No matter the decision at hand every choice a leader makes will have a ripple effect

How to Lead Like it Matters

Nov. 17, 2014
Four ways that managers and executives can have a positive effect on organizations, and make real progress in their own quest for success Personal and interpersonal Team, culture, system

Whether you’re a manager or an executive, even a CEO, your leadership style matters. Whether you’re running a large global firm, a small project team or an entrepreneurial venture, the way you communicate and connect to other people can, and will, make you succeed or ensure that you fail. Make certain that each and every personal connection counts, develops and leverages your skills, and plays on your strengths — in order for you to lead like it matters, because it does.

There are problems, pressures, and pain points that plague managers at every level, and most of them are solvable. Understanding that every leadership choice you make has some kind of a ‘ripple effect’ through your team and organization at large is critical to your success.

As leaders, we need to know how to ensure that the ripples we make have the intended effect, whether it’s running meetings, handling conflicts, making confident decisions, or instituting needed changes in the workplace. When leaders approach and execute effective leadership correctly, they often gain greater control of their organization’s future, build highly productive teams, and are able to institute changes that stick. 

I have identified the following four core tenets of leadership that, when mastered, will promote the desired “ripple effect” that can revolutionize the way one leads and succeeds:

1. Personal Mastery. It’s imperative for you to discover exactly who you are as a leader and draw on your strengths to influence others, to know and grow the leader within. Personal mastery is discovering who you are as a leader, your purpose, values, and vision, how you affect others, your style, preferences, strengths and challenges. And, it starts with you. 

Begin by getting direct feedback from your boss and anonymous feedback from your peers, direct reports, and even clients about your leadership style and impact.  Then you can be certain of how you are perceived in your role and discern what’s working for you and what’s not. Play to your strengths and work with trusted colleagues and/or a business or executive coach to mitigate your blind spots and challenges.

2. Interpersonal Mastery. A powerful leader has excellent communication and people-management skills that engage, motivate, and inspire employees. These leaders know how to listen deeply and communicate effectively with others, how to provide constructive feedback (including to one’s boss), and how to manage conflict successfully.

Begin by practicing deep listening, as if your life depended on it. Most of us know how to listen, in theory, so practice that skill and apply it. At the end of every conversation, ask the person talking to you if they felt fully heard and understood by you, and then ask them why they felt that way. It’s also a good idea to practice demonstrating empathy in every conversation, no matter what the subject.

Setting the Rules of Engagement

3. Team Mastery. The most successful leaders harness the power of group dynamics to build stronger, more productive teams. No matter why a team is formed or who is on the team, the not-to-do’s of building and maintaining effective teams never change. Leaders who want to succeed need their teams to succeed. And of course, teams are made up of individuals.  It’s just a fact that people are messy and groups are messy, so it will take your awareness, attention, time, and skill to get the best out of your team.  When this is done well, the results will be all the effort invested.

Begin by making the time to establish “ground rules” or “rules of engagement” for new or existing teams. These are the things that each team member needs to feel safe, to be fully heard, to believe that they belong, and to feel that what they have to offer matters to the leader and the other team members. With an established team, you might put this topic on the agenda as a simple line item, like “checking in on our team process,” “housekeeping,” or “revisiting our team norms.” Employ whatever positioning works for you and your group. Then, make sure the group maintains accountability to the ground rules for themselves and each other to ensure the effort is not in vein.

4. Culture and Systems Mastery. Take the lead in assessing your organization and making the changes you need to succeed on every level. To understand leadership we must understand the cultures operating around us, because culture affects us much like the air we breathe, and it is almost as important to our well-being. An organization’s espoused values may or may not reflect the real operating culture of the organization. You need to know, not guess or project, what the culture really is and how it actually affects your people and overarching business results.

Begin by walking around the organization and closely observing the lay of the land, as if you were in a foreign country. What language are they speaking? How are they dressed? What do their work “homes” look and feel like? How do different groups interact? How high or low is the smile meter around the workplace? This will get you started, but it certainly isn’t the whole story. For that, you have to delve deeper, and ask more questions. Remember this: Never ask questions about the workplace if you are not prepared to hear the answers without becoming defensive, or to address issues brought to your attention.

When leaders excel at these four facets of effective leadership, they will earn quantifiable rewards, including (but not limited to) increased employee engagement, reduced turnover, and enhanced productivity. No matter the decision at hand, whether cutting wasteful meetings, addressing conflict, or aligning decisions better with tactical business needs, every choice a leader makes will have a ripple effect. It’s the leader’s approach, attitude, and skills that will determine if the resulting effects of seemingly singular choices will be a help or a hindrance as each one cascades through the system.

Roxi Bahar Hewertson is the CEO of Highland Consulting Group, Inc. and She has over 30 years of practical experience in business, higher education and the non-profit sector. Her recent book, "Lead Like it Matters...Because it Does" (McGraw-Hill October 2014) provides a step-by-step guide and practical tools to achieve results.