Nothing is forever, especially when it comes to business. What worked well yesterday may not work quite so well tomorrow. This means that leaders must constantly be alert to ways to optimize their businesses in fast-changing markets and environments. Those who don't change with the times will soon find themselves left behind in the dust of their competitors.
To set the pace and stay ahead of the rest of the pack, great leaders always do the following things:
1. Constantly renew focus and revise goals
All performance starts with clear goals and expectations. Great leaders regularly prioritize and reevaluate existing company and employee goals--ideally with those most responsible for attaining them--and ensure they are focused on those things that matter most to the company and its customers. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result; a related version is to continue doing the same things even though the environment you operate in has significantly changed. Doing things differently begins with reviewing and revising goals, then regularly checking progress and revising those goals as necessary.
2. Emphasize information and communication
People want to know what's going on in their organizations--both the good news and the bad. Many leaders naturally err on the side of becoming more closed and secretive--not wanting to either alarm employees or look like they are not in control of the situation. This is a mistake. Great leaders communicate more--not less--and this communication is both strategic ("Here's where the organization is heading and here's what we're doing about it.") as well as personal ("Here's the role we need you to play in this new product initiative.").
3. Encourage involvement and initiative
Employee involvement requires a level of rigor that shows the company is serious about doing things differently and tapping into the potential that every employee has to offer. Whether at the group or individual level (or both), great leaders seek out and find new ways for their organizations to do things differently: better, faster, cheaper and smarter--and they actively seek ideas from their employees, take them seriously, and implement these ideas whenever practical.
4. Provide autonomy and flexibility
Every employee needs to have a say in how they do their work to make it more meaningful. This helps them to become more engaged and effective. Once a great leader enlists his employees to get involved and make suggestions and improvements, he encourages them to run with their ideas, take responsibility, and champion those ideas though to completion.
5. Engage in action learning and application
New leaders need to come forward in all levels of the organization, which leads to this question: Who have you trained to step up to the plate? Great leaders identify promising new leaders, and then they provide them with the opportunities they need to learn and build leadership skills on the job. They do this by taking an action-oriented approach to helping employees develop the new skills and responsibilities they need to become tomorrow's leaders.
6. Recognize and praise
Positive consequences equal positive results. While companies may not have the budget for extensive celebrations and rewards, this should not deter them from recognizing employees in a timely, sincere, and specific way when those employees have done good work. Fortunately, the things employees most need to feel valued in today's workplace tend to be more intangible and personal in nature with little, if any, financial cost. Great leaders know that a simple verbal thank-you or written note of appreciation can go a very long way.