A question of leadership

This Katherine Woods article first appeared in May 2012.

 I am frequently asked to help clients to manage meetings following a reorganisation. One of the most common types of reorganisation involves new leadership. Over the years, I’ve helped many people in new leadership positions and have developed strong, long-term relationships with them. Thankfully, many have taken me with them as they have moved through their careers into different organisations and other new leadership positions.

Clearly informed

One of the most critical meetings for any leader in a new role is the first meeting with their new leadership team: the people who report directly to them. New leaders have to assimilate huge amounts of information, ranging from the names of people and customers through to the products, technical acronyms…the list is endless. The information is usually presented to them in many different ways: through informal and formal conversations, presentations, written documents and emails.

All of this leads to a complex picture about what the business does, overlaid with the working relationships and the dynamics of how the business works. I believe that the really smart business leaders can find simple ways to communicate what is needed, even in a complex environment. This can only come if they have a clear perspective of all of the information. To facilitate this it helps if the information is sorted into the following categories and then the category summarised:

  • Past – Where has this business come from (including mergers, acquisitions, new office / plants, products, business performance)? Summarise this to show what we can learn from the past.
  • Present – How does this business sit within its market? Who are the customers and what are their needs? Who are the competitors and what are they doing? What are the macroeconomic trends affecting the business? How are we performing currently? What’s happening internally: how do employees feel about the current situation? Summarise this to show the current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for the business.
  • Future – What are the forecasted industry trends? What is happening in the wider world that might affect us? What scenarios can be envisaged that will help us to make the best informed decisions for moving forward? Summarise this to show the ‘givens’ for ‘on high’ and how these can be merged with other data.

Actively engaged

Once the information is sorted you can start to clarify what is needed. This requires the engagement of the team and their alignment in a common direction. The key issues that need to be clarified include:

  • Why are we here?
  • Who is here?
  • What are the main goals / priorities?
  • What are the key roles for achieving these priorities?
  • How will we work to define and deliver a plan–and how will we make decisions?

A leader doesn’t have to have the answer to all of these questions. They can choose to work some of them out themselves; test ideas; consult with others; and, create new proposals from scratch. However, the key to unified action is having clarity of understanding of these issues throughout the organisation. This means keeping things clear, simple and consistent, and getting the leadership team in good shape so that they can lead the wider organisation effectively and efficiently.

In the first meeting that a leader has with their new team, it’s usually worth starting to work through the five areas above. It can take time to get real clarity and commitment but this is usually time well spent. A group that clarifies issues from the start usually achieves huge returns by ‘going slow to go fast.’

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