Friday, July 15, 2011

The Leader's Progress Plan

This week I'm doing the final wrap-up session for a six-month leadership program I've been conducting. In this session, we roll the various strategies we've covered over the course of the program into a personalized "Leader's Progress Plan." I thought I'd share the primary steps of that plan in this week's post.

To provide context for this exercise, let me refer you to a previous post I wrote entitled "Leadership: What Really Matters." That succinctly captures what I consider the essential elements of successful leadership. You'll see that philosophy reflected in the Leader's Progress Plan.

Developing this plan involves focusing on three critical aspects in each of the following five areas:
  • 3 priorities
  • 3 strengths
  • 3 people
  • 3 challenges
  • 3 goals
Let's explore each of these five components of the Leader's Progress Plan:

3 priorities to spend more time on. I wrote about the curse of busyness not long ago. If time is your most strategic asset--and it is!--then an effective leader must be able to promote more productive use of individual and collective time. A general goal is to shift more time from urgent-but-not-important tasks to important-but-not-urgent ones.

A good place to start is dealing with your own time usage. Identify your three "high payoff activities," those things you do that deliver the greatest value to the firm. Estimate how much of your time you're currently spending on each of those three crucial activities, and then determine how much time would be optimal. Your action plan is to define how to shift more time to your high payoff activities.

3 strengths to develop further. Workplace research by Gallup found that developing personal strengths is much more effective than trying to shore up weaknesses. Yet training programs often focus on the latter, including leadership development programs. A better approach is to identify your leadership strengths and determine how to improve upon them.

To help leaders inventory their strengths, I like to draw upon the five "core practices" of leaders based on the extensive research of Kouzes and Posner and published in their popular book The Leadership Challenge. A list of those core practices follows, along with some personal strengths that might be associated with each:
  • Challenge the process. Change agent, innovative, willing to take risks, growth oriented, committed to improvement
  • Inspire a shared vision. Visionary, persuasive, influential, passionate, optimistic, focused, problem solver
  • Enable others to act. Team builder, collaborative, communicator, service oriented, willing to delegate and coach
  • Model the way. Personal credibility, possess integrity, personally involved, disciplined, persevering, humble
  • Encourage the heart. High emotional intelligence, positive, encouraging, caring, celebrate success, use appropriate rewards (i.e., positive reinforcement)
Use the above list to help you identify your top three leadership strengths. Then for each strength listed, write down what steps you'll take to improve upon and better leverage those strengths. Possible actions include recruiting a coach or mentor, getting some training, revising your job duties, soliciting feedback from coworkers, and doing some reading and research.

3 people to give more attention to. If you lead a firm, office, or department, your first thought might be that you need to spread your time across all those you lead. But that wouldn't be the best way to improve group performance. A better way is to consider how you could have a greater impact on those you lead who themselves can have the greatest impact on others.

At the core of this strategy is what I call the Time Investment Principle.
This principle states that the best way for you as a leader to increase your productivity is to give priority to helping others increase their productivity. In that way your contribution is multiplied through the efforts of the team or workgroup.

So who are the three individuals who you could help have the greatest impact on your organization? This, in effect, enables you to compound the multiplying impact of helping others perform at a higher level. Having identified those three people, write down specifically how you will help them improve and--importantly--estimate the time allocation needed for each.

3 challenges to overcome. Leaders prove their true value (or lack thereof) in difficult times. Through this economic downturn, the ability of some leaders has been confirmed. New leaders have been revealed by rising to the occasion. But some leaders have been exposed as being inadequate for the challenge. If you are to excel as a leader, you must prepare yourself for taking on the formidable challenges that will inevitably come your way.

This next step of the Leader's Progress Plan involves identifying the three challenges, threats, or obstacles you face--personally or your group--that could most undermine your success in the coming year. List the primary impacts associated with each, the probability that those impacts will manifest themselves, and the actions you will take to overcome or avoid each.

3 group goals to achieve in the next 3 years. Effective leaders keep an eye to the future without getting sidetracked by present difficulties and urgencies. That's why it's important to have some long-term goals to guide your organization. You may already have done this step in some fashion (for example, a strategic planning exercise). But in this exercise we're focusing on those group goals that you personally have the greatest stake and involvement.

This should tie back in part to the first step of this plan, identifying the three priorities that warrant more of your time. Indeed, although the Leader's Progress Plan would seem to result in 15 action items to do, more likely you'll find yourself consolidating several of them. An ideal plan might have no more than 8-10 action items.

Once you've developed your Leader's Progress Plan, I encourage you to engage a colleague or two to help you "stay on plan." Is anything more important than focusing on the issues outlined above? Probably not, but you will undoubtedly have many things competing for that distinction. Here's where the essence of leadership rises to the top. Can you stay focused on those things that matter most? That's the path to truly developing your leadership abilities.

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