveness.

In addition, leaders must stay ahead of the curve in managing people and their organizations through change. Trust is the essential foundation for leaders trying to energize change in their organizations and improve their bottom line.

The process of establishing trust involves a combination of the following:

• Congruency of words and deeds
• Communications
• Respecting people’s ideas
• Following through on commitments
• Recognizing one’s own strengths and areas that need development
• A willingness to admit mistakes.

Once trust is established, leaders can move forward to incorporate five major strategies for good leadership.

Strategy 1: Engage employees in discussion. Leaders at every level should actively challenge and encourage staff members to contribute their thoughts, ideas and creative solutions to make their jobs, departments and organizations better. This is particularly true during periods of restructuring and change.

As part of this process, management should ask employees the following key questions:
• What are the top three strengths of our organization?
• What are the top three areas that need improvement?
• What do you personally need in order to improve your efficiency and effectiveness?
• If there were one thing we should change, what would it be?

Harold McAlindon, author of The Little Book of Big Ideas, said it well: “The quality of an organization can never exceed the quality of minds that make it up.”

Strategy 2: Create focus and shared vision. Because change is inevitable, leaders must create clear, concise future strategies and focus. These strategies need to be communicated to all employees in a timely and consistent fashion. This allows department managers to reinforce the messages and highlight how each employee’s efforts contribute to the overall corporate strategy.

Strategy 3: Communicate, communicate, communicate. Sharing the vision, strategies, values and positioning of the company is most critical when the workforce seems volatile. Leaders must remember that employees are the ones who bring the company’s vision and strategies to life, so it’s important for them to have an in-depth understanding of its goals and standards.

Perks are nice, but employees are also looking for something more basic: They want to be told the truth, and they want to feel they are making a difference. So create the focus and vision, and communicate it to everyone.

Strategy 4: Ask, listen and empower employees. Employees want to see their organizations succeed, and many have excellent ideas on how to save money, enhance operations, streamline processes, etc. It’s important to ask for their input, listen to their suggestions, and empower them to formulate solutions. Setting up employee teams to work on major business issues provides creative, innovative thinking that will surpass management’s expectations. Supply the teams with specific information about the goals, objectives, deliverables and time frames to maximize their efforts and solve business issues.

Strategy 5: Recognize and praise employees. During unsettled times, everyone takes on additional responsibilities, and it’s particularly important for leaders to recognize the increased effort. A simple “Thank you” or “Great job” are the most meaningful words a manager can use. They will build trust, increase loyalty and encourage people to work even harder.

In summary, congruence of words and actions, communications, respecting people’s ideas and following through on commitments—while recognizing the strengths and areas for development on an individual and organizational level—will inspire and motivate employees to execute new strategies and changes. A leader motivates, inspires and energizes people by connecting the vision, mission, values, purpose and business goals of the organization to individual values and needs. This type of leadership is what companies need to drive results.

Dianne Durkin is the president and founder of Loyalty Factor, a Portsmouth, N.H.-based training and consulting firm that educates executives, managers and employees in ways to build customer and brand loyalty. She is the author of The Loyalty Advantage and a contributor to Blueprint for Success.