Leadership on Seven Seas

As a sailing fan, I follow favorite sailing races, especially round the globe trophies. These races are a great challenge for the teams and the most interesting part of them is that the boats and circumstances are identical for all.  They are custom made for the races by the same design and build consortium and all of the equipment is identical as well.  Then the question ponders in mind, what differentiates and determines the winner? It’s the human factor! Each team obviously has very talented and experienced  members who also have a strong knowledge and background in sailing. But, it’s the skipper (leader) stimulates the entire capabilities of the team and lead them in harmonious flow to victory.

This situation resembles conditions in the business world. You, as a leader, may hire very talented and experienced people for your organization, but you don’t see exceptional results unless there is a harmony within the organization.

People naturally expect to be happy, and this is also true for their business lives. And, if people are happy enough, they start using all of their capabilities harmoniously with others in the same team. However, most of the people aren’t aware of their true potential, capability and strengths.  Only a strong leader enables them to discover their own potentials and then motivate them to contribute for the success of the organization.

The starting point for a leader should be focusing on the uniqueness of each individual in the organization. Understanding people’s dreams, expectations and concerns as well as strengths is necessary to ignite their potentials. Using clear and open communication increases people’s confidence level and makes them more optimistic and collaborative.

After these vital initial steps, the leader may start rebuilding a new team system layer-by-layer.

The first layer of the system is the cultural layer which has three essential components; (1) the noble cause, (2) the common values and (3) a joint vision of the team. These components should be defined by team members in workshops, supported by the leader and shouldn’t be dictated with a top down approach by the management. They should be simple and understandable for entire organization and can be easily used during their daily life.

The second layer of the system is the business model and the process layer. If the team has successfully based on a strong culture, defining business model and processes would be easy to implement with the creative contribution of the entire organization. After the initial setup, the team will improve them continuously according to the changes in the market.

The last but not least layer of the system is the execution layer towards the business goals. It is more about short and mid-term targets, strategies and tactics. This layer should be supported by the noble cause and the vision of the team.

The third layer is the most critical layer for the shareholders of the company, because companies are primarily established to get profit; the rest always comes afterwards. They always expect to see successful financial results from the leadership team and also challenge the leadership team to focus only on this third layer. They usually don’t care for other layers. However, as a leader in business world, the first two layers are vital to be successful at the third layer.

Establishing these three layers require meetings, workshops and trainings with the team. Those activities can’t guarantee a successful change nevertheless; they provide a certain amount of increase with the awareness levels. For a permanent change, the leader has to engrave the details of these three layers into the DNA of the organization by using a strong and proven change management method. I definitely believe that this is the last but also the most critical factor in order to create an outstanding team and organization in businesses

Those changes may take time depending on the size and current structure of the organization. If a business leader implements these three layers with a successful change management in 1-3 years time frame, transformation will be permanent and sustainable.

An Exceptional Leader

The basic description of “Leader” is “a person who rules or guides or inspires others” according to Webster and “the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country,” according to Oxford Dictionary. The both descriptions are definitely correct and explain some typical characteristics of a leader. However, if we observe and try to realize the key differentiators of an exceptional leader, we can find out some major behaviours. I want to emphasize below the most important ones from my perspective;

An exceptional leader;

  1. Always creates a strong vision which is continuously used by the team as a guiding star,
  2. Can control his/her ego and demonstrates a consistent role model based on his/her own personal values,
  3. Knows and supports the key motivators of the team and each of the team members,
  4. Inspires and empowers the team,
  5. Enables each team member and makes them to discover their own dreams and potentials,
  6. Ignites the potentials of the team and motivates team members to get exceptional results by their own,
  7. Has a strong confidence for himself / herself and for each individual in the team,
  8. Builds a strong team spirit and maintains it as a key priority,
  9. Is always respectful for the personal differences of the individuals,
  10. Acts as a team member by demonstrating a friendly and approachable behaviour,
  11. Always uses open and honest communication methods and frequently shares priorities, goals and challenges with the team while motivating and supporting them to willingly contribute to joint success stories,
  12. Clearly takes all the responsibilities of the mistakes made by the team,
  13. Shares and celebrates successes together with the team.

Those are just some of the differentiators and I definitely believe there are some others depending on the personal style of the leader. But, I also believe, those differentiators are the common ones of many exceptional leaders in the history. Those exceptional leaders were able to motivate huge populations and they have changed the world forever.