There are two things required for leaders to achieve extraordinary results – first is a robust strategy that everyone understands and believes in. And second is the nerve to stay the course and make it happen. Most strategies fail because of the second, not the first.
When leaders want to achieve extraordinary results – in good or bad times – they must address two aspects of strategy. First, they must develop a clear game plan for where they want their organization to be, and how to get there. Second, they must create an environment of authentic ownership, accountability and communication inside which the plan can be implemented. None of this is revolutionary.
The only way employees will commit to a bold plan is if they believe their leaders have the nerve to do what it takes to make it happen. Most leaders are ignorant of this critical fact, or they underestimate it. They believe that all they need to do is a good job of communicating the plan, demand compliance, and tie compensations and rewards to its achievement; with these in place, people will naturally fall in line. Nothing is further from the truth.
If people doubt their leader’s nerve, they will be cautious, keep ideas, suggestions and problems hidden, and only ‘appear’ to be on board. When asked, they will say the right things. But in their hearts, they will be disengaged.
Far too often I have seen leaders declare a bold, ambitious change strategy, only to achieve little traction. Why? Because they failed to address and deal with the key issues necessary to achieve their bold future.
These key issues often revolved around successful but entitled senior managers, whose behavior was not consistent with the organization’s stated values and spirit, and sometimes even decisions. Despite politically correct declarations by the leader to the contrary, the lack of holding these individuals to account sent a clear message to employees that the boldness of the change strategy was hot air. Cynicism reigned, and the strategy remained little more than a slide deck.
Leaders must have the nerve to face reality, including admitting mistakes or owning up to places they or their predecessors fell short.
Without that, people doubt leader’s credibility, sincerity and competence. As a result, they will go through the motions, but they will not wholeheartedly join in.
Leaders who can only stomach positive or diplomatic conversations will have no time for the difficult, messy territory of complaints and worries that must be addressed before people are willing to engage in anything else.
In today’s difficult economic environment, having nerve is more critical than ever. To hear and address people’s skepticism, doubts, fears or uncertainties requires courage. To infuse hope and confidence in the face of seemingly endless gloom and doom requires a strong backbone.
Nerve is what allows leaders to inspire and energize people when many are feeling uncertain or anxious. Nerve distinguishes real leaders from managers, administrators and bureaucrats.