How to have leadership impact with less misery

by | Mar 20, 2013

We often hear from leaders and management of industry, natural resource management and similar bodies that the job can be a thankless one. You sometimes hear it too from their partners at home who are even more candid. The issues are tough, expectations high, hours long and the critics prolific. It is passion to make a difference that keeps them involved.

Here, I will share two ideas based on observation and experience as to how you can re-position to have more impact with less misery.

Firstly, stop trying to please everybody. It’s like an unwritten ground rule that these organisations attempt to solve every stakeholder’s burning issue. It’s a recipe for disaster and, deep down, members and stakeholders know that it’s not possible anyway. They know from personal experience that breaking through on an important issue takes focused effort over time. And even then, timing is everything.

Yet people like it when you accept that their issue is your focus – and it is good to be liked. This is how a culture of appeasement creeps in.

Here is the key insight – the more you seek to appease people, they more will demand of you and your organisation and the less they are likely to trust you. Instead, the pathway to being valued involves becoming effective as an organisation so that you can build respect. Note the order?

It may seem counterintuitive, but becoming a highly effective industry or environmental body involves risking unpopularity with some. It helps if you remember that a small portion of any population exists to criticise and will thrive on negativity (look no further than the internet trolls).

Thus, the mindset to adopt is that there will always be critics if you take no action or if you take any action. Such a mindset opens the door for leading an agenda you strongly believe will make a meaningful difference for key stakeholders. By placing emphasis on doing the right things, you choose effectiveness over popularity and leadership over being reactive.

All this involves setting priorities, making informed decisions and communicating ten times more than you thought necessary. And yes, there will be critics, but in a climate of constant uncertainty and disruption, informed stakeholders are more likely to value and engage with organisations that focus efforts on selected outcomes instead of diluting efforts in search of popularity.

This brings me to the second point. Stop doing stuff. The usual pattern when plans and targets are changed is for the new imperatives to be added and all the old ones remain. It is a particular curse for staff in government, but people in most organisations have suffered the ‘adding on’ of work without any ‘subtraction’. All too often, even herculean productivity gains can’t fill that gap.

The consequence is that the organisation can’t deliver external outcomes because it is spread thinly internally. Thus, stakeholder expectations rise while staff motivation falls until it reaches a tipping point – usually in the form of leadership changes and/or a forced restructure.

In summary, the ultimate source of much of the misery of hard working and passionate leaders and management is that their organisation tries too hard to appease stakeholders.

Avoiding misery and maximising impact means choosing to focus on selected priorities where your organisation is uniquely positioned to add value for its key stakeholders. And then stop doing all the other stuff. If you keep doing this and embed it in the organisations’ culture, over time, you will be positioned to get more results, be more valued and have more quality time at home.

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