Five Areas That Can Enhance Your Management Leverage

By: Ed C. Ryterband

As a leader, your basic task is to create an effective organization that can leverage your impact. You look for ways to multiply what you can get done as an individual. A first step is to create a direction that will focus and mobilize the people in your organization. But how do you know before creating a plan which initiatives will make the difference and truly leverage your impact? And whichever initiatives are chosen, how do you act most effectively to bring about success beyond what you can do personally? There may be problems.

Take a look at how business priorities are chosen. Too often priorities are chosen in ways that dilute the leverage a leader has. Past successes influence an executive’s choices when fresh thinking is called for. What happens is a new look at old habits—how we can do the same things better, not necessarily do better things. Personal preferences and pet projects also substitute for a rational weighing of the value of business priorities. Executives are drawn to “the next shiny object.” And when they are in a position of power, the operating culture they create can discourage people from pushing back. Whether it is past successes or the next shiny object, with the idea of leverage embedded in your operating culture, you and your people are more likely to examine the issue through an ROI framework before resources are committed—that is, consider what you and they should focus on and can really get done.  

Also look at how initiatives emerging from those priorities are managed. A common complaint about senior leaders is that they micromanage. In a recent 360 round of interviews, a majority of the members of a CEO’s leadership team said he was too much “in the weeds.” In response, he explained about wanting to “make sure things were done right,” and in private said, “I really hate delegation.” When the company needed a new website, he couldn’t help himself—he tried to build it himself. He acknowledged that he had to “get over that.” But how? One way for you to avoid that same pitfall is to look to the other ways in which you can go beyond doing it yourself or micromanaging. Ask yourself:

  • If I don’t trust the organization and people below me, how can I get the organization and people that I can trust?
  • What are the real consequences if I don’t follow through on what I identified in the first question?

Of course, your personal psychology in leading is pivotal; for example, are you focused, able to motivate people to give their best, responsive to critical feedback, and a good decision maker? Beyond trying to improve your personal approach to leadership, however, you can look at five other ways to enhance your leverage. These five are not new, but consciously attending to all of them ensures that you are doing your best to maximize your leverage. The five areas to focus on are as follows:

1. The structure of the organization: How it’s currently designed and may need to change.

  • Current structure—is it organized well to meet current business priorities; is it agile enough; does it have the right number of direct reports in the right roles?
  • Future structure—how will it need to change to help you grow in the future?
  • Change—when should it change and how do you change it effectively?

2. The people in key roles: How you manage performance and talent.

  • Performance—how do you plan and manage peoples’ performance?
  • Talent—how do you assess and develop peoples’ capabilities (your direct reports and beyond)?
  • Bench strength—how do you manage retention, promotions, and bringing on new hires?

3. The senior team’s effectiveness: How do they add value and leverage your impact?

  • Focus—are the people in the senior team attending to the right things?
  • Decision making—how well does the team make decisions and follow through?
  • Self-direction—does the team effectively involve you and operate well independently?

4. The operating culture: Do people at all levels demonstrate valued behaviors? For example:

  • Dedication to high standards of performance
  • Transparency and candor in escalating issues in a timely way
  • Collaboration—an enterprise focus versus a silo mentality in their thinking

5. Key outside stakeholders: How do you make sure you are responsive to them, and they to you?

  • Are you aligned about your organization’s strategy, expected outcomes, and timing?
  • How often and well do you communicate when problems arise?
  • Do they show confidence in your business, yourself, your team?

As promised, there is nothing new in this list. But using it with discipline, and engaging your senior team in using it, will help bring about more leverage and some new results.

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