Grab An Oar

I have heard it asked recently, when you look at the picture of George Washington crossing the Delaware River, how do you know who is in charge?

Well, the immediate response is George Washington. He is the only one not doing anything.

Now that’s not a fair description of Washington because we know without his leadership, that we wouldn’t be where we are today as a nation. However, that overall perception of leadership and the corresponding question of what do effective leaders do is one that is worthy of our attention.

Those in leadership positions do have some degree of flexibility in what they focus on. Now I am not saying they have a lot of extra time, because most facility leaders, at all levels, have more than they can get done in a day. I am saying that most people in leadership roles, when given the opportunity, will spend their time on things that they are more comfortable dealing with. Comfortable may be more knowledgeable of, more experienced with, or just plain enjoy it more. That factor may pose a problem depending on what the needs of the organization/team are.

Here are some things to consider as you evaluate your effectiveness in leading others:

1. Are you elevating the performance of those you are responsible for? As a leader, it’s no longer about how much you know or how much you can contribute. You are in a role to maximize the output or overall performance of the group. Are you making other people better? Are you teaching and passing on your knowledge and experience to others? Too often, those in leadership roles relish in being the expert on things. We don’t need experts; we need teachers so that we eventually have a lot of “experts”. We don’t need you to be the only problem solver in a plant or on a shift. We need you to show others how to do that. Your real value in the role is not what you bring to the job, but what you do with what you bring to the job. Are you getting the most out of your team?

2. Are you prioritizing what’s important for those you lead? We can all be busy, but are we effective? Do you find yourself always working on the “urgent” and not spending time on the “important”? As a leader, you get a lot of things thrown at you every day. Can you work through all the chaos and keep your team focused on key priorities? Leaders have to keep everyone focused to ensure we stay on the right course. What you focus on will be what they focus on. What you talk about is what they (the followers) see as important. Everything can’t be a priority.

3. Are you consistent in your message and approach even in challenging times? Are you the leader that people will follow when it gets tough? How you handle things in challenging times makes all the difference in the world. We are no doubt in challenging times now. We are having tough times in almost every aspect of what we do. All too often, when we aren’t getting the results we want, leadership will just start adding new programs or procedures to get a change in results. Let me caution against that. Yes, we may need to rethink our strategy at times. Strategic thinking means we evaluate what we are doing and consider doing something different to get a different result. It’s change, not an addition. Secondly, we may just need to execute more effectively. That’s not something new; rather, that’s just being better at what we were already doing. Strategy decisions and execution are very different approaches, but they work together. The leader has to be able to distinguish between the two. If you can’t get there through execution, change the strategy (what we do). If success is achievable by just doing better, then by all means focus on “doing better”. But by all means, don’t just go do more!

4. Are you attacking issues or are just being a victim to them? Inexperienced crews, older equipment, unreasonable customers, and on and on are all part of what many of us deal with every day. I am not diminishing the challenges associated with any of those items at all. Each one of us has a choice though. We either embrace the challenge and attack it with a plan to get through it, or we play the victim and have an excuse when the results come out. It may take time, but effective leaders find a way. They are relentless in their pursuit of overcoming obstacles.

5. Are you meeting the needs of those you lead? Now, that sounds like a reversal of what many would say doesn’t it? Aren’t the followers supposed to meet the needs of the leader? By meeting the basic needs of those we lead, we are more likely to get the results the organization/team needs. Are we adequately equipping those we lead (knowledge and materials)? Are we communicating well with necessary information? Are we clarifying things and answering questions? Are we setting the expectation for the work environment that would be desirable? Are we consistently holding everyone accountable? Call it servant leadership, call it engagement, call it whatever you want. Can those you lead count on you every day to be the leader they need?

Those are just five thoughts to give consideration to as you think about your role and impact on others. Give some thought to being effective and not just busy. Some of you are working ridiculous hours now. No one is asking that you work even more. Let’s focus on being more effective in the time that we do have with our folks. How can we be more intentional in what we do as leaders and ensure we have purpose in every action we take.

When you take a look at a recent photo of Navy Seals paddling to shore, I guarantee that everyone in that boat has purpose and that every stroke matters.

So grab an oar.

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