20/09/10

By Andrew Lester, Managing Partner, Carr Michael Consulting

Great leaders lead over time. Think about it. It’s not good enough to be a great leader in one situation that makes you a one trick pony and leads to downfall. Margaret Thatcher was an outstanding leader but only for part her time as PM. She was not a consistently great leader. She failed to use her team to adjust her style to ensure her government remained relevant and appropriate to the changing environment. As such she was ousted.

In small and medium businesses that are owner — managed, the leaders need to retain powerful leadership. The lessons of the world are clear: the average tenure of a large company CEO is 24 months. Owner managers do not have this “luxury”, they can’t just move on to another “hired hand” MD or CEO role. Additionally even for larger businesses high turnover of CEOs and senior directors is a major cost to the business that indicates an inability to grow sustainably from within.

A major element of leadership success is therefore the ability to generate “self leading” organisations that respond positively to driving cash today and generating new growth businesses for tomorrow. Generating self leading organisations is possible in part through the use of focused project management that drives efficiencies on day to day work and initiatives in new markets.

The principle of successful project management to underpin sustainable success is to pick projects that are narrow enough in scope to get your hands around them and large enough to force different functions of the business to have to work together to make progress. In many cases this is referred to as taking a “thin slice” approach. By focusing on thin slice projects, and keeping the number of them tightly controlled, everyone in the company can readily see how cross functional working can make major efficiency improvements and deliver quickly and more easily new growth businesses.

Having successfully run one or two thin slice projects, the key to great leadership is to replicate it consistently so that the organisation recognises issues and opportunities, and in so doing “self leads” itself to define, develop and launch appropriate initiatives that are in line with the company’s strategy and values.

However we need to be careful here. Self leading organisations are typified by businesses that grow quickly and sustainably based on the principles and processes of growth management. This includes the ability to recognise the critical factors that generate success (processes, thinking styles, openness, controlled creativity etc) and not the specific initiative itself. There is a great phrase: “nothing fails like an old success”. This reflects companies who have had great success with a new initiative try to keep replicating it even though each time they do it gets less and less effective, until the point at which it fails to deliver. For example: “We always run our New Year sales staring in January” just doesn’t cut it anymore in a market that has moved to pre Christmas sales. Just because an initiative worked before, does not mean it will continue to do so.

What is replicable however is the approach, the innovative thinking that underpins efficiencies and new business initiatives. Don’t get blinded by a single point solution. Get passionate about open, controlled and creative thinking and use thin slice projects to drive progress to deliver a self leading sustainable business.

Please feel free to comment by contacting me: andrewlester@carr-michael.com. Andrew Lester is Managing Partner of Carr-Michael Consulting, specialists in growth management and business performance improvement.

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