For 25 years, I asked lots of clients and colleagues questions about their experiences with strategy execution (what I call adherence), including this one: What is the most critical action a senior leader can take to improve consistent adherence to a plan?
I repeatedly received the same answer: Be accessible and be yourself.
In other words, as a leader, your time and your authenticity are keys to igniting passion and sticking with your plans.
I recently saw a small, inspirational gift book that posed the question, "How does a child spell 'love'?" The book takes the reader through all the brief moments in a parent's life that are defining moments in a child's life. The moral of these moments is that a child spells "love" as t-i-m-e. Your team spells it the same way because time is your most precious resource. You cannot make more of it, and you have the same amount of it each day, whether you are the CEO or a frontline worker. As a result, it speaks volumes when you give your most precious resource to someone who needs it.
One of my colleagues, who is a senior executive in the financial services industry, demonstrated her accessibility to a newly promoted manager. She considered this manager to be a high-potential individual who needed little of her time or supervision. As a result, she asked him to provide an update 90 days after his promotion to see how he was doing. Her request for a 90-day update turned into 90 daily updates! But that did not sway this executive's confidence in her newly promoted manager. She patiently gave her full attention to him during each daily update because she recognized that her new manager simply wanted to ensure that they were in sync. She knew that her time was of great value to this budding leader, so she willingly gave it to him. Today, she gets only the 90-day updates she originally requested from this high performer.
Being accessible and giving our time is certainly an important step, but you must do it authentically in order for it to really ignite passion and performance. There is no room for putting on airs with today's workers. They want and respond to "the real deal"--a real human being leading in the best way he or she knows how. You have heard the phrase, "He really walks the talk." It's a statement about personal alignment--that a person's actions match his words. This principle is echoed in a Chrysler ad that says, "The strongest statements are made without saying a word."
Living authentically creates a far greater positive impact than just talking about what you are going to do. While your team (and your children) will not always follow your words, they will naturally and predictably walk in your path. St. Francis of Assisi said, "Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words." Leaders are challenged to do the same --to model the behaviors you expect from your team.
You can demonstrate authentic leadership by working alongside your team rather than above them. Regardless of the size or scope of winning organizations, top leaders are willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work. Dave Feinberg, MD is president of UCLA Health System. Feinberg spends two hours a day doing rounds, talking with patients, helping them get to the toilet, taking them for walks in their wheelchairs, asking them questions, and acknowledging mistakes (then correcting them). He even gives patients a business card with his cell phone number on it.
Predictably, his entire leadership team models that practice. How do you think his team, all the way down to the front line, responds to seeing this? How would your team respond? It is no coincidence that UCLA is a premier healthcare system and that its top leader is highly accessible and authentic.
To be clear, Feinberg will tell you that he is not perfect. But as a leader, he is who he is. In success or failure, he is the same person. That holds true for each of the authentic leaders I have worked with over 25 years -that has not changed over time.
Winning leaders know who they are, know they are not perfect, and are comfortable with it. And that is precisely what makes their teams passionate about following them.
Find more leadership insights in the author's book, Leadership Matters.