Let’s make this simple: There are thousands of books on leadership. There is a whole industry of researchers, consultants, writers, bloggers, trainers, media gurus, speakers, and charlatans ready to help you become a better leader. You don’t need them.
Leadership has been complex-ified to the point where you probably don’t know what to think or do to improve your leadership skills and performance. Let’s carve away all the stuff about energy, discipline, analytics, E.Q., judgement, urgency, mission, vision, management, communications, and all the other traits experts say you need to develop. We’ll focus on what’s really necessary to lead. The basic model applies whether you are a brand new first line supervisor looking to get your arms around being a manager, or an experienced senior executive who would like a simple model you can use to improve your leadership performance.
You have all observed good natural leaders – people who were high school and college team captains and student government presidents who, seemingly without effort, took on leadership roles at work and rose quickly in the organization. I have interviewed hundreds, if not thousands of them, identified and recruited many who have moved into senior executive positions, and hear virtually the same story from each one.
Their story boils down to a simple, learnable, easily practiced, and universally useable acronym–PLUS–Prepare, Listen, Understand, Speak.
Prepare If you see, aspire to, or are already in a leadership opportunity, prepare better than the other participants. Do your homework: more research, more touching base with stakeholders and team members; more thinking about mission, goals, objectives, participants, metrics, milestones; the motivations of everyone involved, their WIIFM.
Listen Good natural leaders don’t immediately jump in and try to take over. When the group assembles, they participate but tend to hold back, they listen to what’s said, but also what isn’t said, and work to uncover people’s strengths, motivations and agendas (stated and hidden), facts as people see them, and possible areas of agreement and compromise.
Understand Use listening time to better understand what’s happening and what should happen. There is a concept called situational awareness (S.A.), first identified in evaluating the best fighter pilots’, the top guns’, performance. The best of the best were able to most quickly identify and create or adapt a model of what was happening around them, and more quickly react and “pro-act” in the situation, to avoid getting shot down. S.A. works for leaders. It can be learned, refined, and applied with a bit of practice, especially if you have prepared better and listened more acutely than others, and have tentative models from your preparation in mind.
Learn to identify when a group is ready for leadership, when decisions need to be made – not too soon because there will be resistance, not too late because someone else will take charge.
Speak Start by reflecting back and summarizing what appears to be the group’s thinking and present a consensus view. Briefly describe a mission and why the group will be more successful than individuals acting alone. Get agreement or make modifications. Then suggest a plan of action. Suggest and discuss roles (being sensitive to peoples’ skills, motivations, and interests).
Finish with a short “We can do this” motivational comment. Have ready three short stories – the story of me (my background and preparation for this role), the story of us (why we are the most likely to succeed) and the story of now (why this is the opportune time).
All this sounds complicated, but it isn’t really. Just remember P.L.U.S. and you will have a head start on becoming a proactive and effective leader with a high performance team, a leader PLUS.