Leadership Approach from Old Schools: Still effective

Once a year, the U.S. President sets aside time to talk to the country’s stakeholders. He talks about the nation’s current situation, reasons behind it, and the outlook going forward.

Do you give your team the same benefit? If not, you’re missing a great opportunity to significantly improve things in your organization.

Since America’s first State of the Union Address, back in 1790, this event has occurred every year. It serves several purposes. Some are purely political and some are informational. It allows the head of state to help others — without the benefit of his perspective — to understand what has been going on and why. He will use it to share his vision of how things are going to change in the future. That’s important at all times but particularly so in a demanding period. And, because the President presents this information to the collective members of the House and Senate, together with the Judiciary, he uses the forum as an opportunity to try to enlist the support of others who may be otherwise inclined.

Compare this communication approach to methods and manners of most other organizations. How about your own organization or business: Do you give your team the same benefits? Many places use a similar approach, but too few are taking advantage of it.

In effective organizations, the team’s members at all levels, in all locations, know:

1. How we got here – They understand your perspective regarding the reasons behind what’s been going on. They get to hear the boss talk about things like the economy, the industry, and the company’s actions or problems. In many cases, they may have had misunderstandings or heard negative opinions that were unfounded. As human beings, and as members of a team, we appreciate being treated like adults and given a better understanding from someone who sees the situation from a perspective that’s different from our own.

2. What’s the outlook – The team benefits from hearing that the company, or you in particular, has a solid understanding of what’s going to change and how long you think it’s going to take. They hear about plans and actions to deal with the expected situation. This provides two key benefits: By providing information it encourages them to join the plan and encourage its success. Additionally, after hearing your assessment about where the company is going, new ideas — from a lot of brainpower — and actions from a lot of horsepower can be aroused. Even you may have overlooked something.

3. Helps overcome roadblocks – Many great programs arrive stillborn. That may have nothing to do with how good they are or the cost/benefit ratios. It may be entirely political, i.e., someone simply may not want to see it succeed and those people will do whatever can be done to ensure the new program fails. This is an often-overlooked benefit for having this kind of meeting: when the leader goes directly to those people, he increases the prospects of having support from all sides. Or at least reducing the chances of being broadsided.

Now think about your company, your department, and your direct team:

Does everyone really know how things are going? The big picture, the reasons, the nitty gritty — all of it. If not, you have a great opportunity to make immediate improvement.

Regardless of the size of an organization, be it a three-person team or an immense bureaucracy like the government, this approach will improve results. If your organization is spread far and wide, it even works better. Put it into place now.

Your state of the nation (or state of the company, state of the department, state of the store, etc.) should address the three key topics each time. It should update on results from plans discussed at the last meeting. It should be as short as possible while leaving an opportunity for comments and suggestions. The comments and suggestions aspect is very important. You may hear ideas in this open forum that otherwise may not get to you.

I suggest these meetings be done monthly. There are twelve months in a year. Twelve opportunities to make meaningful corrections or additions to any plan. All of which increases the likelihood of your success.

The best companies I know about use this approach. Not enough do. It works. Give it a try. And let me know what happens.