Clear visibility can equip leaders for all challenges they’ll face.
Many leaders are ill-equipped from a skills perspective; they are often excellent in their specific field of expertise but that does not guarantee good people management skills, a grasp of creating intentional cultures or even an understanding of how to build effective strategies.
Can leadership skills be taught? Yes, they can. You can find countless courses about creating the right cultures, leading rather than managing, spotting and nurturing talent, etc… And indeed, these are all very important skills to acquire. But they are of little use if you don’t have visibility of what is going on around you.
With the best will in the world you won’t know how to deploy these new skills correctly, with the right people or in the right way. A recent MD I worked with was distressed to discover how little her vision and values had penetrated to the front line of her organisation — because her managers had other agendas ‘more important’ to their role. Essentially, she was blind to the operation and at the mercy of others to show her the truth (or hide it from her).
There isn’t a business course on seeing the truth, but the successful leader needs to be able to somehow access the truth, understand it, and then act upon it. The question is… how? Simply looking at the end balance sheet or the size of the company is a lag indicator, but doesn’t show the ‘how’.Great leadership comprises three ‘hows’ — all leading to increased visibility for the leader.
This doesn’t mean no hierarchy (the leader still makes the big calls). But it’s limited and the teams work with the leader, they don’t defer to him or her. Limited hierarchy means the leader’s ego needs to take a back seat and they need to trust people — because no one can do it alone for extended periods.
Who can you rely on? Select your people carefully (and directly) to establish sustainable trust. Take the time to nurture and develop them. Successful leaders have teams that are independent but also know that if they fail there is no hiding place. High levels of accountability are expected and offered from every person.
Successful leaders, more often than not, run with a small flat structure without layers of management.
This creates easy touchpoints where a leader can engage with enough frequency that their other skills (coaching, mentoring, talent spotting and the like) are actually utilised. Those who create complexity at the top almost always fail. Simplicity extends to processes and information flow.
Access to the right information is absolutely essential if a leader is to have any chance of success. But they also need to be able to understand what the information is telling them.
In the end, it’s easy to point to a successful leader — they’re one whose percentage of correct decisions are significantly higher than their poor ones. But it’s the visibility of the right information that is key to making informed decisions.
Moreover, no leader can unravel all the information alone. That’s where their open, capable and accountable team comes in — to filter and present proactively, openly and honestly. If politics, ego and fear get in the way, a leader can say goodbye to getting the right information. They are left to make decisions based on fluff, hearsay and gut. This may work for a while, but eventually it fails.
It takes time to reshape a business to allow the quality of visibility described above. Many leaders may never have the time, power or influence to create the right environment. For many businesses, old systems, processes and politics simply prevent an ideal structure from ever taking shape.
In the meantime, the leadership still needs to function. The right decisions still need to be made quickly, based on a truthful picture, or leaders will quickly find themselves in jeopardy. To this end, leaders must look elsewhere for unbiased information — and technology is the place to start. More specifically Artificial Intelligence is the answer. It comes with speed, accuracy and doesn’t play politics or filter information based on a limited view of the world. The data derived from Epifini insights at various levels of the organisation will allow a leader to see if their perception of what is happening is matched by the reality on the ground. Ultimately, with AI in their toolkit, leaders no longer need to be fearful of misinformation — and can make decisions with real 360-degree visibility.