If you look in the dictionary, an able leader can be summarized as one who is unusually smart and has knowledge, skills, resources, and qualifications to guide or direct a group. To practice able leadership, you need to prepare yourself and follow through.
But, how do you prepare yourself?
Research. You leverage all forms of contacts, live and electronic. Contact recruiters to see what they know about the company you're thinking of leading. Look to LinkedIn to find contacts who work or worked with the company or particular department you might lead. Ask them about their experiences. Talk to clients to determine what the company does well. What they miss.
This isn't easy, and it takes time, but it's worth it when you apply what you've learned to your leadership style.
A is for Analyze
Once you've done your research, you should meet with everyone and start asking questions that revolve around the current state of business for the company (if you're going to step into a CEO position) or department (if you're going to lead a unit). You're looking for strengths and weaknesses.
Your main activity is listening. Not interjecting with your past experiences.
To do that, you need to create a filter to develop a current profile. By that, I mean you ask, "Who are the current customers? How do you obtain customers? What has made this business successful?" For lower level leaders, you can substitute, "Which departments do we serve? Where do we get our work? What makes this department run well? Where are the challenges?"
You have to use your intellect and social intelligence to analyze the answers. So many people don't do the latter. When they don't, they miss the different dynamics.
Once you've gathered your information, you should start to determine where things stand. It should take about 90 days to fully analyze your company or department depending the size of your group.
B is for Building Relationships
When you were analyzing the company, you laid the groundwork for building relationships. An ABLE Leader knows not only to build relationships internally, but also externally. This doesn't happen overnight.
The first thing you want to do is determine everyone's why to see if they're in line with yours. If you don't know the concept of why, Simon Sinek explains in his book, Start With Why. Basically, your why gets you up in the morning. My professional whyis to help small companies either buy or sell equipment or buy more equipment. I was fortunate to come into a company where everyone's why matched my own.
It's important that you listen. Create a filter, much like you did in the Analyze step, then listen. Get to know people. Individually. As people. Find out what's important to them, be it their horses or their golf games. And then let them, your new staff and your new customers, tell you what's going right and wrong in the company. Also, notice what people offer in a meeting. That will tell you a lot.
One thing you shouldn't do is act like the new sheriff in town and start telling people how to fix things or how great things were at your old company. You'll turn people off, and possibly away. Be humble. About yourself. About your position. And be consistent about it. That, along with taking the time to get to know people, will go a long way toward building trust.
After you've documented your processes, you then need to go through each one and ask, "Where can we improve? What can we do to make this process better?"
To do this, you need to define what you're trying to do, then identify the stakeholders and decipher the relationships.
This should take about 30 days, depending on the size of your company or staff.
L is for Looking at Processes and People
As an ABLE Leader, you need to understand all the processes within your purview. From the process to getting a customer to the process of receiving an application. It's all important. It all relates to efficiency. You're trying to understand every facet of your business.
In the beginning, it can be difficult and tedious, because in many cases, especially in smaller businesses, there may not be any documentation. Well, now you're going to document. Everything.
Here, you leverage the relationships you've built into working with you to document every process they go through to do their jobs. The goal is to get buy-in from everyone as they break down their processes to see where there are extraneous actions, get rid of them, and reach a high level of efficiency. When doing this, you'll also find there are missing actions that have broken the system, and those affected will be better equipped to make corrections as needed.
This is an on-going activity. One that will transform your culture.
So, you're going to define processes, identify the stakeholders and where and what they do, ask questions and listen, and then define the length of the processes—how long a process should take once it's made efficient. To help track this, we use a whiteboard at UniFi Equipment Finance.
A caveat: Don't be so rigid with your documented processes that you don't leave room for flexibility. There's a fine line. That's why humans are involved, to help adapt to current situations.
Next, you want to ensure that you are surrounding yourself with a team that will buy in to your culture. For me, that means people who are life-learners. People who continually improve themselves. Read books. Got to workshops. Go to school. I always ask in interviews, “What are you currently reading? What do you do outside of work? Have you taken a class recently?” You can pull a life-learner out with those types of questions. We look for life-learners, because what I have found is these types of people are willing to change a lot quicker than someone who is set in their ways. A life-learner is already geared toward continually looking at and improving processes.
We also look for athletes. Not necessarily current athletes, but those who retain that teamwork mentality. It's the culture we built and want to maintain.
E is for Execute and Repeat
Lastly, when you have your team put together after you’ve gone through the first three steps, you have the horses you’re going to run with, so to speak. The problem is there are competitors out there with faster horses. This is why you execute to the why and the standards around the execution. Clients, partners, and stakeholders should all be on the same page, always, when you execute your plan to analyze people and processes and gain in efficiency.
So, how do you practice ABLE Leadership? Prepare yourself by researching the company or unit you're going to lead. Analyze the current state of the business through getting to know your people. Build Relationships, internally and externally, to learn what's working and what isn't. Lay the foundation for getting buy-in for potential change by working with people to look at and define their processes. And next you're going to identify the whysand define the standards you're going to execute to, which you should be doing every quarter (or month). After that, you're going to take action—execute. Then, you and your people are going to stay disciplined and repeat the process.
Do a bit every day. Make it your culture. Practice ABLE Leadership.
Life Application vs Philosophy