Leadership is having a plan and effectively communicating to each employee their role in that plan.

By Dirk T. Dieters, Executive Director of The Fremont Group

In our discussions with business owners leadership is often a central topic. As an owner you are attempting to get people to act in a way that they would not do on their own. You want them to act in the best interests of the company. “Alignment” issues are when the best interests of the company diverge from the best interests of the individual employee. Alignment is a topic addressed in accountability and incentives which are structural issues. Leadership issues relate to the ability of the owner to create “buy in” by the employees. Effective leadership requires the respect of the leader. Many owners believe that respect is earned by demonstrating their ability to do every task in the company better than the employees. This is obvious in a transition business—father thinks the best way to train his son is for him to do every job in the business before he takes over. This attitude is generally a reflection of simply not understanding how to train the son to do the job of “owner.”

Leadership starts with having a plan. I often use an analogy from the military (bear with me, I was never military and my military son laughs at this but you will get the point.) When the general first calls together his troops, what is it that the troops want to hear? They want to hear, “what is the plan?” The last thing that they want to hear is, “well, I’m not really sure what we are going to do but we will come up with something.” They want to hear, “We are going to take that hill tomorrow!” And they want to hear it said decisively. They need to know that you have done your job and identified the need to take that hill in order to accomplish the next overall objective of the mission or battle. So you call them together and tell them, “We are going to take that hill tomorrow!” What is their next question? “What do you want me to do?”

Each individual wants to know their role in accomplishing your larger objective. You cannot have each individual determining their own role—you have to assign it. “You are going to charge up the east side of the hill at 0900.” “You are going to go to the west side and charge up at 1000.” “You are going to stay here and follow up in a second wave at 1100.” “You are going to be the medics and stay here to take care of the wounded.” And so on. The thing that you cannot have is the people on the west side at 1000 asking themselves, “I wonder if we really should go up now?” They have to understand that their job is to follow those orders and the only way to avoid that disaster is to be sure that you have their respect before you start. They have to know that you have a plan and that it will be followed and that no matter how small, their role is critical in that plan.

The same applies to your business. You need to have a plan and you need to communicate to each person their role in that plan. And you have to have their respect. They don’t have to like you but they do need to respect you.