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A New Leadership Key Performance Indicator


{#/pub/images/ANewLeadershipKeyPerformanceIndicator.jpg}By Joseph Skursky, President of Market Leader Solutions

The commitment of leadership to principles, standards, and strategic direction cannot be overstated in terms of the critical importance they play in organizational performance. Too many leaders, however, focus on motivational talk with persuasive or even commanding language, while ignoring the most important and influential directive of all…their own actions.


A leader’s actions communicate far more than the words they speak, and rest assured, the organization is paying attention. In fact, the organization will follow what the leader does even more so than what they say; this is where many organizational problems begin.


Following is an example of a leader’s actions conflicting with their words.


Recently I met with a client whose executive team was struggling to be more effective. The partners had conflicting values, which was the primary reason I was called to meet with them. We had everyone in the company complete personality assessments, so I had a lot of information to consider as we prepared for the on-site meetings.


The most glaring of symptoms gathered from the assessments were indicated as:

  • Low employee engagement – more than 40% of the people were not having fun and didn’t care.

  • Top performers, anchor points of the team, were contemplating moving on.


Prior to the event, I sent pre-meeting surveys to the three partners asking soul-searching questions in an effort to understand how they viewed each other and the organization. Only 2 of 3 partners completed the survey, with the Managing Partner being unresponsive. It was no surprise because the 2 partners candidly expressed in their survey responses that the Managing Partner felt as though the “rules” never applied to him.


I knew I had to address this early in the multi-day meetings in order for the Managing Partner to embrace what we discussed.  Otherwise there would be no progress, no solutions and no change…now or ever. Frankly, I was concerned that if I raised the issue too early or too harshly that the entire event could end abruptly with, “Thanks for coming. Enjoy the rest of your time in our city.”


Whatever I had to do next needed to hit the mark effectively…and quickly.  By focusing on one critical principle we were able to achieve a powerful lesson and pivotal moment for the leadership team.


The Principle Established

What began as a preamble to the meetings was the introduction of a principle:

  • If a picture = 1000 words
  • A demonstration = 1000 pictures (a million words)
  • A working model = 1000 demonstrations (a billion words)


After the principle was introduced, we officially started the meetings with clear identification of organizational pain, revealing that their customers were routinely considered second or third priorities. Among all the other organizational pains, this was agreed by all as a high priority to resolve. Since execution often reveals breakdowns or weaknesses in leadership, people, or both, it was important to observe some type of execution in action.


So I issued a challenge to the partner in charge of marketing to conduct 20 surveys from his team by the next morning while we continued our meetings. The first reaction was, “that’s not possible,” which demonstrated:


A-   That leader’s thought limitations in terms of execution ability.


B-   Previously agreed high priority items were given lip service to resolve.


Shockingly, the Managing Partner provided an outstanding solution, and the execution was underway.


Following a break, I had the opportunity to demonstrate how to deliver feedback (apply the principle) to the marketing partner in order to setup my move to address the Managing Partner’s disdain of rules and functional leadership behavior as evidenced by not completing the pre-meeting survey.


The Principle Applied

Since I knew the Managing Partner had trust issues, the demonstration to his partner revealed that while addressing tough issues, I would deliver the feedback constructively and gently.


Immediately following the feedback to the marketing partner, we recapped the value of a demonstration just to be sure everyone was clear about the underlying principle involved in what they just saw. Now it was time to address the Managing Partner’s behavior.


We discussed as a group about the low level of employee engagement. Once the Managing Partner stated his concern, wondering why their people aren’t more engaged, the opportunity presented itself to address his behavior. He acknowledged that he often feels like the rules don’t apply to him, which led to the “discovery” that every day he is speaking a million words that keep them disengaged.


Even worse, this has occurred consistently over such a length of time that it, though dysfunctional, has become a working model for the organization. That’s a billion words leading a team in the wrong direction, and is now firmly embedded in the company’s culture.



Right Leadership Messages


Leadership happens no matter what leaders say because people observe, believe, and follow the actions of leaders more than mere words.


If asked, most leaders would quickly and emphatically agree that they want to see the following in their organizations:

  • High standards for execution and customer experiences.
  • Accountability for each and every role.
  • Performance-oriented culture that rewards results instead of tenure or politics.
  • Loyalty and commitment to the company mission.


These are the right leadership messages, but do their daily behaviors exemplify their strong words?


Following are some examples of wrong leadership messages:

  • Demand improvement for quality of hire, but focus more on Key Performance Indicators that track speed to hire.
  • Promote based on tenure or politics versus performance.
  • Expect high performance, but don’t coach for improvement.
  • Insist on higher standards for hiring from HR/recruiting, but don’t track retention and development performance from the hiring manager.
  • Preach customer service excellence, but then make him or herself unavailable to both customers and employees.


If any of these sound familiar within your organization, it might be time for a leadership checkup.


A good place to start is to look at your compensation plans and bonus programs. Do they align with what you “say” you want to see? This is generally the first place – and a very important one – to search for inconsistencies between “talk” and “walk.”



A New Leadership Key Performance Indicator


Leaders are human, which means they will make mistakes. That’s no big deal in itself. The big deal is if they don’t learn quickly from their mistakes.


To drive organizational improvement, think about this as a Top 3 KPI for leaders:


Consistency of leadership behavior aligning with stated goals.


Measure and improve in this area often enough, and you will create a high performing organization.


Every day leaders send millions-, if not billions- of word messages. What messages do you want to communicate? Because you are communicating something, no matter what you say.


{#/pub/images/JosephSkursky.jpg}Written by Joseph Skursky, President of Market Leader Solutions    For almost 20 years, Joseph Skursky has been growing businesses and advising leaders in companies across North America. His model of Leadership, People, and Execution provides a clear roadmap to grow almost any business. It has been field-tested and proven effective for over 9 years. Joseph Skursky helps companies hire with confidence, manage without frustration, and increase both productivity and profitability. His “Hire Hard, Manage Easy” system  has earned the respect of colleagues and clients alike. More importantly, it delivers consistent results.


Do you have a question for Joseph?  Please visit our Human Resources Community, he will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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