The Genius of Leadership: Effective Leadership Practices

By Gary Elekes - Feb 1, 2018

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We all crave good leadership! It is exciting, challenging and rewarding when we are involved with effective leadership, and it can be frustrating as an employee when we recognize leadership is off course. One of our main "opportunities" in contracting is to find, recruit, hire, train and develop people around us to improve our company's execution. In this era, developing and creating that environment for prosperity is difficult unless we understand the true genius of what leadership can accomplish.

Simply put, effective leadership is rare in business and in life!

It is only occasionally that we see the kind of leadership we wish we could be exposed to in our own business lives.

Think of effective leadership as creating "Followship."

Leadership is about setting a direction, a course, what we can call "True North."

The individuals in the organization trust this direction and course so well -- they buy-in to the direction and course with such passion -- that they follow, and become less of an individual and more of a team defined by the culture set up by this leadership principle! It requires constant communication, reinforcement and discussion about the vision, values, behaviors, and how it all relates to the purpose of the company.

When these attributes are present, most team members will do whatever it takes to make certain the direction is fulfilled!

How does this apply to the owner or a manager inside of a contracting company?

We are trying to build a business and improve the performance of the business at the same time. This business of yours is in many cases like one of your very own children, and in some cases, you may spend more time with (or in) it than with your family as a sacrifice to build for them. Suffice to say, the amount of energy, time, desire, passion and sheer will required to make the business grow and prosper is enormous.

Yet rarely do we see the owner working on improving his/her own leadership skills – to grow themselves personally so that, as the business grows, the owner stays ahead of the needs of the business and the people inside of the business.

In other words, you need to frame your leadership practices to be responsible to your people, not for your people.

As a leader, you have to be able to hold them accountable for the work they are to perform at the standards you have established, and that means you have to create an environment of accountability and standards in the first place.

In an issue of Harvard Business Review, there was an article in which Jeffrey Immelt, who replaced Jack Welch as CEO of General Electric, discussed how much time he actually spent in the development of people in GE, not just his direct reports. These are the key leaders inside GE. He stated that over 40% of his time was dedicated to the development of these people because they were so crucial to completing the work of GE.

This idea made me consider that choice of priority in time dedication.

It made me think about how a small business owner like myself, with few employees, could afford to commit to such an endeavor? The truth is the smaller the business, the more critical it is for this very behavior to occur, which is opposed to our technical nature in the trades of doing the key work ourselves.

The time spent developing your people is critical, and in many cases probably exceeds the 40%.

The real issue is when you spend time with them, what are you doing?

If effective leadership is about setting direction, and then building a team of personnel to be able to achieve the end game towards this direction, there are a number of things that MUST happen every day to make this happen:

  1. Have a clear, well-articulated vision for the company
  2. Define core values and the behaviors that a company wants from each value
  3. Set concise expectations and standards for each role – tie these to individual goals
  4. Develop this talent by making the tools, training and resources available to execute
  5. Be willing to ALWAYS change – change is part of the fabric of the company
  6. Foster ongoing communication – a positive environment to work and learn
  7. Operational Excellence –Execution – Measure the metrics (KPI's) and communicate them
  8. Reward excellence – share the wealth but also appreciate, show respect, give recognition

These ideas may seem like common sense, but while they are in practice within our industry, proper and complete execution is a rare occurrence. Far too often we see only some of these areas being practiced, which lead to more bumps in the road than needed to happen.

It all comes down to one issue: Leadership must be aware and understand the need!

Everything defined here is grounded in the concept of developing other leaders, and the accountability for these ideas being effectively implemented is the responsibility of the primary leader or owner of the company. We have to set the structure and raise others around us, and that takes time and commitment.

Why is it so difficult to put these ideas into place?

The good news is that, because leaders are developed and not born, you can adapt your leadership skills and improve, becoming more effective at leadership.

If you want to change, you can. The human mind can focus and achieve anything if we desire it.

One of the human mind's greatest attributes is its ability to adapt and change! Sometimes we just ignore that potential or allow ourselves to be distracted by the "static" around us, the daily crises in contracting. When that happens, we have no method to reinforce our goals, our leadership work requirements: to help others become more effective.

We have to learn to become an effective business leader first, before we learn to become more effective at the business.

Most of our industry started by getting into the business first and becoming immersed in the work of the business, never really committing to the idea of changing themselves along the way as they grew the company.

Even leaders with natural skills that focus on doing so many things correctly can get trapped in a comfort zone. They may not continue to challenge themselves to change and become even more effective leaders.

No matter how successful you are, if you are not committed to constant change, and continuous self-improvement, the business eventually will grow to your level of incompetence. This is the cliché known as "The Peter Principle."

I suggest the following: Commit to the idea of continuous self-improvement.

Leaders who want to continue to grow learn this lesson early, as noted below by leadership expert and author John Maxwell:

Change is personal – I can identify what I want changed

Change is possible – I can do it

Change is profitable – I am rewarded

Maxwell calls these the three P's of change.

Becoming a better leader of your company and for your people requires a personal change. Of course it is possible, and if you are focusing in on changing the right kinds of leadership attributes in your personality, it will no doubt be profitable as well!

Maxwell has written many books and lectured worldwide on the subject. In his book Thinking for a Change, Maxwell writes that the following sequence must be in effect for a leader to effect real change, so review the six steps and take a personal inventory of whether you understand the process or not?

Step 1 – You Must Change Your Thinking to Change Your Beliefs

Step 2 – Changing Your Beliefs will Change Your Expectations

Step 3 – Changing Your Expectations Changes Your Attitude

Step 4 – Changing Your Attitude Changes Your Behavior

Step 5 – Changing Your Behavior Changes Your Performance

Step 6 – Changing Your Performance Changes Your Life

The whole point of learning to become a more effective leader of a contracting company is to reach your chosen goals, whatever they are. Mine has always been a model to print money while I was on a beach -- time and money freedom -- while providing our team members with a quality work environment and serving our communities.

It rarely starts this way and must be developed with your people and your leadership.

Are you at your stated goals?

If not, you'll likely have to change, and this will likely require you to improve your leadership skills to reach said goals.

Clear and Inspired Thinking

As an owner or key leader in your company, you need to have a place and time to create clear and inspired thinking so you have the ability to sort through the challenges. Planning time is usually robbed and forsaken for crisis time, but in my own experience these are choices made by people who do not understand how to get out of the time trap.

In order to be more effective at leading your people and setting your direction, and even defining the goals of your company, you need time for yourself that allows you to think clearly and with enthusiasm.

Willingness to Change

You must understand Maxwell's abovementioned six steps, and you must embrace the need to adapt. Don't change for the sake of change, but under real, necessary change, such as adding specific processes to your business so you can train personnel to the right standard, and do it correctly each time. That requires change if you are in control and feel the need to have it done "your way" -- you may have to change.

A willingness to adapt is required, or you will not reach the next level. On the other hand, if you follow the six steps, and begin with changing how you think, you can indeed reach the next level, and probably well beyond!

Surround yourself with people that are at another level than you are

A great lesson in sports is to always go up against people who are better than you, so you will always have a focused effort on improving. Competing against those who are already better than you make you figure out how to compete differently in order to improve. To improve, one must stretch themselves to the limit.

Surrounding yourself in business with people who challenge you to think differently is the same concept, and will only lead to you learning a great deal from them. This requires a certain humility and courage as well as trust, and is a good reason to have a mentor or coach, or people around that will be honest with you about you.

How do we improve our Leadership?

  1. Commit to changing the way you think.
  2. Find people who are smarter and better at what they do than you are, and develop a personal inner circle.
  3. Seek a mentor, someone who can give you a non-biased opinion that is candid and fair to help you grow and learn new skills.
  4. Self-evaluate what kind of a leader you really are and look at a self-improvement plan. Develop the plan and take action.
  5. Define a personal vision and mission in your life. What is your purpose and why are you doing what you do? This will not only add clarity, but incredible focus!
  6. Refine your personal and professional goals.
  7. Start mapping out how you have to change to become more effective at leading your company and your employees.
  8. Map out how the business has to change. Set your priorities and begin changing – based on your priorities. Ask questions in your business practices -- Why do we do it this way?
  9. Make time in your schedule for clear, inspirational thinking time.
  10. Maintain a planning period that allows you to reevaluate your position, skills, and goals regularly. Once a month is a minimum.

Becoming a more effective leader is hard work, and requires all of us to self-reflect on who we are now and what we aspire to in business and in life. It is heady stuff, yet if we take the journey's first step, which is to realize our company depends on us to adapt first and help raise others, we are well on our way to time and money freedom.

The challenge requires dedication, discipline, and a desire to adapt, but the journey to becoming the best leader we can be is well worth it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary Elekes

President, EPC Training

Gary Elekes is serial entrepreneur with a passion for helping others become more successful by sharing what he has learned over the past 3 decades working closely with all facets of the contracting industry. During his career, Gary has held senior management positions at Lennox and Service Experts. In 2000, Gary moved into entrepreneurship and started his training and consulting business EPC. Today, EPC continues to support growth oriented businesses aspiring to reach 20% EBIT. He also designed the very first web based learning platform for the residential contracting industry, which acts as a support system for training and learning in HVAC and plumbing trades, and has over 5,000 subscribers.

In 2003, Gary began acquiring contracting firms with a focus on developing turn-around opportunities. He also opened and operated several start-up businesses. In 2010, he added web design/SEO and online marketing to his company portfolio starting Imarket Solutions as a co-founder. Gary graduated from Ohio State University with a BSBA and also holds a Master's Degree in Business and Finance.