Making an Impact through Task Completion
By Jack Murphy
The ability to define an organization’s mission and then to assemble a quality team – regardless of its size and skill set – is simply an interesting intellectual exercise if you cannot apply these people to the successful completion of some collective effort. Leadership styles, techniques, and philosophies abound, but the best leaders have consistently demonstrated several fundamental skills to guide people to task completion.
“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Dwight D. Eisenhower
Communicate vertically and horizontally
Regardless of the organization, the task leader is surrounded by an ecosphere of communication challenges. Stakeholders and senior leaders, peer organizations, and team members themselves perform best when given the right information, at the right time, in the right format or context. The most effective leaders understand that this requires a multitude of messaging techniques and tools.
The ability to communicate with most if not every individual on the team usually requires leveraging verbal, written, and digital communication capabilities. Regardless of the tool selected, the best leaders have a knack for repeatedly communicating the vision or message so that all team members can comprehend it.
Plan, conduct, and document effective meetings
Effective leaders know when, how, and why to conduct meetings; they also know when meetings are not necessary. The best leaders apply fundamental meeting management techniques to make the best use of team members’ time, reflecting the organization’s mission and culture, and balancing effectiveness with efficiency. These techniques include:
Agenda development – ensuring meetings are focused and structured to meet readily identifiable results.
Attendee selection – ensuring the right team members are at the right meeting to provide critical input.
Meeting facilitation – convening the meeting on time, setting expectations, and then ensuring the free flow of ideas and conversation focused on the meeting purpose.
Influence without authority
Some of the most effective leaders are not necessarily “managers.” Informal leaders often must influence without authority to enhance the existing organizational leadership without confusing defined roles and responsibilities. Skilled leaders can apply themselves to reinforce “leadership in-depth,” even without the formal mantle or title. Leaders who need to exercise influence should be able to:
Define the requirement or the challenge in clear terms; lay out the “5W’s” in clear, factual conditions so that the “ask” is clear.
Make a compelling case: why does the leader need someone else’s help to solve the problem? (Note: Multiple audiences may have differing interests; be prepared to tailor the message to these audiences.)
Demonstrate discipline and patience to obtain a commitment for action or support from all stakeholders; influence is often the result of building trust and having multiple conversations to obtain concurrence for a specific action plan.
Facilitate and resolve conflict
Facilitation and conflict resolution skills have become increasingly critical over the last 50 years as organizations transition away from typical industrial age hierarchal structures to “flatter,” more collaborative organizations. A successful organizational leader knows how to recognize a conflict as it emerges, identify the root causes, then lead the right team members through productive discussions that culminate in problem resolution.
Manage the workload
Leaders need to set the tone and make sure their teams are not overloaded with more work than they can reasonably achieve. Promote a continuous and predictable flow of work by ensuring work is visible and by limiting the work in process (WIP). Stop starting and start finishing, and watch the team’s throughput increase and the backlog shrink.
Organizational leadership may have evolved over the eons – certainly since the advent of the Industrial Revolution and into the Information Age. The fundamental skills needed to be an effective leader have also evolved but remain critical at any point in the lifecycle of an organization’s pursuit of excellence. Regardless of the industry, desired end state, or composition of the team, at every level, success requires the application of some very fundamental analytical organizational and leadership techniques and procedures.