Late one evening, two leaders and the CFO met in the CFO’s office. The CFO was upset about a perceived lack of effort from his team in completing several initiatives he deemed important. His monologue devolved into personal attacks on each team member as he went down the hall of doors in his mind. Finally, one leader had enough and asked, “Is it possible that everybody not in this room right now is an asshole and we aren’t?” The CFO’s face turned red as he stopped talking, glared at his associate, and ended the meeting.

The next day, calmer heads prevailed, and the three went to work on a plan that prioritized the mission-critical things and put others on the back burner. They also agreed that without the team alongside them, nothing would get done. Up to this point, the CFO had a habit of reading Delta Sky magazine, clipping out an article about the latest finance trend, and handing it to his subordinates to implement. This lack of focus and stick-to-it-iveness created frustration and chaos in the team.

The CFO took a minute to check his misplaced frustration with the team and redirect it toward supporting its performance instead. In this way, he could engage the team’s talents and achieve his objectives.

One of the challenges of any process or cultural change is that it must happen while we serve the customer. In this example, the monthly close is never more than 30 days away from the finance team, and balancing the run-the-business and change-the-business activities required focus, deftness, decisiveness, and empathy.

Helping our teams deliver

Some things that help our teams successfully deliver:

1.    Select the vital few initiatives. Edit down to the mission-critical projects that have the highest ability to achieve your strategy. Invest as required to improve the chances of success. Don’t let the new-car smell of shiny objects distract you from the vital few.

2.    Provide clarity. Define the project scope and outcomes at the beginning to kick-start a successful transformation. Maintain that clarity in the face of challenges.

3.    Deliver a single message repeated frequently. The fewer words used to describe the outcome, the better. The more times you repeat the same communication, the more people become aware, understand, and accept its importance. Employees don’t dismiss messages they repeatedly hear which are then reinforced by action.

4.    Be the boss in the boat. A boss who is willing and able to roll up his sleeves and help is an invaluable part of any successful change. The boss’ message is clear: I care enough to help even when not asked. I’m curious about the progress and ready to remove any obstacles to our success. I’m working beside you toward our mutual victory.

5.    Straight, plain talk about progress. A bias to fix the problem and not fix blame is a primary element of success. Make it safe to speak the truth and reward those that do. Early warning systems allow us to access a powerful tool for achieving objectives: time.

6.    The clout and inclination to remove obstacles. It’s one thing to have a title conveyed from above. It’s another to use our abilities to remove performance obstacles rapidly.

7.    Recognize people along the way. Throughout the project, thanking people for their efforts builds commitment and creates a virtuous cycle that energizes the team.

Takeaway: Take the time to check any misplaced frustration with your team and redirect your energy toward supporting its performance. When we edit our activities, we focus our efforts and those of our teams on the things that matter the most to success. Along the way, playing the part of supporter, coach, and obstacle smasher demonstrate value-added leadership.