Leadership: More Signal, Less Noise

What’s the right way to think about leadership today? Put another way, what’s the organizational  problem that leadership needs to solve?

That’s a great question asked by Alan Weber in his neat little book Rules of Thumb. Weber reminds us  that every year, Fortune magazine published a cover story naming “the ten toughest bosses in America.” More recently the macho leader has given way to the decisive CEO, who isn’t just tough, but the smartest guy in the room.

And now, the tough guy with all the answers is getting smarter, as leaders begin to recognize that smart talented people who make up great companies are unwilling to work for a jerk. Not that there aren’t plenty of jerks still in charge.

A Gallup survey reports that 25% of workers would fire their boss if they could. So what personifies the ideal boss, if it’s not the smartest, or the toughest, or the most charismatic?

Getting back to Rules of Thumb and the wisdom that Alan Weber shares, the answer is that leaders need to provide more signal and less noise. As he explains, leaders need to provide more meaning, not more information.

There is a big problem today in organizations and that is too much information sharing. There isn’t enough “sense-making.” Because it’s so easy to email and update people, there are too many messages, too many change programs, too many directions.

When the going gets tough, leaders ramp up the volume. As a result, an already overtaxed system collapses from information and other overload.

You may have experienced this in the recent downturn in your own company.

It’s time to get back to basics. Weber recommends leaders need to help people sort out what really matters, what needs to be the focus. As leader you are privy to information from a wide variety of sources and it’s your job to provide focus. You are in a prime position to see the big picture, see patterns that emerge, and to connect the dots for people.

As leader, your people need three things from you:

  1. Clarity of purpose
  2. Honesty about values
  3. Focus about metrics

How does this play out in your communications? People want you to tell them what you feel. Tell them what the company stands for, the uncompromising code of conduct that guides the organization.

And they also want to track what you measure. What are the few things that matter when it comes to measuring performance? This is key, because when you measure too many things, you add more noise.

“That’s the definition of leadership: ramping up the signal and damping down the noise, making sense out of confusion. If you do that job as the leader, you’ll make it possible for your people to do theirs.”

It’s a good little book, full of pages of wisdom, delivered in small bits with plenty of stories.

One more thing I’d like to also suggest. Wisdom doesn’t help if you keep it theoretical. There’s no better way to help people develop that by providing them with a coach.

If you’d like to consider adding executive coaching for the leaders in your organization, here’s a page that describes my coaching services. Thanks for stopping by.

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