Someone asked me recently: how do you cope? The trigger for this question was the fact that I was assigned a new responsibility on top of my current ones. The question is an important one because it’s about survival and personal health of any leader. And I am grateful that I was asked that question, because it made me think. The answer to that question could be simple. It’s about focus. But when you have many things for which you are responsible, focus might be easier said than done. For me the answer lies in the Leadership Trinity, a term I have coined last week. As a leader you need to get three things right: values, progress and exceptions.
At the end of the day, your values are all you’ve got. They should lead you and your team and inspire you to do the right things the right way. Values are stable. You cannot compromise on them. You can be clear about what they are and why they are important. One of the most important and universal values is trust. You need to be able to work based on trust. And trust is reciprocal. You have to trust the people you work with, and they have to be able to trust you. Imagine what it’s like if you have to work with people you cannot trust. It’s a nightmare. Nevertheless, you cannot be naïve. There are three dimensions in trust: competency, agreement and transparency. So you need to ask yourself three questions:
- Does (s)he has the necessary competencies to do the job. If not you have to make sure (s)he can acquire them.
- Do we agree on the values and also the targets? This agreement can be the result of debates and conflicts. But at the end there has to be commitment.
- Can I trust him or her to do what (s)he says and that (s)he says what she does. This is about transparency.
You can focus on how results are achieved, but that will lead you back into details. So you’d better focus on the progress that your team is making. You have to make clear what is expected and you have to show but also ask allegiance to the cause. Jim Collins talked about big hairy audacious goals. But the most important thing about goals is that they must be meaningful. The reaction to a goal cannot be so what? Goals have to be meaningful and shared. And if that’s the case you can focus on progress. Are you getting nearer? Are you on a track that is leading you towards those goals. Do not make the mistake to define goals that are outside of the business purpose. That’s a waste of energy. Goals should be integrated in the running business. You can ask yourself three questions:
- What are the most important goals to follow?
- What makes those goals relevant?
- How confident are you that people share those goals?
As you go along you need to be available to discuss exceptions. Exceptions are incidents that surpass a person’s competencies (in both meanings of the word) or where friction is felt between goals and values. Being available to discuss those exceptions is of great value to any member of the team. The challenge is not to overtake the responsibility, but to use those exception to help someone develop. Each time there’s an exception you can ask yourself these questions:
- What makes this into an exception? Is it the context? Is it the ability of a person to deal with it? What makes the employee ask for assistance?
- How can I help this person? Is there an opportunity for development?
- Which decision do I need to take, if any.
The Leadership Trinity
This leadership trinity helps me to focus. It’s a sustainable way of being a leader. The advantage of this trinity is that it both protects yourself from diving into details and that it creates enough space for team members to grow and have meaningful jobs. So even when the leadership trinity is about survival, it’s also about developing a sustainable way of leadership. And both you and your team will benefit from this leadership trinity.