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7 Cornerstones of StreetSavvy Leadership

David Friedman By David Friedman, Contributor for SCOUT

The topic of leadership has come up more and more in the past month through articles in the popular press and streams on my LinkedIn page. I have commented on several articles – and even commented on the comments – because I think some of the information and concepts are either too simplistic or incorrect.

Leadership has many facets. When you read the leadership gurus like Peter Drucker, Warren Bennis, and John Maxwell, they talk about leaders having influence and followers. That is certainly true. For a more current view, I like John Maxwell’s thinking on leadership because he has a more integrative approach covering 21 indispensable qualities of the leader and 21 irrefutable laws of leadership. He, too, touched on many components of leadership and his insights are excellent. But I don’t believe even he goes far enough.

I want to add to this thinking by talking about StreetSavvy Leadership. This is my take, not from merely studying others and codifying what I observed, but also because I lived it and had both successes and failures as a leader. Regardless of your position in the organization, you will have both success and failure as a leader. Witness the rise and fall of luminary leaders such as Jeff Immelt who took over GE and is struggling with the growth of the company.

And let’s look at leaders who were successful in one company but failed to capture success in their next company … or vice versa. I am a NY Yankee fan and remember when the Yankees hired Joe Torre. Torre was not a good manager with the Mets, Braves, and Cardinals and compiled records marginally below .500. But with the Yankees, who saw something unique, he was able to win 4 world championships and 2 additional pennants. Granted, they had great players (competencies) in that era as well but Torre was the leader and a lesser manager might not have been as successful.

StreetSavvy Leadership blends theory with reality and execution to garner results. It is leadership within the context of the company and the environment in which the company operates. Leadership without positive results in business is being a pretender. StreetSavvy Leadership means doing things differently than before to grow your business and protect against mediocrity. StreetSavvy Leadership looks at data and transforms data into knowledge and gives that knowledge to the right people closest to the decision point and trusts them to make the right decision. It means setting the right vision and ensuring alignment among all members of the exec team and throughout the organization to execute effectively and efficiently.

Here are the 7 Cornerstones to StreetSavvy Leadership:

  1. Set actionable vision. The vision has to be credible and recognized to be eventually achievable even if there is no clear path to that end. Recall when President Kennedy said: our vision is to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Vision is achieved by looking at the 3 Cs – customers, competitors and competencies – and ensuring that the company knows the best way to grow relative to these three components. The vision may be such that one or more of the three C’s must change over time.
  2. Keep a mindful eye on the environment and adjust. Within this construct is a concept called PEST – political, economic, social and technology changes. The leader needs to watch for changes in all of these factors and be prepared to manage responses relative to the shifts in some or all of these factors. Clearly, the leader doesn’t do that on his or her own but tasks different groups or select individuals to keep a watchful eye.
  3. Build a sustainable team. Unless you are a one-person company, leaders have to hire, train, manage, and motivate people in their organizations to achieve success. I recall one definition of leadership is to get ordinary people to extraordinary things. That is partially true. The StreetSavvy Leader understands that a strong team needs to be built and that employees want to see a solid career path. That encourages loyalty and ensures that the top employees rise to the top. However, there is a time and place to hire from the outside and not merely from the competition. If every company in the industry hired from a competitor, eventually all companies will regress to the mean, ceteris paribus. However, the StreetSavvy Leader might hire from an entirely different industry or for entirely different skills to ensure that the company doesn’t become too internally focused and can challenge its own prevailing wisdom. Training, shadowing, mentoring and other assignments make the employees well rounded. A formal program for top 10% of the execs should also be in place as both a reward and expectation of future success. IBM for many years and GE have successfully established internal programs to supplement the training of the top tier executives.
  4. Establish the right culture. Would you want to work for a leader who sets a punitive culture such that if bad news is given the leader goes ballistic? Or work for a leader who fails to recognize the success of individuals in the company yet accepts the kudos for him/herself? I worked for one boss who liked to yell at people who brought bad news to the executive meetings. I realized many years ago that I would rather meet that bad news head on and ask the executive who brought the bad news for prescriptions to manage the impact of the bad news. That reinforces the concept of responsible management and ensures that each person in the organization has the obligation to find solutions to problems.
  5. Practice open book management. People need to feel part of the organization. Ideally, they should feel like part owners and have the opportunity to own a stake in the company. To do that I am a firm believer in sharing the financials and metrics that the company uses to determine success. Once these metrics and financials are shared, it would be incumbent for the executive and managers down the line to work with their people such that each person in the organization understands their role in creating revenue or managing cost. By doing this, each person can see how their job affects the success or failure of the company.
  6. Live the 5F Factors. There are five factors that characterize the StreetSavvy Leader. They are Focus, Fast Afoot, Fluidity, Flexibility, and Fast Failure. The business world shifts quickly and these five F factors enable the leader and the company to be nimble and take advantage of opportunities.
  7. Seek self-improvement. I personally have never been satisfied with who I am and what I can be. Executives have to continue to improve functional skills but also should improve their understanding of business issues. Unfortunately, in the business world, I have seen too many CEOs and other high-ranking executives believe that once they hit that lofty pinnacle, they can stop improving. Self-improvement takes place on many levels. Executives can and should continue learning by participating in peer groups, reading various business journals and biographies of successful leaders, and even self-improvement books. Having an executive coach and advisor can help as an external sounding board and someone who is not fearful telling the emperor so to speak – that he or she has no clothes. Three sixty and employee survey results which should be shared with the team can be used to help the executive understand his/her style of communications which may affect the organization’s growth. And to understand the business, what better way to do that than becoming an undercover boss or walking the production line or working as a customer service rep or front desk employee or even a bellhop or maid. I don’t believe these are radical ideas and they should be considered if you want to improve to eventually be a StreetSavvy Leader.

Jimmy Dean said, “You cannot change the wind but (a leader) can always adjust his sails to reach the destination.” How true. StreetSavvy Leadership reflects the Jimmy Dean quote. It is something that can be learned and if used correctly I believe it offers the best chance of success for a company.