Part 1: What Should My 12 Leadership Ratios Be?

by Sam on August 9, 2011

Conductors of great symphony orchestras do not play every musical instrument; yet through leadership the ultimate production is an expressive and unified combination of tones. ~Thomas D. Bailey

As a leader you can’t do everything. Great leaders know they must make choices. These are rarely clean-cut alternatives between A and B. More often they are relative ratios of how much they’ll focus on A vs. B. The twelve most critical A/B leadership ratios follow in this and the next three postings on this web site. What relative emphasis do you attach within these choices? And which of these emphases do your team, your peers, your customers, and your boss need you to change?

1. Internal vs. External. You act as an internal leader when you work day-to-day with your team to achieve the strategic priorities of your organization. By contrast, you serve as an external leader when you act as a buffer between your unit of responsibility and higher levels of corporate leadership, clients, prospective clients, suppliers, bankers, political leaders, community leaders, and the media. Leaders who focus more heavily on the inside either see outside relationship building as not critical to their unit’s success or have delegated that to a competent professional staff. External leaders are typically in a situation where it is crucial to the outside world that they be personally and frequently visible. They groom high-level assistants to whom they turn over much of their internal leadership obligation. For example, a chief executive officer may appoint a chief operating officer to take care of the daily running of the company. Too often leaders choose their internal/external split (60/40, 20/80, etc.) based on what is comfortable for them rather than what is best for the talent they have, the demands of their mission, and the idiosyncrasies of their industry.

“Deep” Insight: When you lead a smaller less complex unit, you can devote relatively more attention to internal leadership. When you head a larger more complex unit with multiple critical interfaces with customers, boards, and the rest of the world you’ll need help with the internal in order to meet the demands of the external.

2. Control vs. Trust. Some leaders manage “close to the vest.” Employees can do little without checking back for further guidance, more information, or permission to proceed. Others delegate the authority for all but decisions that must be made at the highest levels. You experience either side of this contrast when checking out at a hotel. Some front desk staffs have to check with their manager before agreeing to redact a $10 misapplied honor bar charge from your bill. Yet in one hotel chain checkout clerks have the authority to forgive guests up to $2000 on their statement.

“Deep” Insight: High control leaders need to ask themselves these questions: (1) Is the personal effort you expend in controls worth the gain of possibly avoiding errors of judgment by your staff and (2) will increased trust that you show to your staff encourage them to grow and to act as responsibly as you do with even better informed responses to the needs of situations that they are closer to?

3. Process vs. Product. Process-minded leaders center on the “how.” They ask questions like these:

  • What do we need to do to serve our customers better?
  • Do we provide our employees with a workplace where they feel like they’re growing?
  • How does our sales and marketing team need to be further developed?
  • Are we visibly and sufficiently committed to continuous improvement?
  • Are we primed to take advantage of opportunities that appear on the horizon?
  • How can we do a better job of gathering intelligence on our competitors?

By contrast, product-minded leaders concentrate on the “what.” They ask these kinds of questions:

  • What’s our utilization?
  • How does our first quarter profit stand in relation to plan?
  • Are people working as hard as they can?
  • Are we operating at the lowest possible cost structure?
  • How many new contracts did we close last week?
  • Are we paying the lowest possible tax rate?

“Deep Insight”: Leaders are principally, and appropriately, evaluated by their “product” outcomes. At the same time, great leaders understand that the surest way to maximize them is to direct their attention first and foremost to “process” that will make those outcomes happen.

Breakthrough! Which adjustments in these three comparative emphases do you think you need to make? To whom will you turn for feedback to confirm your suspicion? Once you pinpoint one of these ratios to change, be honest with yourself about why you’ve been off balance with it. Do this by admitting to the barriers that you or others have erected to moving closer to a more beneficial equilibrium. Finally, commit to the actions necessary to overcome the barriers.

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