Developing Strategic Leadership- What

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By Rebecca Livesey, Managing Director, Achieve-Lead-Succeed

Rebecca has held numerous leadership roles across Australia and the UK in a range of industries including energy, logistics and mining services, including GM Business Strategy and Growth, and CIO (interim) at WesTrac, one of the world’s largest Caterpillar dealers.

We are facing an interesting challenge in business right now. The pace of technology advancement and corresponding rate of change needed in organisations is incredible. To combat this we are all working frantically on improving business agility, optimising our business models, driving transformations, being disrupters before being disrupted. And somehow in this big old space of uncertainty we have to bring our people along for the ride.

Here’s the conundrum –brains (and therefore people!) like certainty, and right now more than ever it is difficult to say what will happen with emerging technologies, which market will be disrupted next, what a business will look like going forward and how long before it may need to change again. And as leaders we are all working hard on how to provide that certainty, how to respond to external factors, how to mitigate risks – yet more things to add to the ever growing To-Do list!

So what do we do about this? In my experience, when leaders scrap the To-Do List and work on their To-Be List, they provide certainty for their people in this ever changing world.

In other words -we can’t always be certain about the ‘What’, but as leaders we can be certain about the ‘How’ and the ‘Why’.

This is the crux of authentic values based leadership – are you ‘Being’ with certainty? Have you set up the environment for success for your team based on a strong purpose to which you are aligned? Have you a clear set of values and standards around delivering them? Does your belief system support the direction of the business?

I’ve found that answering these three questions brings the focus to how we are Being, rather than what we are Doing. And when there are problems in the Doing (eg. execution issues, or un-resourceful people conflicts) it’s often because we don’t have clear consistent answers to these questions.

So let’s consider a strong purpose to which you are aligned. Have you worked with your executive peers to develop a strong business ‘Why’? Does everyone in the business understand how they contribute to this Why?

What about your ‘personal why’. What gets you up out of bed every morning excited to take on the world? It may not always be the mission of the business you work for, but does it support that mission? Consider if your ‘personal why’ is self- serving or others-focussed. The chances are – if it is others-focussed you can find alignment, self-serving motives, however well hidden, reduce the capacity for trust in the environment, and lack of trust is an alignment killer.

Then move onto values. Values are simply what are important to us, consciously or unconsciously. A good test is to look at where you (or the business) spend time and money. This generally indicates what we think is important!

Which is why it is also crucial to set standards of behaviour around values. We may state a value of Safety for example, but the moment a leader is witnessed walking past an unsafe act without challenging because ‘they were in a hurry’, a standard eroding moment has occurred and the environment suffers.

Consider your personal values and how they flow into standards in your business life. Set higher standards for yourself than the organisation demands, and stick to them consistently.

Finally a strong belief – It’s interesting to check in with yourself to see if you truly believe in the direction of your business and its ability to get there. Because if you don’t, your team will pick up on it. The majority of our communication is non-verbal and these tricky little beliefs will sneak through you and create uncertainty!

Beliefs are what we hold to be true, a convenient assumption of reality! We can, if we choose, ‘try on’ beliefs. If we consider someone we admire who is getting results in an area of life in which we would like results, model their thinking by trying on their beliefs and see what results we get. Choose your beliefs to serve and support you. If it serves and supports you as a leader to believe in the business’ direction, because it provides certainty for your team, choose that.

Having a strong aligned purpose, a clear set of values and standards, and a supportive belief system means your team and the people around you know they can rely on your Why and How, even if the future What is uncertain.

So I encourage you as transformational leaders, to focus on creating certainty in Being, and start working on and ticking off your To-Be List.

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