I recently bumped into "Terry," the president of a company I worked with four years ago. During my engagement with them, we'd done strategic planning, leadership succession planning, and lots of management team and systems development (i.e., process and procedures development and management training). Because it'd been awhile since I'd worked with them, I asked, "How are things going?" Terry looked embarrassed, hesitated, and then said, "Well to be honest, we're drifting off-track a bit... I'm travelling a lot these days so I'm not spending the time with the management team I need to. We've lost money the past three quarters and I need to stop that... But standing here looking at you and listening to myself, I'm just making excuses aren't I? &%$#!"
Instead of simply saying "Yes" which I could have, I said, "Terry, you're human, but you are the president of the company. If just seeing me causes you to feel guilty, you've probably known you've not been doing your job lately: You're not leading your team as they need to be led. And, Terry, you know what? You're not alone. If leading effectively during tough times were easy, there'd be many more successful organizations out there."
After he answered a few more of my questions, it became clear to Terry that he'd not only allowed a few of his key leadership responsibilities to drift away; he'd allowed them to jump off the tracks!
- Are you and the management team reviewing your strategic plan regularly? No
- Are you still meeting with the management team regularly to keep them informed of company issues and to allow them to communicate across departments to develop better working relationships? No
- Since you're not meeting regularly with the management team, how are you letting them know what you expect of them to help address the financial and management issues facing the company? Well, email of course and I connect with them one-on-one as I can.
- Are you still working with the managers in developing their skills so they can cover for one-another and for you? No
- Are you still focusing on training to develop your employees and management team to build skills and talent deep and wide within your organization? No. I stopped that because we're losing money.
I stopped asking questions, the guy felt like a heel. He knew he'd slipped into a reactionary role instead of acting as a leader. He was pulling away from his management team when he needed them more than ever. In talking with Terry, it wasn't my intent to embarrass him, I was simply curious as to how he, his team, and the company were doing. After all, I'd spent three years working with them. However, just by seeing me and answering a few questions, Terry "looked in the mirror."
So here's my challenge for you, if I were to bump into you within the next few days and ask you the questions above, what would you see in the mirror?
Are you leading effectively?