Taking Chances

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There is no shortage of effective leadership. A search on Google will turn up endless pages of magazine articles, books and speeches about all of those characteristics viewed as essential for a dynamic and motivational leader. Yet despite all of this talk, ineffective leadership seems to permeate the corporate world. Certainly those in executive positions never believe their approach is flawed, so why is there a major disconnect between theory and practice?

The answer may be that their leadership is based on misconceptions. The biggest one is a belief held by executives and midlevel managers that they must always know what to do and how to do it. After all, they are the leaders and the buck stops with them, right? Wrong. One common example comes from the small business owner who is very knowledgeable about the nuts and bolts of the business, but lacks the skill sets to effectively run it. Situations such as these can be accurately described as “managing by chance,” and they are nothing less than a direct route to potential failure.

The perils of chance

So what is it about chance that seems to draw so many leaders unwittingly into its web? The concept of chance is based on nothing more than the possibility of an outcome. Statistical probabilities suggesting particular consequences, such as those deduced through market research, occasionally factor into a management decision. However, what is really happening is a decision making process based more on hope instead of a thorough planning process. Granted, many leaders believe their approach has been logical and meticulous, but by increasing the role of chance in the equation, they have allowed themselves to steer a course through difficult business waters with a possible damaged rudder. That is not the best way to steer a company.

This scenario epitomizes a leadership convinced it is “making things happen.” In reality, this approach leaves the outcome to factors that it should be controlling. In most cases, the cause is the style of leadership, whether autocratic or laissez-faire—two polar opposites that inevitably lead to the same result. The former is based on “do as I say” while the latter essentially leaves the process in the hands of subordinates with the leader out of the loop by choice at the critical time when direction is needed. Many small business owners, though not necessarily autocratic, equate their ownership with leadership. The two are not necessarily synonymous. Leadership requires considerable time and effort to forge a path for more predictable outcomes and, for a busy small business owner, time for such considerations is an extremely rare and relatively unavailable commodity. The followers who must execute the plan are left to wonder if their shop has gone adrift.

A leader who is seeking answers for a struggling company is unlikely to motivate those followers with a willingness “to try just about anything” to right the ship. This is reactive leadership that is less likely to influence a company’s direction in a positive way and explains why the greatest expense incurred by small business owners is the recurring expense of trial and error. It’s little more than a role of the dice.Voids in leadership manifested by such symptoms as lack of continuity, poor planning and minimal accountability can be considered prime examples of managing by chance. All are clear-cut paths to failure because the control that should exist through a well-developed strategy has been unwittingly relinquished.

Poor communication is another indicator that too much of the company’s fate has been left to chance. Leaders cannot expect a smooth execution of policy and direction if neither of the two has been effectively communicated to followers.

To put it simply, when people don’t know, they don’t buy in. Like falling dominos, lack of communication leads to lack of collaboration and motivation, two absolute essentials for any organization’s success. Then there is the failure to either understand or even examine the competencies required for implementation and execution. When tasks are assigned to those whose skill sets do not match up, a losing game of chance is officially underway.

Avoid management by chance

“Great business performance doesn’t happen by chance,” wrote authors Joe Calloway, Chuck Feltz and Kris Young in their collective effort, “Never By Chance: Aligning People and Strategy through Intentional Leadership.”

To keep chance off the table, here are five leadership characteristics that improve the odds for success and prevent you from leaving things up to a roll of the dice:

  • Vision. One’s vision is the guiding light —the inspiration by which all manner of leadership is driven.
  • Plan. What do we want and who has to do what to make that happen? For answers, it’s important for leaders to implement a collaborative effort using key managers, advisors and others who share the vision.
  • Effective communication. There can be no effective leadership without the ability to effectively communicate a vision and plan to everyone in the organization.
  • Passion and compassion. These attributes show how much the leader cares. They reveal the depth of the leader’s drive as well as empathy for those assigned to fulfill the dream.
  • Follow-up and follow-through. There is no better way to assure accountability than by maintaining consistency through close supervision of everything planned.

Flexibility can also play a role in chance avoidance. While long recognized as a leadership attribute, it has its limits. When used properly, flexibility keeps an organization on board through collaboration and helps build a coherent and cohesive company. It cannot be stretched to the point that followers become confused and unmotivated due to constant shifts in strategy and tactics. Flexibility and consistency should not be considered opposites; they reinforce the other attributes necessary for effective leadership.

Leave nothing to chance

Leaders, in the truest sense of the term, exemplify conduct that is not limited to striving for goals. They’ve learned that leadership requires passion, a vision and the ability to motivate an organization to attain a goal without relying on luck or chance.

The legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once classified people into three types: those that make things happen, those that watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. His categorization applies as much to business as to sports; a leader who falls into any category other than the first risks making what may well turn out to be irreparable mistakes.

About Steve McCrillis Tara McCrillis 2 Articles
Steve McCrillis is a senior business analyst. He has 25 years of small business operations experience. Tara McCrillis is a graphic designer with several years of experience as a small business marketing manager.

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