By Alex Shootman | CEO at Workfront
“Lead like your children are watching.”
It’s a simple but powerful thought that shifts a leader’s posture from privilege to responsibility — an awareness that how you talk, walk, ask questions, praise, criticize and spend your time has a profound impact the the people around you. If you don’t like some attribute of your team and you’ve led them for more than six months, go look in the mirror. They are watching. Who do you see is leading them?
It’s a statement I first heard from Sean Pederson, BCycle Product Development Director at Trek Bicycles, one of the world’s best-known cycling brands. Sean is one of 30 leaders who share their insight about the future of work in my new book Done Right: How Tomorrow’s Leaders Get Stuff Done.
Done Right is the result of an 18-month journey to capture the working wisdom of leaders in different fields. The reason I wrote this book is because our customers kept asking a very basic question: How do I get modern work done in the digital work crisis that's hammering my company? To write this book, I talked to adventurers, military veterans, futurists, academics, and industry professionals with a talent for getting the best from their teams.
I wanted to find out how they achieve extraordinary results and then compile their experience into a practical manual for future leaders. Don’t expect a dusty old book on management theory; this is all about actionable leadership advice.
Who better to counsel us about planning a successful project or dealing with adversity than a highly experienced US Navy SEAL? Or what can we learn about motivation and persistence from a woman who rowed solo across the Atlantic over three months?
What advice might acclaimed marketers like Lee Odden and Jay Baer give us about persuasive communication?
And what insight can we gather about the future of work from academics who are advising some of the world’s best known brands about emerging trends and workplace behaviors?
So, to whet your appetite, here is a taste of the ideas you’ll find in Done Right’s 10 chapters:
1. Make Work Matter
Human dignity is satisfied by working. Whatever job someone is doing, however mundane, work can make a difference. That means leaders need to create a culture of transparency where overall strategy and objectives are broken down — and their connection and relevance to individual tasks is clear. It also means creating a sense that team members are making personal progress in parallel with completing projects.
2. Who Do You Serve?
Who matters most: your team, your customers, or your financial stakeholders? The truth is, the leader’s job is to keep the needs of all three in mind — and, ideally, in alignment. Projects that only serve one group seldom lead to sustained business success. But there’s a simple exercise (detailed in this chapter) that leaders can do with their teams to identify the strategy and specific actions that will keep customers, employees, and stakeholders on the same forward path.
3. Harness Commander’s Intent
Here’s when we first meet Commander Mark McGinnis, a US Navy SEAL and veteran of successful military operations across the globe. Mark explains how the concept of Commander’s Intent — “defining how the landscape needs to look when the smoke has cleared” — gives teams clarity and focus on their end goal. Commander’s Intent helps leaders define the goal and the parameters of the mission. But the tactical steps to get there? That’s down to the expertise within the team.
4. Plan and Achieve Extraordinary Goals
Planning tends to be an expansive process. Every contingency, even the most remote possibilities, tend to get considered. But the better approach is to break down complex work into relatable steps. Each plan should consist of a small number of key initiatives, milestones that mark progress, and a best next action — a clear, practical step that will move the project forward at each point in time.
5. Direction and Momentum
Maintaining a team’s momentum is each leader’s crucial day-to-day task. And an everyday question can help keep things moving forward: “What’s the one thing we can do next to move us closer to our goal?” This chapter shows how the concept of the best next action plays out in practice.
6. Stay Focused
Sometimes the wrong words at the wrong time can send teams off in the wrong direction. Leaders need to use a certain kind of language to chase progress without skewing a team’s priorities or demotivating individuals. “Why haven’t you done this?” might be the question in your head, but it’s not the best way to communicate. So what’s the right tone and language to use to find out what’s going right and wrong?
7. Get People to Pay Attention
You’ll discover how Jay Baer and Lee Odden apply their marketing expertise to engage with their own teams. And you’ll hear from empathy expert Brian Carroll about why leaders need to start listening to understand, not reply as the first step to earning a team’s attention.
8. Out of Left Field
When Debra Searle rowed solo across the Atlantic, there were times when a day’s progress could be washed away overnight by ocean currents. So how did she keep going across 3,000 miles of open water day after day? Debra shares her story and practical tips of resilience and persistence in the face of adversity.
9. Measuring Modern Work
The enduring idea that measuring everything in the workplace can lead to more efficient business practice dates back to Frederick Winslow Taylor’s early industrial experiments in the 1900s. But does the way that Winslow Taylor worked back then really fit the digital age? What are the right work performance indicators for the 21st century?
10. The Future of Work … Now
Done Right ends by looking at the horizon and the practical changes to how we work that will emerge from changes in technology and demographics. Adapting to technological and demographic disruption isn’t optional for any business that wants to thrive in the future. So what are the key thinking and action points about the future of work?
What makes Done Right different — and what I’m most proud of — is that it was a collaborative project from first to last. The ideas in each chapter have been stress-tested through debate with my colleagues at Workfront and beyond. The contributors I’ve interviewed have been generous with their stories and expertise. This is a book with many authors that looks for lessons wherever they are found.
And that is the future of leadership and modern work. You’re not just a leader, you’re collaborator-in-chief. As Dr. Seuss says, “So… be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray; or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea. You're off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So...get on your way!”
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