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That One Secret Ingredient of Extraordinary Leadership in Business Strategy

Oct 08, 2019

Whatever big lies those emotive videos may tell you, truth is - leadership can never be abrupt. It is learned and is assiduously built over the years. There are crisp and definite rungs to this ladder. It is a synthesis of learned and reinforced behaviors that almost become habits.

Leadership, for most of us, is sanity; The capability to “not-lose-it, not-give-up” when others do. But that’s not all there is. There is a greater aspect of it which we would like to call the soul of this glorious song. We studied the top global leaders and found that one ever prevalent connecting thread among them i.e. the commitment to build great organizational culture. These leaders strove to improve the inherent culture in their organizations and were in turn rewarded with enormous successes. Here are our three favorites:

Cheryl Bachelder

In 2007, the year when Cheryl Bachelder, CEO Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, took the reins of the company in her hands:

  • the Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen business was performing poorly,

  • sales and profits had plunged to severe lows

  • the company’s stock price had slumped from USD 34 in 2002 to USD 13

  • the company was stretched to extreme ends and the ties between its franchise owners were severely strained.

But Cheryl wasn’t discouraged. She invested in the company’s internal environment and reformed the place to foster a healthy organizational culture wherein the employees were treated with dignity and respect and yet were motivated to perform their best. She focused on the restaurant owners and encouraged them to voice their needs. Tapping on people’s basic need to be heard worked like magic. By 2014:

  • sales soared by 25% and profits by 40%.

  • market share proliferated from 14% to 21%.

  • the stock price shot up to USD 40.

Ari Weinzweig

Ari Weinzweig, founding partner of Zingerman's Community of Businesses started with a short sandwich menu and a team of two and grew the business to 10 companies, USD 64 million revenue, 22 managing partners and 750 employees in a short period of 40 years. Today, his business receives more than 50,000 visitors per year. Weinzweig and his partner Paul Saginaw rooted Zingerman's as a leading advocate of diversity.

Zingerman has rigorously emphasized on managerial dexterity. In his book, Zingerman's Guide to Good Learning Part 2: A Lapsed Anarchist's Approach to Being a Better Leader, he has given an A to V list of managerial behavior spreading to extremes and has shown how these behaviors can negatively impact the teams’ performance and growth. Inherently, the core message is centered around culture.

Kristen Hadeed

The average turnover rate at the usual cleaning companies is two months; At Kristen Hadeed’s Student Maid, it is two and a half years. Hadeed’s company is strongly rooted in a culture of values. Aside from basic training in cleaning, her employees are also trained in relationship management. Student Maid cleans free for cancer patients.

Student Maid is hailed for building next-gen leaders. At a time when almost every other business is bawling its concerns about the “unmotivated, unmanageable millennial employees”, Hadeed has laid a strong prototype with proven results that validate millennials can be loyal, engaged and inspired at work.

These three leaders have achieved seemingly impossible goals with their consistent efforts. Here’s how you too can achieve the same:

8 Actions to Build the Right Culture:

  • Inspire your team to take impactful actions.

  • Empower team members and give them crisp directions.

  • Display integrity and honesty.

  • Promote and reinforce core values in the organization.

  • Be dependable, brave and motivating.

  • Set future goals and pursue them relentlessly.

  • Demonstrate finer, proven and better understanding of the business.

  • Integrate company values while communicating vision and strategy.

Actions That Inadvertently Hamper Your Culture:

We’ve seen above what you can do but here’s what you shouldn’t do:

Distrust and hoard work:

Distrust leads to micromanaging and micromanagers have a hard time rooting themselves in the team. Without delegating you may be swamped with trivial work that can rob you of your fecund time. Identify the strength of your teammates and capitalize on them. Check on them regularly and ensure you are working on the same page.

Withhold information:

Effective communication is the bedrock of leadership. Inadequate and unclear instructions will only fluster your teammates evermore. Put your message in clear and crisp words describing the end-result, the employee input and challenge areas. Share your ideas and vision. Encourage two-way communication and nudge your team members to speak. Create an environment and space where your team members can interact and express freely.

Express your doubts:

Your confidence will be the yardstick of your team’s confidence. An uncertain, shaky front will make them under confident. Keep your confidence level up at all times and save panic and uncertainty for personal thinking space. If your team is lagging, identify the strengths and weaknesses and reassign tasks.

Uniform assignments:

Understand your team. Identify each team member’s motivation tactic. Some of them might work well under pressure, while some others may appreciate strong feedback, some would like to go that extra mile. Customize your approach for each of your team members and rigorously experiment.

Talk too much about values:

Show and not tell your values. Display honesty, integrity and personal key values and occasionally talk about them if needed.

Take Away:

The extent and impact of exceptional leadership reverberates long in time and space and paves the way for future visionaries. Building the right culture is an uphill battle, but the climb is more than worth it. This wheel that you turn will keep spinning for a long time to come and who knows it may gain momentum and become unstoppable sometime in the future.

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