Leadership

How to Cultivate Success as a Leader

After studying the science of management at an engineering school in New York during the Reagan era, my key takeaway was that success in any endeavor is about understanding significant variables and programming accordingly. I learned that optimization is about interpreting and managing variables to cultivate success.

Then I had to apply my thinking in a large public education arena where the significant variables were people. As it turned out, they weren’t quantifiable and predictable in the ways that are most helpful to engineers and programmers.

Having said that, I have always subscribed to the idea that “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” The notion is that, when you think about systems (e.g., a school board, community, or any business organization), a number of variables likely account for whatever outcomes you are currently experiencing.

If you like what is happening in your current context, figure out what accounts for success and build on it, reward it, model it.

How can you cultivate success as a leader?

If you like what is happening in your current context, figure out what accounts for success and build on it, reward it, model it, and perpetuate the success. Bake it into how you do things and never underestimate the extent to which the introduction of new variables can change everything. This ability to account for and build on success is the added value of leadership.

On the flipside, if you don’t like what is happening in your current context but never make any changes, you should expect more of the same. If you reflect on where you are now and negative thoughts come to mind (e.g., low staff morale, poor performance, toxicity, poor communication), then this is the time to consider what needs to change and explore ideas for the best pathway to get to a better place.

If you don’t like what is happening in your current context but never make any changes, you should expect more of the same.
Typically, there are three variables of success that you have to work with in your context.
    1. Individual and collective staff motivation
    2. Individual and collective staff capacity/skill
    3. The workplace culture/environment (free of distractions, well organized, good communication, psychologically safe, clear direction, fair, equitable, supportive, etc.)

In a world where these variables contribute equally to success, having a low score in any one area represents a serious impediment (e.g., having a high level of skill and an excellent workplace culture while personal motivation is low is going to make me, as an individual, a six-out-of-ten employee). Having a low score in two areas may be fatal!

As a leader, where do you need to put your focus to make things better than they are today?

I’ve been talking with a number of organizational leaders who are going through this process – planning now for what needs to change in the next six months to a year and determining what the high yield leadership strategies are that will move their division or organization forward on its journey. As you consider your next steps, remember:

  • You’re not alone. Work with coworkers, share your thinking, test your assumptions, and run ideas past a trusted colleague.
  • Lean in to a small number of ideas. Quantity of aspirations is inversely proportional to the likelihood that any of them will be meaningfully realized.
  • There is no linear path. This will be an incremental journey of trying, learning, adapting, and trying again.
  • Build on small wins. Small wins yield “an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments themselves.” This is a close cousin of an equally true saying: “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”
  • You are there to influence direction – not to control the path. The systems in which you lead are extraordinarily complex. For example, no one could have predicted the effects of COVID-19 on the workplace – sometimes things outside our control happen. But you can still dip your paddle in the white water and influence direction and outcomes. In fact, your paddle can make a BIG impact. It can be the difference between white water as productive energy and white water as oppositional force.
  • Just do your best. You aren’t there to be perfect, and no one around you is perfect. You are there to operate to the best of your ability, continually strive to get better, and learn from each situation while modelling kindness and integrity. When you do that, you’ve done what you can – you don’t need to take things personally, and you deserve a good night’s sleep (no guarantees at my stage of life).

What’s your next leadership move?

Thoughtful, reflective, proactive, and effective leaders know that they are there to create an environment in which a team can collectively flourish. Their goal is to ensure the team is aligned with the organization’s mission/purpose while supporting the well-being of each individual.

Thoughtful, reflective, proactive, and effective leaders know that they are there to create an environment in which a team can collectively flourish.

This outcome is almost never achieved by chance, so where do you need to focus your attention over the next few months to propel your team forward? How can you remove barriers to success or achieve greater levels of focus and alignment? Identify, hypothesize, act, reflect, repeat! In a nutshell, this is the daily rhythm and discipline of effectively growing your leadership practice.


Read more about leadership in my blog How to Practice Transformational Leadership. For additional FREE resources, visit our resources page

Author

Mark Schinkel

Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership

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