First Line Leadership: High Quality Equals High Performance

Employee engagement and operating performance are directly tied to the relationship between first line leaders and their employees. Yet many organizations do a lousy job of selecting and developing first line leaders, whose employees can take organizations to unheard of heights.

Why the lousy job? It takes time, energy, money and superior execution to produce star-quality first line leaders. It’s hard work. Those who execute well reap the benefits of higher performance.

My work with GE, FedEx, IBM, P&G, 3M and other leadership engines makes it abundantly clear that you have to do four things well to build a leadership engine that drives increasingly higher results.

Set Clear Expectations
Clear expectations leave no doubt about the role of leaders, or the “conditions of membership” in the leadership ranks. Here are the expectations one of our clients created for her first line leaders. This client also made sure that each leader understood what these expectations meant in practice.

  • Communicate a clear, shared vision, strategy and stretch, but achievable, goals
  • Build a culture of continuous improvement
  • Collaborate among people, departments and disciplines to accelerate innovation and superior results
    Select and nurture the best people for their roles
  • Provide people with the resources they need to put customers front and center of everything we do
  • Hold yourself and your team accountable for results
  • Establish a climate of openness and trust

Select The Right People
While the expectations say what’s important, the selection process proves you’re serious about this leadership stuff.

An electric power company needed to prepare for new competitive issues brought on by deregulation. The company president repeatedly talked about the need for people to be innovative, take risks and break out of the old regulated mindset. But no one was buying the president’s talk because he had recently promoted a man described as “a survivor who never had an original idea in his life,” to the company’s number two position.

What you say you want means nothing if you don’t walk the talk.

Assess And Develop With Rigor
The best leaders in companies today don’t leave all of the “training” to the trainers. They often serve as faculty in the leadership courses. And the development process isn’t just another training program. It’s ongoing, both inside and outside the classroom. GE calls it active learning.

When I was consulting to Toyota’s huge Georgetown, Kentucky manufacturing plant, the president of the operation told me: “It’s my job to teach my managers. Others can play a role. But, my teaching is an important job.”

Hold Leaders Accountable
A finely tuned leadership selection and development processes will mean little if leaders aren’t held accountable for doing what’s expected of them.

Accountability takes many forms, but the most powerful is the reward system. Making the numbers is important and should be a significant part of the reward, but not at the expense of how a leader makes the numbers. Leaders need to be held accountable for both the “what” and the “how,” or it will contribute to a decline in leadership credibility.

The recipe is simple. The execution is hard. But the payoff for those who do it well is sustained, accelerated performance.

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