Soft Strengthens Hard: Leadership Skills Optimize Strategic Decisions

Businesses continuously seek operational improvements, often pursuing the latest strategic options. Larger organizations emphasize quantitative analysis, smaller ones drive by gut, but in the end a company's strategy, big or small, is defined by what it does versus what it says.

The big take away from this discussion is for business owners to think in another dimension about how to inspire teams to attain high performance within the context of rapidly changing environments. While specific reference to another company and people is made, they are used as concrete examples of advisers that can help SME businesses.

Over the past couple of decades, lean manufacturing and Sigma Six performance programs have defined solution paths for both manufacturing and service companies. Even in our family business and now in clients', we try to inject the philosophy of those disciplines if not the formal processes. From manufacturing to branding, from customer relations to administration, we have attempted to implement "lean".

In my experience, technical or mid-level management had been charged with designing and implementing process and profit improvement programs. This pattern underestimated the level of top management involvement and dedication to create change. All the players were skilled in their respective fields but lacked the formal or informal authority, capabilities or clarity of mission to accomplish the goal of making productive change permanent. Let's say that the changes envisioned rarely looked like the change that happened.

During the last several years I have been working with a talented group at SoundBoard Consulting. There I became more cognizant how the "soft" side of management, such as leadership skills, peer group collaboration and conflict resolution actually strengthens the "hard" operational skills. Those skills that I and my colleagues learned as MBAs and in other academic programs, ongoing promotions in large companies and their related training events and even in political roles appear more in background thinking than in day in and day out application.

The essence of this discussion is for small business owners to focus as much on the soft side as the hard. Making operational change is difficult but even more critical in 2009 and ongoing economy. We most frequently emphasize the technical or strategic aspects of management over the organizational ones. Richard Magid, founder of Soundboard, redirected my thinking to underscore that it is the softer side that matters most in delivering potential performance improvements.

Clarifying values, purpose, achieving alignment, receiving perpetual feedback are key in making sure the team is on the same page with the same high levels of commitment. Resolving the inevitable conflict created by high stress tasks begins with candid trust by all team members and facilitated ability to work out ways to gain key alignment.

My experience also teaches that there is initiative fatigue, which occurs due to the uneven progress virtually all programs encounter over the long pull. While technical teams may believe there is constant gain, company top management often looses energy and focus in making programs work. Net, there is a failure in leadership. Jay Wolf, also from SoundBoard, has created a leadership program that helps inculcate leadership skills and techniques to more accurately read employee behaviors and influence them in ways that realize intended outcomes.

I encourage presidents and owners to investigate resources like those found at SoundBoard if they aspire to create durable wealth.

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This is well said. Thanks for reminding me that the soft skills are critical to successful execution of the plans we develop using our hard skills. This blog reinforces that while financial and marketing acumen are necessary, they are not sufficient.

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