Leaders need both personal mastery and situational awareness to make the right call at the right time. Six mindsets ensure they grasp their realities to ensure success.
How would you define leadership? Most people would answer that a leader possesses an effective leadership style, impressive skills, and stellar character. And they would be correct. Yet, those three factors miss an essential component. Leaders must consistently deliver results despite new customer requirements, new technology, changing regulations, and incessant competition. The common leadership definitions overlook the importance of situational realities and goal achievement. Historically, we have focused on internal aspects that are stable or slow to change. While skillsets evolve, character and style are relatively stable. Leadership has focused on internal aspects of whom the leader is and the job skills the person possess. This individual focus overlooks external accomplishments. The irony is that those accomplishments are why some leaders are remembered and honored.
We celebrate George Washington, Winston Churchill, and Mahatma Gandhi for their impact. All of them successfully dealt with challenging and rapidly changing situations. And our more recent leaders, from Bill and Melinda Gates to Steve Jobs, are known more for their work than their internal style. Of course, aptitude, skills, and style count—but they do not comprise 100 percent of what makes a leader great. We must expand our definition of leadership to include external mastery, or the ability to understand reality and leverage it to produce results. It is the missing piece of leadership.
Situational mastery includes the practice of collecting comprehensive information, weighing current realities, selecting the pressing priority, and producing the desired results. I believe it has not been a major factor in the field of leadership because it lacked a workable model, and because of the assumption that it was a matter of intelligence rather than discipline. All that is required is for a leader to be willing to collect current data, keep an open mind to objective evidence, allocate time to consider alternatives, critically assess the best path forward, and gain support to implement. This is not rocket science. It merely requires questioning the current situation through six lenses, or mindsets:
Prospects and opportunities to offer new product and services
Retaining current customers, expanding the customer base and building the brand
Organizational design, policies, and system effectiveness
Maximizing work flow for quality, efficiency, and financial return
Developing and retaining talented staff and creating a high-performing culture
Preparing for the future, developing new strategic plans, and searching for potential alliances
Now, I know every leader wants tackle all of these issues at the same time. But if we cannot safely text and drive at the same time, we cannot juggle six complex business initiative simultaneously. Leaders must judiciously target how to allocate their time and resources must be targeted judiciously. And they will, because they know that after the most important goal is achieved, they act on the next most important goal.
Leaders do not need to have all the answers, but they do need to know how to ask the right questions and engage others in the search for information. Leaders can develop a checklist of questions they can share with their staff to gauge what has happened, what is happening, and what need to happen. Consider the following sample with one question from each of the six mindsets.
What new perspective or technology can improve our product line?
What can we do to improve customer service and retention?
What systems or policies need to be revamped?
What will improve work flow, cycle time and ROI?
What will build team and cross-functional collaboration?
What are the emerging opportunities and potential threats?
Additional options for expanding our concept of leadership to include realities and results include:
Check that your coaching and mentoring includes attention to all six situational perspectives, rather than what is currently driving the organization.
Examine your scorecard or performance measures to ensure that each of the six areas are being effectively measured.
Determine if tension with another unit stems from different situational priorities, and discuss how to bridge them for greater cooperation.
Encourage involvement and engagement by asking situational questions of the staff.
Use the situational framework to collect information to handle change, complexity, and precedent setting decisions
Set aside one staff meeting a month or quarter to solve persistent issues or discuss new opportunities
Ask yourself if habit, past practice, or protocol might be limiting opportunities or disguising problems
Recognize and reward those who practice and promote situational analysis and critical thinking.
We must accept that change is probable, pervasive, puzzling, and positive. Therefore, leadership today must include mental agility, situational awareness, critical thinking, and sound judgment. Will Rogers said, “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” Stagnation is dangerous, but moving forward requires a dynamic mastery of external realities and a clear focus on realities and results.
Dr. Mary Lippitt founded Enterprise Management Ltd. thirty years ago to guide leaders to successfully navigate change to deliver results. Her new book is Situational Mindsets (CLICK HERE to get your copy).
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