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Leaders Need to Care About More Than Intent

I was fortunate to have a leader I respect sit with me for coffee on a warm summer morning. Over the next hour and a half, we discussed leadership philosophies, career inflection points, work and life integration, and identification of organisational priorities.


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Leon Purton

5 months ago | 6 min read
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3 Lessons from Coffee with the Female General Manager of a Multi-Million-Dollar Revenue Company

I was fortunate to have a leader I respect sit with me for coffee on a warm summer morning. Over the next hour and a half, we discussed leadership philosophies, career inflection points, work and life integration, and identification of organisational priorities.

This leader has balanced international portfolios as a Chief Executive Officer and General Manager across several companies. They have handled mergers and organisational transformations. In addition, they have restructured workforces and provided guidance as a Director across many executive boards.

In achieving all of these things, they have done it as an outlier. As a person who has driven a wedge through the glass ceiling and enabled others to follow through. And she did it all while wrestling with the tension of a desire to fit in, and the desire to make an impact.

I want to give you the three most important things I learned from that conversation.

Leadership is about more than intent

Photo by Wynand van Poortvliet on Unsplash

Whilst leading a career that many will look at from afar and say that she must have it all figured out. She would quickly learn those hard lessons once and then go on to the next key learning.

However, when she reflected, there was one difficult leadership lesson that life kept putting in front of her. The type of lesson that forces you to learn it, then re-learn it, because you keep forgetting it, and the world keeps putting it in front of you to learn again.

She talked about the time she meant to reach a quick conclusion, only to realise that she had lost the team along the way. She tried to move quickly, but to the team, she was dismissive of their input.

If you have a natural skill at following a thought thread through to its conclusion quickly, you need to make sure everybody else gets there as well.

If the information presented makes sense to you, and there is a logical next step to you, you cannot jump to the end and tell people the obvious next step (to you!). People will feel like you do not listen to them; like you don’t care what they think, that you don’t trust them to come up with good ideas.

This taught her that leadership isn't about intent, it is about what people receive from what you intended. It is about how you land. When you finish communication, you walk away thinking that they took things the way you meant them.

Instead, they filter all the interactions through their perspectives, current knowledge, beliefs about themselves and you, and their current emotions.

This means you need to re-examine how you communicate with different people at different times, and this hard leadership lesson in one she kept getting put in front of her.

In this example, you might intend for people to save time as everyone has worked it out, so you skip to the end and move to the next topic. However, instead of saving time, you have created confusion and resentment.

So, remember, leadership is not about what you intended, it is about how you landed — and a fast and furious landing is rarely a good landing.

Leading is not about what you intended the other person to take away, it is about how that lands, and what they really take away. So — stick the landing.

Create a scoreboard and use results to drive transformation

Photo by SOULSANA on Unsplash

As I reflected on this key learning, I realised that there must be things that she has learnt in her most recent career transition.

From CEO of one company to General Manager of another. This is a transition across two fronts, a change in scope from national to multi-national responsibilities, and a change in companies.

So I asked, what have you learnt about handling the changes required with moving to a new company, with working out what needed to be done and getting it started?

She responded, that she thinks that change management is often over complicated. It really just comes down to language and driving results.

For her, change management comes down to two key things.

Create a scoreboard

Coming into the company, there were some easily identifiable things that needed to be changed. However, changing these things needs to be done with collective acknowledgement of what needs to be done.

To achieve this, the General Manager utilised a Strategy on a Page (SOAP) and a Balanced Scorecard. The SOAP defines the goals of the ‘game’ — what it is that we are trying to achieve, what does success look like.

Then you need to create a scoreboard to track whether you are winning or not. The balanced scorecard provides that scoreboard, a collectively visible status of how the company is tracking against those goals.

Image from Jinho Jung Flickr

The art in the scoreboard is designing the measures to drive the new culture, organisational structures, company processes and customer performance. Once these have been designed, you can use the results to drive the changes.

Use results to drive the change

Having a public scoreboard, that you use to talk through how the company is tracking at regular intervals, can create a common target for everyone within the company.

The balanced scorecard groups the collective objectives into four key areas. Financial goals define the annual operating plan income and performance metrics. The Customer quadrant defines the inbound contracts and renewal goals.

Internal business talks to the continuous improvement element of internal processes, practices and resourcing. The Innovation and Learning (or people) quadrant defines what you are doing to attract, retain and grow your staff.

When the company starts to achieve goals in these key areas, and the collective leadership team are held accountable for shared success, the results and feeling of achievement drive a change in the culture.

This practice is a change management strategy, but it doesn't try to run change in parallel. Change, performance and improvement are all coupled into one communication message. Simplifying the management of these three aspects.

Everyone needs someone to believe in them

Photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash

This one, perhaps, isn’t the most surprising. I think we all understand the importance of relationships and can recognise the value an advocate can have in your career.

However, it is still surprising to hear the risks some leaders are willing to take on people with potential in their organisation. This held true for this General Manager, who had an advocate early in her career continue to push for her to have opportunities.

Even in reflection, this General Manager was surprised by some of the opportunities she was given, and the respective courage of her managers in providing them for her.

Evidence of that courage was backing her to lead in international business negotiation into the Middle East, where female leads are generally disadvantaged.

It does reinforce the leadership principle that I like to subscribe to; choose to lead with trust. The great Jim Collins calls this the ‘Trust Wager’, and says that all the best leaders know how to make these.

Starting out, sometimes all you need is someone to make the trust wager for you. To back you in, when many others might not.

A similar wager was made on me as a young engineer, trusted to fly internationally and create long-lasting relationships aimed at improving aviation safety across several militaries. That wager, then led to increased trust and more opportunities, allowing me to make a bigger impact.

But it all started with that one decision to send someone junior when it might have been easier to send someone more senior, but less knowledgeable in the subject area.

The trust wager is the first sign that you have an advocate, you have someone who is willing to believe in you. So next time you are faced with an opportunity to make a trust wager, think of the impact that it can make.

It can truly make the career of someone who has made a significant impact on a company as both a Chief Executive and now a General Manager.

I am exceptionally grateful for the opportunity to sit and chat with a leader like this, but I am also heartened by the principles that she explained. Each of these principles is immediately transferable to all those emerging leaders.

Be conscious of how you land, not just what you intend. Understand the importance of a scoreboard for creating momentum, and when you are in a position to, make a trust wager.

These simple leadership principles can create a career of endless opportunity. You don't have to learn these principles for yourself, pick them up from someone who has proven success and integrate them into your future.

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Created by

Leon Purton

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Inspired by life. Leadership, Growth, Personal Development. Engineer and Sports Enthusiast. Top Writer in Leadership. https://medium.com/@spurtapurton


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