Staying On Track: Leadership, Feedback, Change, and Success

In the first part of my three-part series on leadership, I discussed leadership fundamentals and items needed in your leader's toolkit. Part two of the series outlined the three C's: Capability, Competency and Capacity. In part three, I will discuss putting good leadership to work and how to stay on track.

Success and Failure

There is such small variability as to what becomes success versus failure, but that variability widens once decisions mature. In short, the choices you are going to make today are the ones you will live with down the road. With decision maturation comes a widening of the spread of outcomes and results.

In one example of decision maturation, I have had many junior managers come to me and ask me to terminate leaders they hired just a year or two prior. I always ask this question, "What made this person - whom you thought was the best person for the job when you hired them just a short time ago - now an undesirable employee for this business?"

Ninety percent of the time, the lack of success in these cases comes from lack of due diligence in the hiring process or and development. I rarely find new leaders who want to come to an organization ultimately to fail. Shortsightedness on behalf of the hiring manager, not interviewing enough quality candidates and failure to invest in that new hire's training all create poor outcomes.

The same is true with decisions you will make in business and life. I am a firm believer in taking a long-term view with critical control points such as organizational structure, incremental costs, growth opportunities, and new product. Mistakes in these categories result in multi-year setbacks that cost time and money.

Making good decisions never goes out of style. Using sound judgment in practical affairs takes patience and time, and most leaders today lack both. Having restraint or taking action in moderation has given way to the belief in the need of immediacy of action evoked by social media and technology.

The Action/Reaction Age elicits a staggering methodology in the decision-making process. More is not always better. More information instead of necessary information, more candidates versus the right candidates, more projects versus the right solutions; each of these examples slows an organization down and mires it in activity versus directional, planned growth.

I am a believer in strategic planning that encompasses meaningful thought toward the shareholder, the employee, and the customer. Failure to look at the decision matrix without credence to each component will ultimately result in incomplete or poor decision quality, again costing money and time.

I am also a believer of diversity of thought. I rarely make decisions in a vacuum. Decision quality is vastly improved when multiple stakeholders get involved in the process, as surprises to the very people responsible for executing "your vision" rarely go over well. When your team is involved in the decision matrix, they feel a sense of ownership and contribution and will ultimately work harder to achieve the goals you have worked together to lay out.

Derailment and Development

The bad news is derailment happens. The good news is that success happens, too.

Throwing one's career path off track is something that can creep up on leaders if they are not willing to adapt to the environment, personnel, and position in which they are working. I have witnessed the derailment of many bright leaders due to their lack of attention to correcting character or professional flaws within their leadership shadow.

Behavioral change starts with feedback, usually given by a supervisor. Maybe you don't communicate well, you are defensive, you fail to build a team, or your performance has dropped. None of these are career stallers or are the end of the world. All of us have had setbacks and each of us have our own developmental needs.

Not addressing the gift of feedback is usually where the problem escalates. Maybe we are too arrogant to listen. Maybe we refuse to change and are not adaptable. Maybe we are blocked personal learners. At this point, we have quickly accelerated a developmental need or problem into something larger that requires intervention. Taking action and becoming adaptable are critical not only to turn around performance but also to improve the leadership shadow you are casting today and in future roles you will play for your current and next employer.

I have an acquaintance who was a talented leader, rising up the organizational charts to positions of senior management in multiple private and public organizations. This leader got great results and delivered them quickly. This leader was great in the board room but was insensitive to the efforts and needs of the team he led.

Was he coached? Yes. Did he deflect the feedback? Yes. Did he change his leadership shadow? No.

What happened to this leader? He moved from organization to organization every two years until he wore out his welcome as he never addressed the issues associated with insensitivity to others.

Your professional development is your responsibility. Are you adding skills and capabilities to your leadership toolkit? Are you listening to the active voices and the subtle language in your work environment? Do you respond or do you listen? Are you the person with all the answers or do others get a chance?

If you do not like your answers to these questions, get some help. You are not in this alone, and everyone wants you to succeed. Understand your strengths and weaknesses, and seek out your supervisor, human resources and the people who report to you who will give you honest feedback. Put change into place - being too dramatic with this shift will have others questioning your motives. Consistency and predictability win the day with change. Can you stay the course?

Tom Welter is the vice president of franchise operations for J.D. Byrider, the nation's largest used car and finance company franchise.

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