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« "It's not my fault!" | Main | Understanding your role as leader »

Leadership in action - creating the Why

By John Rosling, Shirlaws UK CEO

Over my last couple of blogs, we have established that having a strong "Why" is fundamental to creating spectacular success and a satisfying and rewarding environment for everyone in the business.  "Why" businesses are great businesses - and great places to be.  In today's blog, I'll look at the way elements that create the "why" and how you can build them in your business.

i.  Culture.  

As CEO it is your job to build and nurture the culture of your business.  This isn't some fluffy on-on but is fundamental to your success.  It is the reason talented people will work for you, stay loyal to you, and create wealth for you.  It also makes your business a fun place to be.  It's a fundamental building block to your market position which is what ensures customers continue buying from you and pay more for your services than those of a competitor.

ii.  Intent

To create the culture you need to know very clearly in your own mind the fundamental purpose or intent of your business - why your business exists.  People want to feel part of something with a purpose more compelling, more important, than just making money.  Making money is the outcome of doing what you do brilliantly.  The source of getting everyone to be brilliant is rooted in an aligned purpose.  It's vital to understand why you get out of bed every day and come to work - and it's equally vital to discuss this with your key team to get agreement as to what the intent of the business is.  If you feel daft doing this, get some external facilitation.

iii.  Values

A common and aligned intent can be an incredibly strong motivator for everyone in the business.  But it needs to be supported by a very strong set of shared values.  I meet businesses all the time who have their values written down and filed somewhere.  It's a waste of time.  If no one know what the values of your business are, how can they be used to create a powerful culture?  How can those values be used to align your people into a powerful force to deliver brilliantly?

Why do most businesses fail to leverage their values - to create value from values if you like?  It's isn't because they don't have values.  In my view, it is because they misunderstand what values are for. Your values are not to bung up on a website to demonstrate that you are a business with integrity. They are the building blocks of your shared culture, and they support your intent.  They are the common principles that drive your business and all your people to success.

And the secret of unlocking this potential sits in three simple steps: 

  • You have to agree, as a team, what your shared values are (and review these choices annually). These are not your values to impose on the business (as the plan is to get the business working for you).  And ideally you shouldn't have more than three.
  • You have to make them real.  You must associate each value with a set of behaviours that you will use to check-in that your values are being lived.  
  • You must consciously live by your values, publish them and use them, making them integral to the business.

iv.  Vision

Having founded your powerful culture on a shared set of values and with a common intent, your job as CEO is now to paint a picture of where you are going as a business that is so compelling and exciting that everyone in the business will buy into and carry your business to where you want it to be.  I have a dream, not I have a plan.

Of course, almost every business has a vision.  But very few ever get there.  In my view, that's because no one in the business really believes in the vision or feels the vision to be theirs.  As with values, if the vision of your business is your vision and is not shared and owned by your team, then the business will always be dependent on you and can never reach your ultimate goal (unless of course that goal or vision is pretty modest).

So how do you get your team to own the vision, to hold it as their own and drive your business towards it?  The vision has to be compelling.  "To be the premier widget manufacturer in the West Midlands" is an intention (or a mission, if you insist).  It is unlikely to get your team chomping at the bit on a Monday morning.  You need to find a vision that they will immediately understand and buy into.

Then, here's the trick, you have to take them to that vision and get them to really feel it.  What would it smell like and taste like to be there?  If the vision is powerful enough and relevant enough to them, once they have experienced it they will want to get there and enthusiastically work towards that goal.

If all this sounds like a lot of work when you are just trying to run your business then you have made my point for me.  If you really want to grow your business and have it work for you, you need to (progressively) stop managing your business and start leading it.  Culture, vision and values are vital elements of leadership.  It will create a powerful "why" for your people and your customers.

Have you ever reflected on how officers get their soldiers to put their lives in extreme danger?  The answer is that they don't "get" them to.  They lead.  The army, the regiment, the platoon create a strong culture based on a shared set of values and intent.  The office or NCO then sets a clear vision or "objective" and the unit literally, goes through fire to achieve it.  That is exactly what you are trying to do.  But with fewer bangs and less bloodshed.

A final word

Culture and vision are not easy things to achieve. Most businesses fail to create either in a way that will really drive value in the business.  In my experience, the only way to design and build intent, values and vision that everyone really, really buys into is to invest in some outside help.  An outside perspective helps ensure everyone is able and comfortable to express themselves to be heard.

Leadership needs constant work.  Culture needs your constant attention.  "Manage the energy" is your day job.  Checking in with your people, doing little things that will keep their energy positive.  This is important because it's the only way you will reach the goal you have set for yourself.

Your intent is likely to stay the same but the business needs to be reminded of it.  Your vision needs to be kept fresh and alive to your people. Your values need to be re-visited about once a year.

An absolute cardinal rule of leadership in an ambitious business that really intends to grow is to get the senior team off site and out of the business at least once a year and preferably twice.   This is your Strategic Retreat and is the time to review and refresh your vision and values and work on the key strategic initiatives that will fundamentally grow your business.



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