Thursday, May 10, 2012

Personalized Leadership Creates True Contributors

I’m a big picture person. I usually can’t see the trees for the whole forest. I keep a spreadsheet of all of my annual goals and their corresponding tasks. It's true. Nerdy, but true. I've been doing it for years.  I have to construct lists to get myself to a task-level. I list specific tasks every day.
A model of one of my Goal - Objective - Task Pyramids

The tasks I list every day are things like: storytime at the library, 9:30 a.m., call SVP of case subject firm B, prep lasagna, blog post write, blog post post, blog post share, read book for book club, clean bathroom, get mail. Each one contributes to a goal.

Whenever I feel distracted, I ask myself:

Task lists are how I make sure the answer to that question is usually yes. That question hung on a post-it note on my monitor at my previous job for about three years. It reminded me to stay focused by naming the tasks and then doing them. I consider this personal leadership.

Connect the tasks to the goal

Leadership gurus will suggest that selling the big picture is a key leadership role. Some leaders sell it and stop. But not everyone can see themselves in the big picture. So shouldn’t the leader fragment the big picture and sell everyone their roles, too? This could be called personalized leadership. 

I believe the big picture’s fragmentation and understanding where your followers are in that fragmentation are key leadership tasks.

Everyone has a job to do

At the end of Clemson Road some construction entity is clearing several thousand acres of land for what will become this. The design is a European-inspired village with offices, restaurants, stores, and city-style walk-to-everything dwellings.

I asked Cuk if he thought the guys who are clearing the land have seen the big picture. Has it been communicated to them that they are creating a particular ambiance or design? Do they know what the end product will look like? Or even what the next team needs from the ground clearers to be able to lay curbs and streets?

Begin with the end in mind

See, the land clearing is really early in the process. Not only is it early, but it lays the foundation for everything that is to come. There must be firmer, denser ground wherever the vision has planned tall buildings. The area that will be excavated for an amphitheater: less so. Wouldn’t the ground clearers need to know that?

Cuk told me that big picture knowledge helps everyone make better decisions. Knowing where the amphitheater is going to be will help the ground-clearing, shovel-driving team make decisions about how much time and dirt to dedicate to specific positions.

I agreed with him and added that not knowing could lead to poor decision making at the task level: ignoring an aspect, or corner-cutting a task that will have a detrimental impact on other, unknown tasks.

Be a Visionary

As leaders, when we articulate the big picture, we have to know what the path for execution looks like, or at least have some idea of how to make “that” happen. This is a complete vision, not just a fancy-sounding goal.

Not all people need managers to define the tasks for them, but some do. And good leaders can discern who those people are and be prepared to offer that extra piece of coaching.

I am a believer in the big picture knowledge. I think people need to be given sufficient data to facilitate a healthy questioning of their own decision-making when warranted. Whether they’re willing to do so is a subject for another time.

I also think people should at least know that their actions impact the tasks and actions of others on the same project and in the same process. This is how we mature from a follower to a contributor.

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