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Are You Leading To Maintain The Status Quo Or To Create A Better Future?

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As organizations transition to a post-pandemic era, forward-thinking leaders realize that managing the status quo is not leading toward a bright future. Leaders must get their teams future-focused, change-oriented and dedicated to their own growth again or risk losing their most talented people to better opportunities.

Leadership is a routine practice requiring managers at all levels to not only build high-performing individuals to meet current needs and goals, but to also create future leaders and top performers to keep up with the evolution of the business. There are four levels of leadership that include two levels for effectively managing status quo operations and two levels for leading and developing toward the future.

Two Levels Of Status Quo Management

While most managers are already aware of these two management strategies for guiding their direct reports, they may not be using the strategy effectively.

Level One: Receiving Status Updates

This is the most common practice that managers engage in with their direct reports. However, there are two common traps with status update meetings:

  1. If the direct report is on track, the meeting becomes an information-sharing meeting that is marginally effective for improving results and takes time away from doing the work.
  2. If the direct report is not on track for achieving outcomes on time, the conversation often turns to external factors preventing progress rather than looking at how the direct report can work within the confines of external factors.

In either case, status updates can feel like micromanaging, which can lead some managers to avoid them altogether, missing valuable opportunities to course correct and keep higher levels of leadership up to date. To make status update meetings valuable:

  1. Find out what is on track and off track so that changes can be made to get the goals back on track for successful delivery.
  2. Determine if the initial goals need to be changed based on the reality of the situation to allow for greater and more realistic success.
  3. Provide a clear narrative to the team and upper management to ensure a full understanding of the status of initiatives, challenges, plans for addressing those challenges and the required support from everyone involved to achieve successful outcomes on time and ensure everyone is aware of the necessary details.

Level Two: Openly Surfacing And Resolving Challenges, Obstacles And Conflicts

An open and safe environment must exist for people to share their challenges, obstacles or conflicts with others and to have meaningful conversations to fix those issues. Negative reinforcement only creates a lack of psychological safety and a cycle of misinformation, as well as hiding and blaming to avoid punishment. To openly surface and resolve challenges, obstacles and conflicts:

  1. Remove obstacles that prevent your direct reports from being successful by doing your due diligence to understand the root causes of any problems that arise. This could be a lack of resources, poor cross-functional teamwork/accountability, unrealistic expectations or the need for upper management support.
  2. Teach critical business thinking by helping the team problem-solve for their own breakdowns and potential breakdowns, both functionally and cross-functionally.
  3. Ask questions and guide your team in asking questions as part of the process for teaching critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making, keeping bigger organizational functionality in mind.

Two Levels Of Future-Oriented Leadership

While levels one and two are generally reactive to daily operations, levels three and four must be strategically and proactively planned. If this isn’t done, there is no way to exhibit leadership behavior in a meaningful way.

Level Three: Business Strategy And Proactive Leadership

Leadership is preparing and guiding people into the future. This cannot be achieved without understanding the future direction and desired destination, even if it’s not perfect and needs adjustment along the way. To demonstrate business strategy and proactive leadership:

  1. Clarify the direction of the future and include your direct reports to help develop the road map.
  2. Meet as a team to review team goals for moving into the future while focusing on problem-solving for any obstacles or breakdowns in achieving strategic initiatives.
  3. Meet individually with each direct report to review their progress in shaping their team for the future, developing operational excellence in their functional area and building cross-functional teamwork as part of the road map built by the entire team.

Level Four: Developing Future Leaders

Every effective leader is responsible for developing their replacement. In fact, the measure of effectiveness of any leader is how well their direct reports—as a team and individually—can function in their absence. While many leaders are threatened by the prospect of being replaceable, it is the only way for them to be promoted into a higher-level position without leaving a gaping hole in the organization. To develop future leaders:

  1. In partnership with each direct report and in alignment with the strategic plan and the direct report’s career goals, create a development plan that includes what the direct report will do on their own to expand their leadership skills and competencies, how the leader will provide growth opportunities and mentoring for the direct report and what organizational opportunities for training and growth will be provided to the direct report.
  2. Meet regularly to discuss the progress of the direct report in terms of deliverables and outcomes associated with their growth and development and address any obstacles to making progress according to plan.
  3. Identify any hidden competencies or innate skills to further guide the growth and development of the direct report and adjust the development plan accordingly.

Ultimately, every manager must act as a leader to protect and contribute to the future of their organization. Without a clear road map for doing so, most managers are stuck in micro-managing the current situation without true regard for the future. This leaves the organization and the people working there vulnerable to becoming obsolete.

Do you need help leading your team or organization into to the future you imagine? Schedule a strategy call today!

This article was first published as a Forbes Coaches Council Post.

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