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Developing the Leader in You - Part 2 - Command

Developing the Leader in You – Part 2

Ed Catmull tells the story in his book, Creativity, Inc. that when Pixar was about to release Toy Story, their first full-length computer graphics feature film. Steven Jobs came to him and other executives and announced he wanted to take the company public before the release of the film. Pixar had struggled for ten years as a start-up company losing money while Jobs continued to prop them up with infusions of cash.

His insistence with going public at that time seemed pre-mature at best if not delusional to Ed and the other executives. Steven explained his logic and insisted it made sense. They pushed ahead and history showed Job’s was absolutely correct. His deep understanding and command of business and technology resulted in Pixar being the biggest IPO of 1995 raising $140 million. His insight and abilities positioned Pixar to take off and be able to renegotiate a new contract with Disney. (Catmull, Ed, Creativity, In. Random House, New York, 2014.)

In an early blog, I discussed the importance of confidence for a leader and a few ways a leader or aspiring leader can enhance the confidence others have in their skills and abilities as a leader. I emphasized that confidence leads to being viewed as credible and people tend to follow credible people. Management is also more likely to put a credible person in a leadership role. Today I would like to discuss another area for self-focus and development for leaders and aspiring leaders.

Demonstrate Command

This area can be misunderstood so let me clarify. Command is not intended to mean a person is a tyrant or autocrat. I am not promoting images of George S. Patten slapping a wounded soldier but rather the intent here is that the leader understands appreciates, grasp or has a thorough understanding of the area they are leading. It does not imply that they must be “the expert” however; they could be “an expert” in this field. The implication is that the leader is invested enough in their area of responsibility that they have studied and made a personal intellectual investment to engage, understand and participate.

As previously let me focus on a few areas to apply this principle too.

Knowledge- The leader must have a sound, in-depth knowledge and understanding of the business he or she is trying to lead. It is a near fatal flaw to ones credibility and respect to not engage in the business enough to have a sound foundation of understanding. Failure to “know” the business can negatively impact results when they do not provide critical direction at critical times. A strong leader is a student who wants to learn and is inquisitive about how the business really works. They ask questions and continually sharpen their understanding and perspective.

Systems- The successful leader should have a sound understanding of the business processes that his organization is responsible for executing. Successful leaders assure their team is following the established procedures and methods. When a leader applies a System Thinking approach, it will allow them and their staff to examine and understand not only how the business systems function and interact but also identify opportunities for improvement. A leader in command endeavors to define, understand and improve through systems thinking approaches.

Metrics – Leaders understand and value measurement. They understand key metrics to track for evaluating the performance of the business processes. These metrics should provide an understanding of the enterprise and a systematic approach to assessing performance. Failure to have a means to measure performance degrades the perception of command. It raises the fundamental questions; “How do you know if we are in control?” or “How do we know if we are capable?” Metrics are a form of communication, and a leader who establishes and uses metrics effectively can clearly articulate the state of command of the business.

Direction/Focus – An effective leader must establish and set specific vision, direction and focus for the team. The leader must be able to articulate the goals and objectives and translate these into concrete actions. When people understand the goals and objectives, there is a higher probability of them personally engaging in ownership for the results and success.

Drives Action – The successful leader must be able to motivate himself, his direct reports, his peers or an entire organization to action. The leader must be a “self-starter” able to see a situation and take appropriate measures. This includes helping remove barriers, which impede their team from taking action. A common failure is “ever planning - never doing“, many people and organization have simply failed with good intention. The ability to drive action may require some “risk taking” by leaders, however, these risk can be managed effectively by using data analysis, good judgment, and effective communication skills.

Courage – An effective leader must have courage. There will come a time for every leader when they must take a stand. This may be in support of their team in the face of criticism, or it may be holding the line when people resistant to change, balk at moving in a new direction. It may mean defending a position with peers and even senior management. Courage calls for the leader to calmly present facts, data, and analysis even when the message is not positive. It calls for speaking to truth even though painful and when wrong on an issue or the team has failed to perform – admitting, owning it and resolving to fix it. This takes courage and ultimately demonstrates personal command.

When a leader demonstrates command of the business they receive respect by others. In a previous blog we emphasized that people want to follow people that are trusted and trust comes from confidence. People also want to follow people they respect and management wants to put people in leadership roles that they respect for their command of the business and themselves

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