Leaving a Leadership Legacy: Big Skills in the Leadership Space

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Published by The Canadian Society of Club Managers in CMQ (Winter, 2016)

Most people recognize that leaders have the ability to impact many aspects of an organization. One of the key areas is people, including staff and management team members at all levels.  There is a perception that leadership involves guiding the masses, who, if not for the leader, might never find their way forward.  This is a concept that is quite dated.

Leaders have the ability to create an organization that is empowered at every level, in terms of continuous learning, improvement, advancement, and dare we say, independence. Envision a place where staff members understand their role, take steps to perform it efficiently, apply innovation and improvement where it makes sense to do so, and strive to take on and learn more.  Staff members know what to do and how to work well with others, putting their hand up only when help is needed.  Micromanagement isn’t practiced here.

Instead, managers are able to free themselves from mundane and repetitive tasks that consume far too much time in a given day: the questions of what to do, who should do it, and why. Instead, they are able to focus on things that actually improve how a club functions, is perceived in the marketplace, and perhaps most importantly, where it’s going in the future.  If this sounds like an elusive place that doesn’t exist, think again.  It’s all a product of what empowered leadership can do.

Trouble in the Club

One of the realities of being a leader is that the higher you rise, the more people you have reporting to you. Although many might represent indirect reporting relationships that don’t actually interact with you on a daily basis, rest assured that they are out there, keeping a keen eye on how you lead.  When leaders operate on a basis of insecurity, indifference, or a lack of purpose, a wide range of negative outcomes can result.  Regardless, there is a missed opportunity to “leave the place better than you found it”, in terms of advancing the capability of staff and management team members and how they approach their roles.

Believe it or not, some leaders have a strong need to be “needed”; to be the referral point for all the questions, the one who provides all of the directions, and is the proverbial “smartest person in the room”. This type of approach misses the opportunity for staff members to stand on their own two feet and creates an unhealthy dependence on the leader (for both the organization and its people).  Looking sharp in this type of environment actually doesn’t make you valuable; rather, such leaders are a barrier to an organization’s ability to grow and make progress.

Leading Large

One of the most powerful things that leaders can do is put everyone in the organization in a position to do more.  Development can be fostered well when it starts at the top, as an example of how all staff and management team members should operate.  Here’s how to get started on the empowerment path:

  • Focus on the bigger picture. Insecurity can arise from scenarios where people feel that they are “giving up” something to someone else. Delegating some of your tasks to a member of your senior team shouldn’t create feelings of insecurity, such as “what if they do a better job?”; rather, it should increase the level of organizational performance overall, a goal in which you should find comfort.
  • Establish professional development plans. Performance management shouldn’t just focus on what a staff member did in the past or where they currently are. Include an action plan of two to three items that are to be successfully learned over the next six-month period, such as taking on a new area of responsibility or completing a training program. This approach helps to keep the focus on progress that can be applied, measured, and built upon.
  • Be a learning organization. Make it a requirement for all staff and management team members to commit to learning on an ongoing basis. Approaches could include taking on new responsibilities, completing courses or training programs, or mentoring a peer. Remember that teaching and transferring knowledge is also learning.
  • Don’t settle for less. Seek to replace those who aren’t on board or don’t consider development to be part of their job description. Negative attitudes and opting out of what’s expected don’t just harm the role at hand, they also hold back the rest of the organization. Effective leaders can’t afford to carry this type of baggage.
  • Reinforce the vision. Remind staff and management team members that your organization is a place of excellence where everyone can soar. Show them how this behavior fits with where the organization can go in the future. An environment where people see the opportunity to make progress in their role and are empowered to do so is a great place to be.

Developing and empowering staff and management team members to a level of independent competence represents an opportunity to create a lasting legacy. If you think that sounds powerful, that’s because it is!  Those who have the courage and ability to make it happen differentiate themselves in the leadership arena more than they know.

COVER STORY: Managing People- Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your team

As featured on the cover and published by The Canadian Society of Club Managers in CMQ (Winter, 2015)

It’s obvious that people make the business world “go round”, and clubs are no different.  The complexity associated with people only increases when you enter the senior ranks, as club managers are typically faced with staff related tasks and relationships that include many components: recruitment, motivation, role definition, performance management, and broader supervision are only a few.  These areas must be considered specifically in terms of team members in senior level roles, which typically have a significant impact on an organization (positive or negative), more complex tasks, and a limited talent pool from which to draw candidates.  Perhaps, the result of this complexity is that the human resource aspect of a club management role often isn’t addressed as fully as it should be.

There is a lot that club managers need to consider and understand when it comes to dealing with staff members, particularly in terms of their senior team.  This includes knowing when action is required, in terms of hiring, firing, supervising, and simply providing support and giving people room to do their job.  Such an uncommon talent, of what to do and when to do it, can best be cultivated through personal awareness and practice, while keeping in mind the ultimate goal of creating a senior team that has the right skills and experience and well crafted roles, as well as a balance of support and direction.  Sound unachievable?  Think of it as something to strive for and an opportunity to seek out practical advice that can help to guide the process.

As discussed in the last issue, there are fundamental skills that successful senior leaders typically exhibit and consistently practice, in terms of the approach that is taken to fulfil their role on a personal level.   Here’s more about the why making a concerted effort to manage people well is so important at the leadership level.

Trouble in the Club

Like many businesses, clubs are busy places. When the list of tasks is longer than what can be reasonably achieved in a day (or a week, or a year), it’s human nature to focus on the areas that represent a “comfort zone” of where we feel most competent in terms of our ability to make progress.  This often doesn’t include human resource matters!

Human resource related responsibilities, such as recruitment, performance management, and coaching can be time consuming and often represent the proverbial “can that gets kicked down the road”, particularly in busy times.  There is considerable risk in this practice, in terms of both strong and marginally performing team members.  Too often, marginal performers are allowed to continue in their role (“he/she isn’t doing that badly…”), while the “stars” become frustrated by a lack of progress and obvious inequity amongst team members (and who can blame them? No one likes to have to compensate for a marginal performer).

The big risk, which is often surprising to leaders, is that their best performing team members will leave the organization, due to frustration, a lack of fairness, and better career options, leaving behind the marginal performers.  This is a disaster in the making for any club manager, especially when a reputation of not dealing with problem situations is created within the candidate pool of potential employees.  Not to mention having to manage a club full of less than stellar staff members!

Leading Large

Skilled leaders know how and when to take action when it comes to managing people and never let this important area slide.  They recognize that the rewards are many, including better performance that benefits the organization and an improved sense of fairness or equity within the senior team.  Here’s how to get the managing people aspect of a senior leadership role right:

  • Hire slowly, fire quickly. This advice might sound obvious, but, too often, it simply isn’t followed. Be sure to take the necessary time to fully understand the particular role that needs to be filled before undertaking the recruitment process.  Once this has been done, let the needs of the organization and the role guide the candidate recruitment and selection process.  Similarly, when a team member is not working out as expected, act on a timely basis and take the appropriate performance management steps.  Carrying a marginal, weak, or disruptive staff member doesn’t help the organization or the team.
  • Lead with quality, not quantity. Managing people effectively at a senior level isn’t about hovering or offering up frequent (but unnecessary) advice, it’s more about understanding the stage of development of each team member, their strengths and weaknesses, and when to provide support.  Empowerment, creating opportunities for tangible learning, and the quality of the coaching message are what matters.
  • State the obvious. Although some leaders might think that knowledge or information should be obvious or implied, people like to be in the know and understand what is expected of them at all times.  New initiatives, key results and targets, strategic direction, and opportunities to improve are all important areas to share with a senior team, so don’t keep them guessing.
  • See situations as they really are. It might seem hard to believe, but some leaders operate on the basis that if it is possible to resolve a particular problem, it will be done, regardless of the actual ability of the team member to do so. This dangerous practice is analogous to the “out of sight, out of mind” concept, so be sure that your expectations are realistic and identify areas where training and support are needed.
  • The sky is the limit. Experienced leaders recognize that when they are fortunate enough to have a real star on their team, they perform best by having the freedom to do their job, within organizational guidelines and policies.  These people consistently generate great results, are reliable, and will ask for assistance when required.  Let them do their job and don’t meddle, as a much better strategy is to use your time to work with team members who are not as savvy.
  • Recognize that a big part of a leadership role is coaching. At its essence, leading is all about assembling a team that can successfully execute on its business plan, to the benefit of the organization at hand.  Senior roles are less about doing the front line work and more about helping others to be successful in their role.  Making this a reality requires coaching, feedback, and support on an ongoing basis.

Leaders are often judged by the company they keep, and integral to this is people.  Understanding who your team members are, in terms of ability and developmental requirements, as well as what their role is puts you in the best position to support their success.  Don’t miss out on this important opportunity.

Leading Large: Big skills in the leadership space

Published by The Canadian Society of Club Managers in CMQ (Fall, 2014)

So, you’re a club manager; that’s great!  Anyone who’s ever tried to move up the ranks in their career understands just how difficult it can be to progress.  It doesn’t matter if it’s your first management position, a move to a more senior role, or larger club, each and every step comes with new challenges (and some days, it seems like there are nothing but challenges in sight!).

What’s interesting is that many of the obstacles that managers face, especially at the senior level, have little to do with the “technical” aspects of the job, such as overseeing events or updating a club’s offerings.  Rather, it’s the leadership related aspects of the role that can be difficult, leaving new or less experienced managers at a loss in terms of how to find resolution.  Many of us have struggled through such “learning experiences”.

What might be surprising (and, perhaps, comforting), is that there are fundamental skills that successful, senior level people typically exhibit and consistently practice.  Such abilities are not characterized by complex business practices or high brow academia; rather, they are more about the approach that the individual takes to fulfil their role on a personal level and are essential to generating a positive outcome.  Characteristics such as, solid communication, high role engagement, and collaboration are all important skills that are typically exhibited by seasoned senior level managers, providing a powerful assist to generating success.

Accomplished leaders know that failing to do any of these things could result in a host of problems, including weak performance and low staff member engagement, running the risk of negatively impacting the broader club environment.  Despite this reality, too many fail to utilize these vital skills, especially those in the mid-level ranks with expectations to progress further.  What these people don’t realize is just how much a lack of attention to the leadership aspect of a role can limit their upward mobility (and might even result in being labeled as not having the potential to progress).  Or, even worse, there are those who ascend to the senior level ranks based on their technical ability alone, but fail to be successful due to poor leadership skills.

A better approach is to take the initiative to understand how successful senior leaders approach their role and start to adopt these behaviors; now.  Consistent practice of these skills will not only differentiate you from others in your peer group and generate better results today, but will also help to prepare you for climbing the ladder tomorrow.  In this series, we will consider several important skill areas that will help you to lead large.  Let’s get started with the first skill: communication.

Trouble in the Club

Have you ever tried to advance an initiative or project with a group that just doesn’t seem to be moving forward?  Group members seem confused about their responsibilities.  A lack of clarity over who is supposed to do what reigns, and, after a while, no one seems to care much.  Meetings are held, but at the end of an hour or two, no one is quite sure what the next steps are.  Subsequent conversations are repetitive (with the same few bits of content), little is accomplished, and enthusiasm starts to fade.  Sound familiar?

This type of situation can arise due to a number of factors; however, one of the main problems is always communication.  This includes everything from having clear meeting agendas, to how the discussion process is managed, to meaningful documentation of decisions and next steps.  In the absence of being diligent about the process, it’s really just “meeting for the sake of meeting”.  How discouraging.

But, it’s even worse than that.  Consider this: every day, thousands of hours of staff and management time are wasted by working on initiatives that lack the clarity, communication, and practical steps to move forward.  As disturbing as this is, it’s an opportunity for you to take a leadership role and cast some much needed light on a bleak situation.

Leading Large

Put yourself on the leadership path by making a conscious effort to always strive to be understood, investing in the practice and attention to detail where required.  As a result, not only will you develop important leadership skills, you will also make a meaningful contribution to improve how your club functions.  However you look at it, that’s money in the bank.  Here are some tips:

  • Let simplicity reign. Anyone can make something sound complicated, and too often, they do.  Stand out from the crowd by demonstrating the ability to take something that is complicated and make it understandable to others.  Any situation can be distilled down to a simple concept that others can easily absorb; make it your talent to find it.
  • Make clarity the objective. Applying a deliberate level of focus to delivering your message in a way that is as clear and understandable as possible can greatly enhance the likelihood that it will be easily understood by others.  The concept is simple, but developing the necessary skillset to do so isn’t; make it your goal to get there.
  • Less is more. Excessive wordiness and hiding the heart of the matter in too much chatter and anecdotal information doesn’t facilitate good communication.  Use words selectively and seek to get from Point A to Point B efficiently; make it your practice to not leave others in the conversation behind.
  • Focus on writing skills. Like it or not, real benefit exists in taking a business writing, grammar, or presentation course to improve your communication ability. A practical option is to spend more time working directly with people who write well or volunteering to take on tasks that have a significant communication component; make a commitment to pursue one of these options for tangible skill development.
  • Document what matters. It’s obvious that no one really enjoys the process related aspects of meeting planning, such as developing agendas, taking minutes, or updating project plans; however, these are important components of the management world. Set yourself aside from the pack and raise your hand next time these types of tasks are being assigned; make it your own opportunity to learn and excel.
  • Forward, march! Leaders are always thinking about the next steps or the “why does this matter?” aspect of everything that they do; make it a personal strength to hold the attention of others by keeping communication practical, relevant, and action oriented.

The funny thing about communication is that it can quickly become contagious.  Some of your team members might actually start to improve their communication skills just by following your example.  Just look at who’s leading now!