Avoiding the Mistakes All Leaders Make

This guest post by David Grossman wasn’t meant as a response to Beth Armknecht Miller’s recent The Top 5 Mistakes Leaders Make – the timing was just coincidental. 
Someone tweeted in response to Beth’s post: “I made all of these – does that make me a great leader?” I’d say it could help, as long as you learn by your mistakes. In that case, why not double down and make 10 mistakes? (-:

Avoiding the Mistakes All Leaders Make

In my experience, every large organization has at least one thing in common…

There isn’t a single senior management team that doesn’t spend days, weeks working tirelessly on their organization’s strategic plan. At the end of the process, everyone leaves excited about the plan and the path forward.

Yet too often the scenario that plays out is just an illusion, not true alignment. Getting the strategic plan in writing is only the beginning. The real challenge is in getting to the outcome of that strategic plan by activating the strategy inside your organization.

When it comes to bringing strategy to life, we’ve all made costly (and often the same) mistakes—mistakes that make the difference between good and great. Between confusion, skepticism and complacency… and engagement, efficiency and effectiveness.

Like any good investment, committing to organization-wide alignment around messaging and vision should pay for itself more than ten-fold—this year, and in the future.

Here are just a few of the mistakes that everyone makes, but everyone can avoid.

Mistake #1 – You don’t have a strategy that’s codified (it’s in your head or in a few leaders’ heads)
You might have the most compelling vision for your organization, but if you can’t get it out of your head and get others to see it and believe in it, it might as well not even exist.

It’s up to you to engage others so they have the same clear picture you do of your strategy and where the business is going. Lift the perspective out of your head and get it into others’ so they can own it and help you achieve it.

Mistake #2 – Elements of your strategy mean different things to different people
When it comes to strategy there are two rules. Rule #1: Have a strategy. Rule #2: Make sure everyone is literally on the same page in understanding the components of the strategy and how to implement it.

Take a cue from the trusted dictionary and literally define what each of the concepts means in your strategy. Share the definitions with your leaders and employees.

Mistake #3 – No data exists on the state of communication and what needs to be improved from employees’ perspective
Leaders are hungry for data to make business decisions on everything from new products and services to whether or not to enter a new market. Yet when it comes to organizational health and employee engagement, many fail to measure what’s working and what’s not.

Whether measuring your own business unit/function or the overall health of communications inside the organization, leaders (with the help of their communications experts) can make precise decisions about what communications to start, stop or continue to get employees engaged in the strategy and drive performance.

Mistake #4 – You don’t hold your leaders accountable to communicate your strategy
Leaders set the tone for how information flows inside an organization and how employees work and interact together, yet many aren’t judged on their performance in this critical discipline.

Accountability must be built in at multiple levels so leaders know what is expected of them, understand what “success” looks like, and can perform effectively to meet the stated expectations. When set up best, accountability for communication is part of the overall performance management system and is specifically tied to compensation.

Mistake #5 – You don’t arm leaders with the training and tools they need to communicate the strategy and make it relevant for their teams
Training ensures a leader builds the competence needed to customize and communicate critical information, and there’s no more critical piece of information than your business strategy. Since leadership communication is a learned skill, this is a critical element. When leaders know better, they do better.

Tools provide leaders with what they need to get their message across to various audiences. These often are compiled in a standard kit that leaders can pull from and customize for communicating in different settings and circumstances, whether it is bullet points for a casual lunch with employees or a presentation on the company’s key goals for a sales event or all-staff meeting.

Finally, leaders need to be assessed. How are they doing at meeting the expectations you’ve set for them?

I call it the Core Four: accountability, tools, training, and measurement. Miss one, and you’ve reduced your chances of moving leaders to action.

Communication is at the heart of your success
These are just a few of the critical mistakes everyone makes. The good news is they’re all avoidable through strong communication.

At its core, great leadership is all about giving direction, offering context, and ensuring that every person in the company—from the representative on the front lines of customer service to members of the senior leadership team—understands in ways that are relevant to him or her what the company strategy is, what it will take to accomplish its goals, and what the rewards are when you get there.

All that can only happen through communication.

Though communication does not always get the attention it deserves in C-suite planning, great leaders know it’s at the heart of their success—it’s the leavening that makes the strategic bread rise, the wheels that make the strategic car drive, the brush with which you paint your masterpiece.

It’s remarkable what you can accomplish when people know where you’re going and how to get there.

David Grossman, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, is one of America’s foremost authorities on communication and leadership, and a sought-after speaker and advisor to Fortune 500 leaders. A two-time author, David is CEO of The Grossman Group (http://www.yourthoughtpartner.com/), an award-winning Chicago-based strategic leadership development and internal communication consultancy; clients include: Accor, AOL, GlaxoSmithKline, HTC, and McDonald’s.