In the past year, when innovation and entrepreneurship continued to be rewarded and recognized, this blog has remained focused on the underlying importance of leadership--that is, how visionaries with a plan and the initiative to inspire others can be true drivers for brand success.
So it was serendipitous that DDI released the report High-Resolution Leadership just as 2016 wound down. The expansive study, which gleans insight from a survey of some 15,000 brand and business leaders, brings into sharp contrast the importance of leadership as a driver of organizations. Specifically, and at the top of the study's takeaways, DDI focuses on so-called "money skills"--the qualities of senior executives to not just drive revenue, but also to translate that top-line growth into healthy profit margins.
DDI studied both revenue growth and profit growth as it relates to the overall effectiveness of leaders, building a composite index of leadership competence. Predictably, they found that strong leaders drive robust topline results. However, upon closer inspection, the survey revealed five competencies that drive real profit and growth.
Many are obvious to the point of bordering on cliché, but in my experience, they can be the most difficult to develop in people. So let's take a deeper look at each competency, and how brands can inculcate them into their leadership ranks.
Displaying entrepreneurship is the single most valuable trait in not just leaders but in potential leaders. We often look for individuals who "act like owners," because that's the disposition we seek from our best and brightest, and it is a precursor to a great leader. Entrepreneurship manifests in many ways, all the way down the line, and it usually has little to do with one's title.
The attitude itself can be difficult to cultivate in the modern age, as employees feel less and less tethered to their employers, many seeing their current gig as little more than a stepping-stone to the next stop on their résumé. Our challenge as brand leaders is to not just identify those who exhibit entrepreneurial spirit, but retain them by placing them in positions to succeed and reward their success. This is more than mentoring or "giving back"; as the DDI report shows, these individuals have a direct positive impact on the bottom line.
Working with franchisees across the continent, I've come to appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit. It is one that is brave, forward thinking, competitive, and not risk averse. Frankly, many among us are content to do our individual part. We've all experienced workplaces where the "It's Not My Job" attitude has infected the culture. Entrepreneurship is the vaccine for that disease. Simply by placing enough entrepreneurs around your team, you will see more proactive approaches to challenges facing your business.
Perhaps the least easily defined competency on this list, it is also the one most easily identified. We know business savvy when we see it. When a candidate, in the face of a challenging job market and competition for a position, nonetheless makes a case for a higher salary, it's hard not to admire the savvy that requires.
Business savvy requires experience, but not all with experience possess it. It also requires individuals to challenge themselves to see beyond their immediate position. When we onboard a new team member, it is normal for them to study up on their MBO (Management by Objectives) goals--after all, achieving MBOs is how we gage success and maximize earnings.
I'm more interested in the new team members who seek out the MBOs of others they are working for or with. This shows that their thinking extends beyond their immediate position. They are considering the motivations that create the full brand dynamic--what does this person want? How can I help them get it? How can they help me get where I need to be? How can we work together to further the brand?
Every living thing operates based on incentives, be it a mouse darting through a maze to get the cheese, or the chief executive concocting a complex plan to keep shareholders and workers happy. Business savvy is defined by how many dimensions of incentive one is capable of seeing, and what one does with that information.
As the most easily quantified on the list, driving execution is also one of the most valuable competencies. It is the place where the rubber meets the road. It does not matter if you manage a team of one or 100, at some point you will need to get your hands dirty and make it happen. No one's entire job can be delegation. If it is, it begs the question, "what are you bringing to the table?"
This competency is mostly about effort. But insomuch as it is a skill, it is one that can often erode over time. As a young go-getter, many successful professionals are dynamos, capable of incredible feats and accomplishing huge tasks with minimal resources. But as their titles and salaries grow in lock step with their performance, they sometimes settle into routine.
A good leader has disdain for comfort. They refuse to let yesterday's success define tomorrow's effort. Always be asking yourself, "What have I done lately?" This is how to drive execution.
DDI sees the decision-making competency in an operational lens, but it is broader than that. The strengths and advantages derived from the above competencies mean nothing if they don't result in good decisions, and that can be applied to every level of business.
Good decisions are born of careful thought, preparation, research and advice. Simply seeking these things out is a skill in itself. Who should you rely on? What sources can be trusted? How do you arrange your research, and present it to stakeholders to win them over? We all learned the traditional SWOT assessment on our first days of business school, but what our professors didn't teach us--what only experience teaches us--is how to weigh each of those strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and condense them into a decision. It's a skill.
The more potential an idea has to positively impact the bottom line, the more potential it has to languish. The best changes can be revolutionary, and most organizations are resistant to upheaval. Often they are designed that way.
The need for leaders who can affect change is part of the reason we've seen an increase in the past 10 years of executives with the word "Evangelist" in their titles. This competency is really about innovation, about courage--being brave enough to say that what we are doing might work now, but it will not work for much longer, and we need to adapt.
And part of leading change is preparing a leadership succession plan. You won't be in charge forever, and preparing for that eventuality will only make your brand stronger. Another key takeaway from the report is one we've touched on in this blog before: start building your senior leaders when they are still junior followers. From DDI:
"Your top leaders with the killer money skills weren't born that way. They likely acquired their skills through experience and challenging assignments. You can start your lower-level leaders on the path to developing these skills early by identifying your highest-potential players and channeling them into learning experiences that build their skills early."
As I said earlier, these Money Skills can be difficult to develop in people, mostly because there is a prerequisite talent necessary before development can begin. For example, many with a more introverted nature may struggle to lead change. The more careful thinkers among us often struggle with decision-making. But not all introverts make poor leaders, and not every thoughtful person dithers. Home in on what your potential leaders bring to the table, not what they lack. We can work on those skills later.
So, as we begin 2017, take a look around your team and see who possesses these competencies who can truly drive your bottom line. Find ways to engage them, reward them, and put them in positions to succeed. Then, on New Year's Day of 2018, see how many are still around.