Having spent thousands of hours coaching and training leaders, I can tell you that almost all of them want to develop their leadership prowess and expand their positive impact within their teams and organizations. While the desire itself sounds feasible, deciding which areas of focus lead to the greatest impact is quite complicated, and certainly unique to each leader.
Leaders are operating in the most ambiguous times corporate America has ever known. With lean teams, accelerated change and increased volatility in our businesses, the number of opportunities for improvement and growth can feel paralyzing.
There are two areas of focus that emerge most often in my work with executives and their teams. Put both elements into practice and you can bolster your leadership potential.
1. Solve problems with your team, not for your team.
I spend a lot of time with teams. The happiest teams are the ones who have a shared purpose and regularly solve problems as a unit — these teams truly work together, not just in subsets or silos.
The most admired leaders I work with present business challenges and problems to their team as something to be tackled together — as a game they can win. They call special meetings on these topics just to hear what ideas their team members can bring forward.
Where I sometimes see leaders get stuck with this is when they tell themselves their team is too stretched, that they’ve already asked too much of them. While this may be true, tackling problems together may invigorate your team and bring them the energy they need in other areas of their work.
In 2009, researchers at Oxford University found that “team players can tolerate twice as much pain as those who work alone.” As reported in The Guardian, they made this discovery by observing the Oxford University rowing team during two 45-minute training sessions. The rowers exhibited a greater pain threshold after training together than when they went through the same routines individually.
If you have a mounting list of problems and challenges within your department or business, try leveraging your team in a new way to bring solutions forward.
2. Implement consistent strategic thinking time.
A study from PricewaterhouseCooper surveying respondents regarding company success yielded that only 36% of them considered their leaders were effective at both strategy and execution. Many leaders tend to hyperfocus on execution because it gives them a feeling of completion and achievement on a day-to-day basis. That focus is shortsighted. The lowest hanging fruit for almost every leader (and one of the first things I request my executives implement right away), is protected, recurring time for strategic thinking and planning. Without time to think, how will you be a strategist and a visionary?
Leaders with protected strategic thinking time see problems and bottlenecks before they arrive. They identify and create opportunities for the business, protect their reputations and credibility by mitigating their double- and triple-booked meetings and come prepared to the ones they lead and attend. They develop and lead with clear agendas. Leadership without strategic thinking is reactionary, tunnel vision.
Try this out: End each week with a 90-minute strategy session where you examine the week that passed and plan the week ahead. In addition, start each day with 10-20 minutes preparing for your day and upcoming meetings.
Regardless of which of these two you choose to focus on, ask yourself how can you make sure you keep your intentions front-of-mind. Consider leveraging a peer accountability partner or executive coach on your journey. Most importantly, enjoy this process and be sure you’re looking for evidence of how your relationships expand and business initiatives accelerate as a result of your new practices!