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Ken Keller: Make sure your business is ‘game ready’

Inside Business

Posted: May 5, 2009 9:35 p.m.
Updated: May 6, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Challenging times means that for survival and success, how people go about leading organizations requires change.

As head coach of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, John Madden had three simple rules for the men playing on his teams: “First, be on time; second, pay attention; third, come dressed to play.”

While those dictums seem to be old school, given today’s high-priced, over-indulged athletes, what used to work well was once tossed aside. Now, it is being resurrected and re-adopted. Everything old is new again and the most visible example is the release of high-maintenance, high-salary player Terrell Owens, who, apparently, could not seem to arrive on time to practice or pay attention except when he was going to get the ball thrown to him. He was popular with his teammates — those that played on defense.

The Dallas Cowboys have now embraced a back-to-basics approach and the team is looking forward to appearing in the Super Bowl in 2010.

What does that mean for your business? It means that as a leader, you need to “just do it better.” That may seem a difficult concept, but it isn’t, really. It means practicing the basics of leadership better, and through your actions of leading by example to every employee in your company.

Understand that royalty is for another era and that era is no more. Employees will question what they see as the outrageous perks of leaders in the light of an economic climate where they have seen friends laid off, paychecks reduced, benefits slashed. When people are asked to do more with less, they look to the authenticity of the request. Employees today are looking for leaders who share sacrifices willingly without commentary.  

To that end, employees will question their leaders publicly if something is not adding up in their minds. As the owner, you need to feel comfortable being question by employees about the company they work hard at, and for, every day. Keep in mind that you may own the shares, but it is their company, too. When they question you about something, the thought should be one of relief, not anger. A question means they are engaged, concerned, and focused on their role as an employee trying to understand what is taking place.

Royalty implies having the leader sit on a throne where orders are given and carried out to the minions somewhere. Isolation of the leader no longer works. An effective leader cannot sit in his or her office everyday wondering what happened to the orders that were given.  

Today, employees expect that their leaders will be with them, shoulder to shoulder. This means that the leader must be visible and participating in what needs to get done. Leaders are expected to be seen in the offices of prospects, out on the warehouse floor, or answering the phones if that is what is needed. The new era says that those in charge, at every level, need to lead from the front, not barking orders from the throne.  

In the old era, meetings were endless and meaningless. Meetings were called for many reasons and for no reason at all. Most were worthless and a waste of resources. The new era calls for meetings with meat and meaning. They must be worth the time for people to be present. That means holding as few meetings as possible, with written agendas. Meetings should be focused, short and to the point, with someone making notes about who is supposed to do what (as in, following up and following through).

A meeting implies ideas, concepts and information are exchanged. In another time, the leader might call a meeting and do all the talking. The fewer meetings the leader attends, the better everyone else will feel, provided the leader doesn’t second-guess the decisions made and undermine the authority of those making the decisions. If that happens, royalty is alive and flourishing in a time when it shouldn’t be.

New times require new ways of thinking, planning and acting. It all starts and stops at the very top.

Kenneth Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, which brings business owners together in facilitated peer advisory boards. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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