In his new book, executive Jack Stahl offers up his framework for being an effective leader. The former president of The Coca-Cola Company, who started out as its chief financial officer at age 36, and former president and CEO of Revlon simplifies the complexities of running a business by sharing seven frameworks that cover many of the situations that leaders confront in building world-class organizations.
Lessons on Leadership: The 7 Fundamental Management Skills for Leaders at All Levels is written in plain and economical language. Stahl’s advice is based on his own experiences, as well as the lessons he learned from leaders in the corporate world. He answered questions on how the information in his new book can help people develop and grow.
How does a good leader impart his skills to others on how to handle the big picture as well as focus on the details? For some people, doing both can seem overwhelming.
Good leaders focus intently on the development of their people by placing them in roles where they must focus on day-to-day execution. For example, asking a person to manage a project requiring the completion of a number of key action steps against a defined timeline requires that person to follow up on many details and the work of other team members. If the leader sees this is not happening, it provides an opportunity for feedback and coaching.
I learned this lesson myself when managing the completion of the public offering of a company. Initially, I was not focused enough on the project timeline and details. My boss then gave me clear and pointed feedback about focusing on the details and following up with others about their progress. I learned a valuable lesson, which I could then pass on to others.
As individuals gain skills in managing day-to-day execution, they can then be given the responsibility for setting a longer-term destination and plan for an area of responsibility. Again, a good leader can help someone going through this process for the first time by asking thoughtful questions in order to understand and “pressure test” an organizational destination and plan. People can learn how to develop quality plans in this way, not unlike the way they learn how to execute on a day-to-day basis.
What do you mean when you talk about leaders needing to be visible and get their hands dirty?
A good leader spends significant time meeting and talking with people up, down, and across their organization. By being visible in this way, the leader is positioned to ask questions of his or her people, to learn about their challenges, where they are struggling, and any barriers to success. The leader can then provide coaching to those individuals and has the ability to help solve any systemic roadblocks that can prevent success for the larger organization. I found I can talk to more than 100 people per week in one-on-one conversations simply by taking advantage of every opportunity to talk with people, before and after meetings, in the hallways, to and from the offices, and even in “elevator” conversations.
Feedback really is an essential ingredient for successfully developing employees, but it’s not as clear as some might think. What goes into effective feedback?
I believe there is a straightforward model for providing effective feedback to your employees, which I outline in my book. The model calls for starting the conversation by valuing the individual for his or her strengths and contributions to the organization. Then, ask the person where they are struggling or facing their biggest challenges. The answer to this question often provides an excellent opportunity for coaching and feedback about the skills required to make more progress and improve performance. Provide any other important feedback based on your own observations of the individual’s performance.
Once you have provided important coaching and feedback, review with the individual the consequences of improving their skills. Finally, commit your support to the continued growth and development of the individual. I have found this model to work very effectively because it creates a positive environment for feedback, and discussion is based in part on people’s own observations of where they face challenges that can be addressed.
When it comes to strengthening a brand, how important is it for everyone in a company to be on board?
The essence of great marketing requires that you define and relentlessly communicate the key features of your brand. This means that every marketing action and virtually all possible business actions be seen as opportunities to communicate to consumers those unique attributes of your brand. Everyone in your organization has opportunities to do this whether they are salespeople interacting with retail customers, marketing people as they build promotional materials, or administrative staff as they observe how the products of their company are merchandised in the marketplace. This requires a strong internal communication effort focused on explaining what your brands mean to consumers and the importance of linking all external communications to the features of your brands.
You say it’s important for leaders to gain a clear understanding of their employees’ beliefs, goals, and motivations. Why?
Most leaders understand the importance of successfully influencing their organizations. The opportunity is to show them how much more effective they can be if they start with a clear understanding of their audience and where they stand today on an issue before developing their message content. By knowing where your audience is today, their goals, concerns, and challenges, and what you want your audience to think, say, or do, at the end of your communication, you can then shape the content of your message to move them to your communication destination. I lay out in my book an approach for how to do this effectively based on a model developed by Speakeasy LLC, a communications consulting and training firm based in Atlanta.