Top 10 “Must-Do’s” for a Front Line Leader

This is a checklist that has served me well as the front line leader of many organizational turnarounds .

  1. Must be the Leader and set the example for the organization
  2. Must re-shape the work environment and the organizational culture
  3. Must formulate concrete strategy and long-term objectives
  4. Must develop and execute annual operating plans
  5. Must establish and enforce standards of performance
  6. Must make tough decisions and address the real issues faced by the organization
  7. Must allocate resources to achieve your strategy
  8. Must teach and develop direct reports
  9. Must build an organizational identity
  10. Must take responsibility to execute the agenda

Whether or not your turnaround succeeds ultimately depends on employees embracing new strategies and tactics. And that won’t happen without a non-stop employee engagement campaign that requires your complete commitment and involvement. So, starting on Day 1 you have to communicate how you are going to operate and what it will be like to work in this new organization. Constant communication is really inseparable from the act of leadership itself.

You must also remember that while you are establishing a strong foundation for the future,  you have to deliver some early wins to ensure that you are able to stick around for the long-term. Once you show a commitment to the organization and start breaking them from a habit of losing, your turnaround is well on its way to success.


How to keep clients from heading for the exits.

Developing a high performance culture that motivates all employees and sets a new standard for client satisfaction, operational excellence and profitable account management should be an objective for every organization. Even if you are currently experiencing double digit revenue growth, this focus could help you identify and solve issues lurking in the background that threaten to undermine the future of the business.

The attached case study features a dynamic employee engagement campaign that kicked a $2B services organization into overdrive.

Even though the global recession has shifted the focus of most organizations to cost reduction, I believe that effective approaches to employee engagement will separate the winners from the losers when the economy recovers.

To read more about how to keep clients from heading for the exit, click on the following link to read the full case study “The Power of Employee Engagement”:

Top 8 Distinctions between Manager and Leader

Warren Bennis once created a whole list of distinctions between manager and leader, some of the following may be helpful.

  1. The manager administers, the leader innovates
  2. The manager is a copy, the leader is an original
  3. The manager maintains, the leader develops
  4. The manager focuses on systems and structure, the leader focuses on people
  5. The manager relies on control, the leader inspires trust
  6. The manager has a short term view, the leader has a long term view
  7. The manager asks why and how, the leader asks what and why
  8. The manager has her eye on the bottom line, the leader has her eye on the horizon

Leaders focus on employee engagement – inspiring trust, developing people, and creating an organization that is innovative and looking at the horizon. Another way to summarize the list is that managers “do things right” and leaders do the “right thing”.

How good was your last hire / promotion?

“One reason the Roman Empire grew so large and survived so long – a prodigious feat of management – is that there was no railway, car, airplane, radio, paper, or telephone. And therefore you could not maintain any illusion of direct control over a general or a provincial governor. You could not feel at the back of your mind that you could ring him up, or he could ring you, if  a situation cropped up which was too much for him, or that you could fly over and sort things out if they started to get into a mess. You appointed him, you watched his chariot and baggage train disappear over the hill in a cloud of dust, and that was that. There was therefore, no question of appointing a man who was not fully trained, or quite up to the job; you knew that everything depended on his being the best man for the job before he set off.”

Anthony Jay

Hiring, training, and developing leaders has to be a core competence of any organization. Unfortunately, the current economic environment has made this a bit of a lost art. People are seen as being easily replaceable and poor hires and untrained managers can set your efforts back months, if not years. Before your next hire or next promotion, think about them disappearing over the hill in a cloud of dust.

5 Realities of Leadership

  1. “He who wishes to be obeyed must first know how to command” – Niccolo Machiavelli
  2. “No man is a leader until his appointment is ratified in the minds and hearts of his men” – The Infantry Journal, 1954
  3. “The most important quality in a leader is that of being acknowledged as such” – Andre Maurois
  4. “Rank is an appointed position. Authority is an earned condition. Rank is decreed from above. Authority is conferred from below. Authority vanishes the moment those who bestowed it stop believing, and trusting the appointed boss” – Ted Levitt
  5. “A leader must believe in teamwork through participation. He can never close the gap between himself and the group. He must walk as it were, a tightrope between the consent he must win and the control he must exert.” – Vince Lombardi

You may have been given a title by the organization, but ultimately it is the people who will determine if you are a leader. If the time comes that you no longer command their respect, your usefulness comes to an end and your authority to lead is gone.

Leadership: Defining Moments

Everyday Leaders make decisions. The most important and difficult decisions occur when someone has to choose between “Right” and “Right”. These are  what Joseph Badaracco calls “Defining Moments”. While either decision can be viewed as the right decision, the one you choose defines who you are and what you stand for.

A Simple Example

A 9-year-old child tells an administrator that she is to go home on another bus with a friend but doesn’t have a note, you could either:

1)      Follow the standard procedure and tell her that she should have submitted a note at 8:30 am. Since it is 3:00 and since she didn’t provide a note, she must go home on her regular bus. If no one is home, she can go back to the bus depot and wait until someone picks her up. OR

2)      The office can call the emergency contact numbers to verify which bus the child was to go home on. Once verified, she leaves school as planned on the other bus with her friend.

Now, either choice can be viewed as right. You have a procedure to follow to protect the welfare of the child and if you had to call home every time it would be unmanageable. On the other hand, the child is trustworthy and these new arrangements, confirmed by the friend, were made because no one was home to greet the child.

Choice 1 defines you as someone who prides discipline and strict adherence to the rules in order to protect the child.

Choice 2 defines you as someone who cares about the child and recognizes that a call to confirm can avoid a stay in the bus depot.

Which would you choose  and why?

Leadership and Results Orientation

“It’s not enough that you do your best; sometimes you have to do what is required”

Winston Churchill

Early in my career, whenever we communicated a probable miss in the production schedule and told our manager that we were “doing our best”, he would pull out this quote (we never missed a single unit!). “Failure is not an option“, made famous in the Apollo 13 movie, is another way to put it.

As a leader, setting the right tone is critical to create an entrepreneurial and innovative organization. People can achieve great things when you focus them on the goal and encourage them to stretch beyond what they believe is possible.

Key Drivers Ed: How to find opportunities for big improvements in Customer Delight

“Knowledge is the process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification.” – Martin H. Fischer, American Scientist, educator, and author

Focusing on Customer Delight is an admirable goal, identifying the specific issues that have the biggest impact on the customer experience is where the real work begins.

I call them “Key Drivers” of delight and dissatisfaction.

Drivers of delight are outstanding service or product related features that help build customer loyalty. Drivers of dissatisfaction are problems and other shortcomings that damage your relationship with customers.

Finding these drivers is one of the most important steps in the entire business improvement effort. Because once we identify the drivers, we can develop targeted initiatives to increase customer delight and eliminate customer dissatisfaction.

These improvements in turn, boost customer loyalty, decrease attrition, increase share of wallet and generate favorable word of mouth advertising, which helps attract new customers.

A brief introduction to drivers inspired by my refrigerator

Let’s consider the impact of a common household appliance – the refrigerator – on delight and dissatisfaction.

When I take the milk out of the refrigerator, I don’t say, “Wow! That’s cold. Isn’t that great?” And I don’t sing the praises of the manufacturer either, because I expect the milk to be cold. That’s why I bought it in the first place. In other words, the refrigerator isn’t a driver of delight, because its just doing it’s job. And that’s exactly what I expect.

But what happens if the refrigerator goes on the blink? The unexpected failure is going to spoil the milk and make me very unhappy. If I go to the extreme, I will probably never buy anything else that carries that brand again — whether it’s a stove, microwave, vacuum cleaner, or anything else.

From the manufacturer’s standpoint, that’s bad enough. But the situation can get even worse. After all, I will probably tell friends and family members about my unhappy experiences with the refrigerator. And some people I talk to avoid that brand in the future too.

That gives you some idea of the huge impact drivers of dissatisfaction can have on customer loyalty, word of mouth advertising and the bottom line.

Drivers change with the times

Now, let’s turn back the clock, and you’ll see a different side to the refrigerator story. After all, when the electric version of the icebox first hit the market, people were delighted. Even if it didn’t work perfectly all of the time, it was still a driver of delight, because it provided a new exciting, time-saving convenience. As the years passed, however, reliable refrigeration became so commonplace that it lost its ability to delight people.

So what happened? Manufacturers add icemakers, cold water taps and other bells and whistles. And for a while, each of these innovations did cause customer delight. Then they too became commonplace features that met – but did not exceed – customer expectations.

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Leadership Cornerstone: Integrity of Character

“The final proof of the sincerity and seriousness of management is an uncompromising emphasis on integrity of character. For it is character through which leadership is exercised; it is character that sets the example and is imitated. Character is not something a man can acquire. If he does not bring it to the job, he will never have it.”

Peter Drucker

An organization is always watching, analyzing, and assessing a leader’s actions with one question in mind –  is this manager worthy of my following?

Accept the Challenges Inherent in a Leadership Role

“It’s not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt

One of my most cherished possessions is a plaque enscribed with this quote. It was given to me at a going away party by my manager as I prepared to take on my first general manager role. It serves as a reminder that leaders must lead.

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