Implementation and the Practice of Leadership

In Leadership by Shelli Bischoff

I’ve been doing this work for more than 23 years with over 750 clients. Guess how many times I’ve been asked some variation of:

How do we know this plan won’t sit on the shelf?

Short answer? A LOT.

In the old days, this question could make me a little defensive (our work is good, we wouldn’t be in business if it didn’t make a difference, it will be practical…). As I get wiser (okay, maybe just older) I have realized that’s the wrong answer. It’s not the quality of the plan or the track record of the consultant that keeps the plan from that dusty shelf.

The fate of that plan rests with you as the leader of your organization. As consultants, our responsibility is to ensure that our work is based in reality, is practical and actionable. And it is the responsibility of the leadership team to pick up that plan and put it into action.

Leadership Practice

Notice I say leadership team. Without collective leadership, no plan or initiative has a “snowball’s chance…” of succeeding. Now, your organization might be small, with only one formal leader. You still have a team of people who help do the leadership work of your organization.

Leadership is a practice, not an individual style, characteristic, or title. The practice of leadership is to be decisive and deliberate about your organization’s focus and strategy, to articulate that focus and strategy with constancy and consistency, and to mobilize and empower others to carry out their roles to achieve results, as defined by focus and strategy.  I love the simplicity as stated in the classic leadership literature (The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner)

“Leadership enables others to act.”

Kouzes and Posner go on to explain that enabling others to act is “foster(ing) collaboration: promoting cooperative goals and mutual trust” and “strengthen(ing) others: sharing power and information.”

Sharpening Your Leadership Practice

As part of the leadership team, what do you practice daily that enables others to act?  Riffing off of Kouzes and Posner, consider these daily practices:

  • Authentically and always say “we” (and demonstrate “we” through your actions)
  • Interact with people informally to understand their diverse perspectives and really listen and incorporate their ideas and perspectives as appropriate
  • Even more importantly, communicate how you considered or incorporated what you learned from them
  • Quickly and effectively help solve problems, overcome obstacles, and orchestrate solutions
  • Delegate relevant and critical tasks (and then get out of the way)
  • Share information openly (if the military can do it, so can you – read General McCrystal’s Team of Teams if you think this is not the way to go in today’s environment!)
  • Visibly demonstrate support of others.

What are the 5 things you will do every day to practice leadership? Write them down and get to work. Don’t let your plans or other great ideas sit on the shelf. Implementation is about action and leadership is the practice of enabling action!

More on the practice of leadership and the practice of management in forthcoming blogs and in our High Impact Manager and Be a Nonprofit CEO courses.