In a world of ever-evolving change and uncertainty, leaders need many different skills to drive performance and deliver exceptional results for their organizations. The best leaders know how to motivate and inspire others. They do this through vision setting, aligning people on key priorities and initiatives, and holding people accountable to performance expectations. To do this effectively, leaders need to exercise vigilance in all their efforts. Vigilant leaders demonstrate personal accountability and ownership for decisions, results, and consequences. They have a deep understanding of the power of discipline, execution, and determination.
At the core of vigilance, is your ability to set and follow healthy and productive habits. Researchers in the field of industrial-organizational psychologists have found that healthy habit forming can impact leaders at an individual, team, and organizational level. When forming good habits, leaders need to identify their routines, that is the cues, patterns, and rewards that strengthen and reinforce the behaviors they engage in on a consistent basis. From a leadership standpoint, the “habit loop” can be used to determine how one’s strengths manifest themselves and how development gaps prevent leaders from productive work outcomes. Good habit formation takes focus and concerted effort in the beginning, but as you continue to practice certain behaviors, they become automatic routines.
Moving beyond habits and discipline is the importance of execution. Vigilant leaders know how to execute effectively. They establish role clarity and ownership for deliverables, timelines, and key milestones. Leaders who are skilled in getting their people to execute also prioritize effectively so that the best use of talent, time, and resources can be allocated to the right issues. They are quick to tackle internal and external obstacles to execution. They drive a sense of urgency into their work, so people understand the importance of sticking to the task at hand. When leaders inspire others to execute, there is a collective willingness to challenge their people to improve processes for greater long-term impact.
Once a leader clearly outlines the path for execution, they must hold people accountable to delivering results. Strong leaders take personal ownership for taking their vision and translating it into practical actions that others can follow. Accountability requires clearly defined priorities and expectations. Leaders need to balance a sense of urgency with an understanding of the breaking point of people on their teams. They must also be willing to make the tough decisions when employees do not follow through on their commitments. Accountability can only work if there are rewards for achievement and consequences for failing to meet stated expectations.
If you want to become a vigilant leader, one who has a positive impact and influence on your people, teams and organizations, practice these four areas on a consistent basis:
- Set Specific Goals: Vigilant leaders understand the power of S.M.A.R.T. goals. The acronym S.M.A.R.T. stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound. Leaders who set S.M.A.R.T. goals are more likely to achieve their desired outcomes and live successful and fulfilled lives. Goals that are specific target a particular area of importance. They are clear, concise, and outline what’s expected. Measurable goals quantify objectives and serve as an indicator of progress being made on your goals. Achievable goals are realistic and attainable. They challenge employees to go above and beyond their current boundaries but do not push people to the extreme. Relevant goals have personal meaning to the leader and to the team. These types of goals excite people. Goals that are relevant to the leader, their team, and the broader organization receive the most support. Time-bound goals specify when the results need to be achieved. Here, the importance of grounding goals within a given time frame helps to give employees focus. Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals with your employees will help you begin the process of driving execution and holding people accountable.
- Create Strong Habits: As you map out your professional career, it is critical to build strong, healthy habits. To lead productive work lives, habit forming needs to take place on four levels. First, leaders need to address their mental and emotional needs. This helps strengthen resolve and enables people to push through challenging and difficult periods. Second, positive habit-forming is centered around your physical needs. This includes fitness and diet. Leaders who incorporate daily exercise and the proper nutrition program operate at their best. They have more energy to tackle the day and bring greater thought and creativity to their work. Third, are your relational habits. Everyone needs encouragement and support to reach their full potential. To offer employees the support they need to succeed, look for opportunities to spend time with them. Focus on mentoring, coaching, and providing consistent feedback. Lastly, career habits help shape your professional destiny. This category of habit setting is not just about getting the next promotion. It is about taking time to identify your hopes and dreams. Think three to five years down the road. What type of leader do you want to become? What is the long-term influence you want have on others? What is the sustainable impact you want to have on the business? The best leaders practice consistent habits. It’s the small things you do each day that leads to lifelong success.
- Get Accountability Partners: Vigilance is hard work! It takes a special person to cultivate disciplined effort day-in and day-out. Finding accountability partners makes this much easier. Your accountability partners should keep you focused on putting in the consistent work that is required to get to your desired outcomes. Pick people who care about you and your goals/objectives, but aren’t afraid to give you that honest, direct, and candid feedback when it is needed. They should have a thorough understanding of what your strengths and development opportunities are, so that they can help you maximize your impact. Everyone needs that extra push from time to time, so find accountability partners who help you exercise greater levels of vigilance as time progresses. The best accountability partners will be there for you through thick and thin. They are great sources for feedback and input along the way.
- Prioritize and Work Your Plan: Prioritization is everything. As Stephen Covey put it, “put first things first.” That means it is critical to prioritize the daily activities that are most important to you. As you prioritize your most important activities, it is also important to stick to the plan you outlined. This means using your accountability partners to work the plan. It also means being flexible enough to make changes along that way. You cannot be rigid and stuck in your ways. Adaptation is a must as you navigate the change and uncertainty around you.
Vigilance takes time, effort, and focus. Practicing these four skills will help you and your people achieve key organizational priorities and strategic initiatives. It will also help you set a positive example. People are drawn to strong role models. Vigilant leaders set the right tone for others to follow and instill the proper sense of urgency to drive key objectives.
Written by Adam C. Bandelli, Ph.D.
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