SI Review: October 2012

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Master Strategists

What staffing execs can learn from some of the world’s strongest leaders

By Amy Bingham

Browse the business section in Barnes & Noble and you’ll find a plethora of books on leadership. They’re remarkably similar, because the tenets of great leadership are consistent, transcending cultures, ethnicities and professions. What can the staffing industry learn by examining a few of the world’s most renowned leaders, and what actions can staffing industry leaders take that demonstrate the embodiment of these traits?

They’re as diverse as you and I are. Mahatma Ghandi was a wise Hindu spiritual leader and civil rights activist best remembered as the symbol of independent India. Jack Welch is still revered as the CEO of all CEOs, increasing General Electric’s value 4,000 percent during his tenure. British Prime Minister and Nobel Prizewinning author Winston Churchill led the country successfully through World War II. Eleanor Roosevelt capitalized on her stature as a First Lady to become an early champion for women’s rights. Colin Powell made his mark on the U.S. military and foreign relations as Secretary of State during George W. Bush’s presidency.

With all their differences, these leaders share five clear commonalities. Let’s define each and then address their application in staffing.

1. A passion for improving conditions

“We must be the change we wish to see.” — Mahatma Gandhi

The great leaders above all had their own personal vision for a better world that they pursued with passion, dedication and commitment.

In the same way, staffing companies have their visions, missions and core values. The leadership team has a responsibility to carry the torch together, aligned as one unified team around the common goals that define the organization.

Make the company’s core values your own.Embrace and model what the company stands for. Does your firm value customer delight above all else? Respect for the individual? Being the employer of choice? Market domination in a specific niche?

The most respected leaders I’ve worked with practically tattoo the company’s mission and values on their foreheads. The senior leaders walk the talk in alignment with one another, reflecting the company’s values in their behavior at all times. For example, if respect for the individual is a core value, every decision made by every leader in the organization reflects that premise — from the way new clients are onboarded to the way job applicants are treated to how employees up and down the org chart are recognized and counseled with care.

Why is modeling of the company’s mission and values so critical? Because clients, applicants and particularly internal staff easily spot disparities between what their leaders say the firm stands for and the way they actually behave. If that gap is wide and pervasive among the executives, employees are quick to brand the leaders as disconnected, inauthentic and untrustworthy — a kiss of death for any company expecting highly engaged employees and above-market growth.

2. A strong base of support

“The team with the best players wins.” — Jack Welch

The leaders here understood they would only be successful if they rallied others just as passionate and committed as they were around their cause. They worked hard to garner dedicated followers who helped make their vision a reality despite opposition and challenges.

Be obsessed with building and retaining a winning team.First, hire right. From sourcing to selection to onboarding, make sure your hiring process is well-defined. Beyond defining job competencies and screening for them, make sure that elusive “fit” is right for your culture. I’ve seen too many otherwise qualified hires fail because my clients neglected to consider cultural fit. For example, if yours isn’t a culture that puts individual sales performance at the top of the priority list, that “shark” you hired may alienate other solid performers and cause so much dissension in the ranks that you actually lose market. Second, invest regularly in training and development for your client-facing teams. I partner with select firms training something new every quarter. These companies understand they must invest regularly to improve productivity and engagement. Third, coach for success. It’s critical to provide consistent care and feeding for sales leaders, sales reps and recruiters. Don’t assume they know how to manage their time effectively, make the right decisions, and employ the right behaviors to produce the expected results. That’s a dangerous assumption that could cost you lost growth opportunity and turnover. Great leaders know they must constantly invest in building high-performance teams.

3. Strength of character

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” — Winston Churchill

The great leaders outlined in this article persevered in the face of extreme challenges. They had the personal conviction to do what they felt was right even if it was unpopular.

Be committed to producing the desired results consistently over time. The desire to succeed is an inherent trait in great leaders. From turnaround experts to innovative pioneers in large firms to local start-ups that quickly own their niche due to their personal commitment to success, strength of character combined with a can-do attitude is what makes winning and inspirational leaders.

4. Concern for others

“It is not fair to ask of others what you are unwilling to do yourself.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

These great leaders adopted a “one team, one mission” stance because they knew they could accomplish more as a team than they ever could alone.

Know when it’s necessary to get into the trenches with your people. If those on the front lines perceive they are being asked to perform tasks the leaders themselves wouldn’t, resentment builds quickly. Enough said.

Be a chameleon. Hone your ability to adapt your style to different personalities. To be a truly great leader, you must first understand your own personality style and then become adept at “reading” the styles of others. This awareness gives you the foundation to adjust your style to match theirs for the most effective outcomes.

There are many good personality profiles that can help you with this; I like the DiSC (dominance, influencing, steady and conscientious) assessment because it’s easy to take, highly accurate, and still widely used in leadership coaching despite being developed in the late 1800s. What can you learn through the DiSC? For example, if your natural style is predominantly “dominant,” you may inadvertently alienate a more introverted “steady” employee just in the way you communicate with him and risk derailing his engagement and productivity unless you adjust your communication style.

5. Tenacity in execution

“Strategy equals execution. All the great ideas and visions in the world are worthless if they can’t be implemented rapidly and efficiently.” — Colin Powell

The great leaders here knew simply having a vision and a strategy wasn’t enough. They knew they had to take deliberate actions consistently to create sustainable change. Their visions became a reality because they executed well.

Be results-focused. Create a culture of accountability on your team with a focus on flawless execution. Develop and implement standard operating procedures and key performance indicators, and then institutionalize them throughout your organization. (That’s the harder part!) Evaluate progress regularly through a disciplined performance management and audit process. If your strategy is sound, having the right plan in place, measuring its success or failure, and tweaking it when necessary will help your team stay the course when the going gets tough.

Like the small sampling of great leaders here who made their marks on the world, staffing leaders can have the same transformative impact on their world by embodying these behaviors and making them good habits over time.

Amy Bingham is managing partner of Bingham Consulting Professionals LLC. An industry veteran, she advises staffing firms in the area of sales effectiveness through strategic planning, strategy execution and performance coaching. She can be reached at abingham@binghamcp.com

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Chadron State College

Tena Cook 29/09/2012 12:58 pm

Excellent article. Thank you for providing some excellent examples I can cite in a graduate paper I'm composing.


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