Three Habits That Will Separate Actual Leaders from Mere Dreamers

It has been grudgingly accepted that roughly two-thirds of organizational change initiatives fail. Whether it’s strategic planning, acquisitions, technology implementations, or other initiatives – the results are dauntingly similar.

Despite big utterances and spurts of activity, most organizations struggle with execution.

According to Michael Canic, strategy and execution consultant, a leader must do three things to consistently execute: Develop the right focus. Create the right environment. Build the right team.

Develop the right focus

What is the difference between the right and the wrong focus? As Canic explains in his new book, Reckless Consistency: How Committed Leaders Implement Strategy, Implement Change, and Build Successful Organizations, the right focus must be maintained. If it’s here today, gone tomorrow, then you haven’t set any real focus. He recommends three methods to create a unified focus:

1. Strategic management, not strategic planning.

As Canic told me recently on the Love in Action podcast, many organizations treat strategy as an event rather than a process. Once you have a strategic plan in place, the focus returns to the demands of everyday life. Canic recommends that executives commit to strategic management, an ongoing process that translates the plan into timed milestones and actions that are tracked, measured, and managed with clear responsibilities and accountabilities.

2. Articulate the pain of failure.

While it is important to have a vision of what success looks like, it is equally important to document the pain of not fulfilling the vision. Is it losing market share, is it in danger of going out of business, or is it just missing out on a big opportunity? Contrasting the consequences of success and failure creates a more intense and sustainable focus.

3. Do less.

Ambitious leaders usually take too many initiatives. When they do this, resources are diluted, people become too thin, and instead of prioritizing everything, nothing is. Do less. Focus on the few important initiatives and focus on executing.

Create the right environment

“In the right environment,” says Canic, “every organizational touch point is consistently aligned with your focus. This leads to a culture of commitment and performance.” There are five things a leader can do to create the right environment:

1. Connect the dots.

In order to engage people, they need to be introduced to a sense of purpose. But the purpose alone is not enough. It is also important to translate this purpose into organizational goals and individual expectations. That makes the purpose real and actionable.

2. Equip people for success.

Without the necessary resources, people get frustrated. Without the required skills, they feel helpless. Without sufficient authority, they feel untrustworthy. Managers need to equip their people to be successful, not make them fail. This means providing at least sufficient knowledge, skills, resources and powers.

3. Coach, don’t just make it.

Trainers ask: What do I have to do to ensure that every team member performs at their best? Trainers provide regular feedback and guidance on performance. You reinforce the right actions and outcomes and hold team members constructively accountable when expectations are not met.

4. Design your organization for execution.

Few things irritate people more than when they want to do a good job, but cumbersome processes, restrictive guidelines or inadequate equipment keep them from doing it. Organizations that run consistently are organizations that are designed to run.

5. Connect with the heart and the head will follow.

When you demonstrate that you respect, trust, and care for people as individuals, you receive discretionary effort – the beyond initiative that improves your company’s ability to execute.

Build the right team

The right focus and environment doesn’t matter unless you’ve built the right team. Canic believes there is one critical element that companies often overlook that is preventing them from building the right team.

“Experience,” he explains, “tells you what an applicant has done. Skills tell you what he can do. But qualities tell you what he is most likely to do.” Managers should judge an applicant’s characteristics – such as competitiveness, conscientiousness, and curiosity – as rigorously as their experience and skills.

What does it take to perform consistently? The right focus, the right environment and the right team. “What drives all of this,” Canic says, “are leaders who have the right commitment to make it happen.”

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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