The Four Promises of Effective Leaders
What makes a leader stand out as remarkably effective?
Everyone expects great things from leaders—probably more than is humanly possible. But leaders must deliver only four interdependent promises to drive business results. Failure to complete a single promise will likely lead to disappointing outcomes.
Consultants Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams delineate these promises in Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results (Wiley, 2015):
- Set the right direction and create meaningful work.
- Engage all stakeholders and hold them accountable for performance.
- Ensure that processes and systems facilitate focus and execution.
- Lead effectively. Maintain trust to achieve and sustain desired results.
It’s difficult to perform effectively if you fail to manage people’s perceptions and expectations. Followers have two types of expectations:
- Explicit: to be fulfilled as part of the leadership role (fiscal responsibility, strategy and direction, accountability and execution)
- Implicit: unspoken expectations like competence, fair treatment, commitment, engagement, listening, inspiration, direction and meaning-making
Implicit expectations can be minefields because they’re based on assumptions, may be unrealistic, are often misunderstood and vary greatly among stakeholders. We nevertheless judge leaders’ effectiveness on both explicit and implicit expectations.
Smart leaders know they’re always being judged. Your success or failure depends on whether you clarify these role expectations and keep your promises. You’ll never discover people’s hidden expectations unless you ask about them.
The First Promise: Set the Right Direction
The first leadership promise focuses on your strategy, mission and values, and it’s as much about profits as it is about people.
Stakeholders hold leaders to this vital promise because it establishes the “why” they’re in business, as well as “what” the business will and won’t do. This foundation sets direction and meaning, creating a culture in which people can thrive.
Direction and meaning set the stage for establishing a business identity and brand. Effective leaders can articulate their organizations’ unique contributions to the world. They know their people want not only a paycheck, but alignment with company values. They want to contribute to a purpose beyond profits, so leaders must ensure these values are publicized and practiced throughout the business.
The Second Promise: Engage All Stakeholders
Effective leaders foster a commitment to achieving results. They strive for engagement and assign accountability.
Unfortunately, clarity and commitment often end at the leadership-team level. In many instances, leaders know—but employees cannot explain—why their work makes a difference. Managers focus solely on accountability and performance, rather than engagement. Lacking are frequent references to organizational purpose and linking daily tasks to why individuals count.
Leaders are most effective when they communicate and clarify a noble purpose. Successful efforts are rewarded with employees’ energy and passion.
In fulfilling this second promise, leaders earn their staff’s trust and commitment. They provide the why behind the what of work. Employees expect and want their leaders to draw out their potential, talent, strengths and energy. Leaders do this by creating a culture where people are allowed to grow, contribute and be valued. They set challenging goals, provide resources, and address the reasons behind stated goals. When objectives are achieved, they provide recognition and rewards.
The Third Promise: Develop Processes and Facilitate Execution
After setting the right direction and engaging stakeholders, you must ensure that processes and systems facilitate focus and execution.
Leaders promise to deliver results in the marketplace by successfully executing on key initiatives. This enables stakeholder commitment. With commitment, you facilitate productivity through systems and processes that make execution successful.
Effective leaders channel action into results. They provide feedback on the work the organization is doing. Action links effort to results, letting you know when something works (or doesn’t).
Processes and systems provide a clear path from task to long-term, meaningful results. This is the promise where the rubber meets the road.
According to Anderson and Adams, leaders often break this promise by:
- Failing to provide the resources (time, people or money) necessary for execution
- Allowing the organization to be distracted by “silver bullets” or “bright shiny objects” (i.e., an attractive lower priority)
- Having few or ineffective processes in place (i.e., everything is done for the first time, every time)
- Being so process-bound that execution becomes secondary to the process itself
Excessive focus on processes robs people of their energy and enthusiasm. In other cases, processes are in place, but are underused. Repeatedly breaking this leadership promise creates a cynical culture, frustration and a “why bother?” mentality.
The Fourth Promise: Lead Effectively
Effective leaders pursue personal and professional development opportunities to improve their competence, self-awareness and other-relatedness. Without a commitment to enhancing development, they can easily lose their competitive advantage.
Executive coaching has proved to be one of the most effective leadership-development tactics. Yet, few leaders regularly set priorities for professional growth. Even those engaged in executive-coaching relationships struggle to keep appointments to do the work. Like many of us, they’re so mired in day-to-day challenges that they fail to think long term or take actions that may not have immediate payoffs.
If you recoil at the idea of coaching, training or other personal-growth tools, you’re creating the conditions for failure. You're breaking all four leadership promises that so many others expect you to keep.
You cannot afford to stand still. The pace of business will eventually exceed your capacity to handle new challenges.
Are you working in a company where executive coaches provide leadership development to help leaders put strengths-based leadership into action? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who need to build a company culture built on trust? Transformational leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to create a more fulfilling future.
One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Am I a transformational leader who inspires individuals and organizations to achieve their highest potential, flourish at work, experience elevating energy and achieve levels of effectiveness difficult to attain otherwise?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching to help leaders create a culture where respect and trust flourish.
Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-i 2.0, Hogan Lead, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help leaders nurture strengths-based conversations in the workplace. You can become an inspiring leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.
Working Resources is a San Francisco Bay Area executive coaching and leadership development firm helping innovative companies and law firms develop emotionally intelligent and mindful leaders.
...About Dr. Maynard Brusman
Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist and Executive Coach|
Trusted Advisor to Executive Leadership Teams
Mindfulness & Emotional Intelligence Workplace Expert
I coach leaders to cultivate clarity, creativity, focus, trust, and full engagement in a purpose-driven culture.
Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist and executive coach. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies select and develop emotionally intelligent leaders.
Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica.
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Are you an executive leader who wants to be more effective at work and get better results?
Did you know that research has demonstrated, that the most effective leaders model high emotional intelligence, and that EQ can be learned? It takes self-awareness, empathy, and compassion to become a more emotionally intelligent leader.
Emotionally intelligent and mindful leaders inspire people to become fully engaged with the vision and mission of their company. Mindful leadership starts from within.
I am a consulting psychologist and executive coach. I believe coaching is a collaborative process of providing people with the resources and opportunities they need to self manage, develop change resiliency and become more effective. Utilizing instrumented assessments - clients set clear goals, make optimal use of their strengths, and take action to create desired changes aligned with personal values.
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