A leader’s personality: The single most important factor in a company’s growth

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As part of our ongoing series examining the ecosystem necessary to bring technology to market, we asked Janice Calnan, an Ottawa-based leadership trainer and executive coach, to share her thoughts on how leadership impacts an organization’s performance and competitiveness. We welcome your comments.

By Janice Calnan

To grow and maintain market share, companies must constantly look for new ways to improve both their businesses and their people. If they fail, they may still make their numbers in the short term. But in the long term, they’ll lose their best people and their organizations will suffer accordingly. In the absence of a leader’s great interpersonal skills, even a growth period renders teams ineffective. People are your greatest resource. Nothing happens without them.

In a recent post about the challenges we all face from that person we see in the mirror each morning, Francis and Leo emphasized how important it is for startup executives and entrepreneurs to be coachable. As the leader of an early-stage company, you must be aware of how your beliefs, assumptions, behaviors and relationships with your team will influence the creativity, productivity and overall performance of your organization. If your team is not pulling in the same direction with a common vision, how likely is it that you can successfully bring technology to market, or effectively scale your company when you do?

Francis and Leo also recently cited research by ChubbyBrain, which surveyed 32 entrepreneurs about what had contributed to the demise of their failed ventures. Among the top factors were:

  • Not the right team
  • Lack of passion
  • Disharmony on team
  • Lost focus
  • Burn out

To understand why companies fail, consider these few questions:

  • Are competent technical experts promoted to leadership roles without having effective interpersonal skills?
  • How does a leader’s interpersonal skills impact quality, creativity, productivity and ultimately profit?
  • Do employees really grumble or even leave when they’re not managed well?
  • Can you afford the cost of hiring, training and developing people only to have them leave?

It’s ultimately a leader’s interpersonal skills that drives employer retention, recruitment and job satisfaction, and the quality, success and public image of their company. How they interact, address or avoid problems sets the stage for resolving conflict and managing agreement, resistance, favoritism and more. All these human issues require finely tuned and authentic interpersonal skills on the part of a leader, skills that come with practice and the courage to tell the truth about how they feel and think to those they manage.

Employees need this in order to speak freely and safely about what’s really happening in their workplace. A front-line employee who has the courage to tell the truth in the presence of someone higher up in the company can be the very one who saves the project or even the company. It takes courage to tell the truth in a top-down organization, even if you’re at the top.

When I coach technical managers to grow their leadership (people) skills, I remind them:

What you focus on expands. Pay attention to what you think about and talk about with your people. If you talk about the great work they’re doing, you’ll get more great work. If you focus on what’s going wrong, then more things will go wrong.

If you ignore people problems they invariably go underground and pop up elsewhere as a quality or productivity problem. Since most work-related problems involve people and their understanding of situations, your best move is to go to your people and listen to their story. When they tell you what’s happening, don’t offer a reason or say “ya, but.” They’ll think you aren’t listening. Just listen to their story. They need to know that you are listening, you care and you understand. Repeat back to them what you heard and ask if you got it right. This expands dialogue and trust.

I ask a few hard questions of managers and executives:

  • What beliefs and practices in your system create dissatisfaction among star performers?
  • What happens to people, productivity and service in the process?
  • How do your people become cynical?
  • How do you, a leader, contribute to productivity problems?
  • How do you know if people are telling you the truth?

These questions relate to your ability to be authentic with your people. We use four simple steps to deal with this. First, tell your truth. Second, notice what’s working. Third, ask for what you want and need. Finally, take notice of where and how change is happening in small ways. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Not so.

When you’re at the top looking down, your perspective is different from those looking up. Tiny changes you make in policy, product or direction impacts their work and results. Without exception, the leader sets the pace and is responsible for creating an environment where people and products thrive. Ask yourself these questions:

  • “How can I create the right environment in this company?”
  • “How would I know if employees have what they need?”
  • “How do I grow my people?”

If you are not sure, then call for help. Asking for help is a real sign of courage and strength. It demonstrates that you are coachable. Your people will watch and follow. Communication will improve and corrections will take place throughout your organization.

Janice Calnan is the principal of the Calnan Group and the creator of the LeaderSHIFT Practicum, which introduces powerful interpersonal changes with whole systems.

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