Essential Behavior of Leaders

Lately, I have been getting a number of questions from economic development professionals on how to get things done in their community.  Budgets are exceptionally tight, resources are limited and Organizations are being asked to accomplish more than ever before.  So it is fair that there is a renewed focus on leading to achieve results.

In my experience, there is one inviolate rule – regardless of constraints, always strive to do the right thing.  In his discussion on value-based leadership Bob McDonald (CEO and Chairman of the Board for Procter & Gamble) positions it choosing the harder right instead of the easier wrong.  Bob’s discussion is well worth a read, and his guidance on leadership is clear and helpful.

Another source of inspiration I turned to is the book – Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done.  There are five behaviors the author describes as key to leadership that will help you accomplish more with less.  I’ve modified the descriptions to be even more relevant for leaders in economic development.

Behavior #1 – Know your team and your community.  Leaders have to live in their community.  In economic development organizations that don’t execute, leaders are typically out of touch with the day-to-day realities.  It is very important to get out from behind your desk and meet with CEOs in your community to better understand their opportunities and challenges.  The more in touch you are, the better decisions you will make, and the fewer missteps you will take.  Fewer missteps translates into less wasted resources and superior results.

Behavior #2 – Insist on realism.  Realism is the heart of execution, but many economic development organizations deal with people who are politically self-motivated and may try to avoid or shade reality.  It is important you can always be counted on for an objective perspective.  This may be uncomfortable at times, particularly if the news is disappointing to people who have influence over your personal performance evaluation.  But, over extending your organization resources and failing to deliver on commitments you risk ruin your reputation and eroding trust in your leadership capability.

Behavior #3 – Set clear goals and priorities.  Leaders who execute well focus on very few clear priorities everyone can grasp.  They set goals that can be achieved with available budget and personnel.  They also set appropriate expectations for their Board of Directors and public leadership on what can and cannot be achieved under the circumstances.

Behavior #4 – Follow through.  But, clear and simple goals don’t mean much if nobody takes them seriously.  The failure to follow through is widespread and a major cause of poor execution.  Avoid the temptation to promise results when you actually believe the probability of success is low.  It is important you ensure objectivity so everybody involved deals with the facts.

Behavior #5 – Reward the doers.  If you want people to produce specific results, you reward them accordingly.  Leading an economic development organization, there is an excellent chance you do not have the flexibility to provide a bonus to team members for an exceptional performance.  Instead, you need to find other ways to provide meaningful credit.  Peer recognition can be an exceptionally powerful motivator.

The economy is recovering and the market is regaining momentum – but slowly.  The need to accomplish more with less is going to be the new normal for the foreseeable future.  The National Governor’s Association has forecast fiscal 2010 as the most challenging since the Great Depression.  State and local government are projected to be facing up to a $10 trillion gap over the next several years.  For perspective, in Fiscal 2008 federal stimulus funding represented 26.3% share of total state spending.  In Fiscal 2009, the share grew to 30%.  Loss of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funds will only exacerbate budget pressures.

The trickle down effect of this budget pressure will undoubtedly constrain funding of economic development activities at a time when the results of those activities are needed to accelerate economic recovery.  Consequently, failure to achieve with limited resources simply cannot be an option.  Effective leadership that delivers results will be key to success.  Buckle your seat belt and put your tray in the upright position, we are in for a bumpy ride.  Your personal leadership skill will make a difference in how well your community navigates the turbulance.

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