When we think about business development, the focus tends to be on specific business functions - product development, sales, marketing, finance, planning and strategy. But what about the specific behavioural skills that tie everything together and significantly impact leaders and their team's ability to get things done? These small invisible nuances of leadership add up to make a vast difference over a period of time. One such skill is a business leader's ability to coordinate action.
Enter Ian Lees, a Leadership Coach with a refreshingly practical and remarkably effective approach to solving the common challenges emerging and established leaders face along their journey.
In this blog, we ask Ian some questions to understand the value of improving a person's ability to coordinate action, and why this is a necessary area of consideration for any leader.
Ian, can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I have spent my career helping leaders improve their ability to create teams and organisations that achieve important things for the world. I have done this myself in senior corporate leadership roles and in the consulting businesses I have created and grown. I am fascinated by how human beings create new and better worlds. Specifically, how their way of being and the power of human language engages groups of people around a vision and brings it to life.
Why makes you specifically interested in ‘coordinating action’ as an area of leadership development?
In my experience, business leaders don’t always realise that businesses are created and grow through interactions and relationships between people, whether they are customers, suppliers or staff. But the core process of all business is the coordination of action towards and outcome.
This is first and foremost a process grounded in language. Our language doesn’t just describe our world. The powerful idea here is that our language creates the world. I love to help leaders really get that business is a creative life experience driven by their proficiency to use language to coordinate the action of others.
"Our language doesn't just describe our world. The powerful idea here is that our language creates the world"
Can you describe some of the qualities or behaviours that help or hinder a person’s ability to coordinate action?
The main factor that hinders a leader’s ability to coordinate action is a lack of proficiency in the conscious and skilful use of language. What can get in the way is a leader assuming a business is like a machine; all you have to do is figure out how it will work and everyone should just get it. If we view the world like this then we will blame other people for being stupid or incompetent when coordination goes wrong.
What are some telltale signs that a person may need to work on their ability to coordinate action?
One of the signs is a lot of misunderstanding and confusion in their team or business. How can you see that? Easy, the leader will be spending a large chunk of their days sorting out frustrations, disagreements, duplication, wasted time, budget blowouts and sub-standard outputs.
If you don't yet have a team, you may observe this with external people you share your ideas with in order to create outcomes. For example, designers, developers, or other people who have offered their support. If people are not producing the outcomes or taking the actions you want, and your requests are reasonable, then it's likely that you need to work on your ability to coordinate action.
How does this impact business outcomes? What are some specific examples?
Less than proficient coordination of action by a business leader has a big impact on business outcomes. At their worst, these failures of coordination of action can result in reputational damage, customer churn, loss of market share and even a bad rap in the media. For example; simply failing to specify and gain a firm commitment from a partner business to agreed project completion or product delivery date, can lead to letting an important customer down with a negative impact on customer satisfaction and brand value. There are also other impacts such as strained supply chain relationships and loss of trust that can continue to ripple through business operations for weeks, months and even years.
For early-stage ideas, the leader may not be able to get traction, which means the idea may not come into fruition.
How can someone assess their own ability to coordinate action?
There are three things you can take a look at to assess your current ability to coordinate action:
- How often do you seriously think about how clear and precise you are in making requests of other people? If you never review how effective you are it’s most likely there is an opportunity for you to improve.
- How much time in a week is spent having to follow-up on requests you have made, redoing work that hasn’t been completed how you wanted it to be done and sorting out coordination or logistical stuff-ups?
- You can also ask for specific feedback from people you work with including customers, business partners and suppliers and staff. Some of the questions you can ask include:
- How clearly and specifically do I explain quality requirements?
- How well do I set clear and concise deadlines?
- How often do you feel unsure about what you are required to do or what you will receive from me?
What are some tools that a person can use to improve their ability to coordinate action?
In the webinar program ‘How to coordinate action’, we introduce people to two really important and useful tools that can help business leaders improve how they coordinate action.
The first one is the Coordination Waste Assessment tool. This is a structured process you can complete by yourself or with your team to get a handle on just how much coordination waste is costing you and your business in time and money.
The second is the Coordination Flow model which sets out an easy to use flow to guide all your coordination conversations. The model includes eight essential speech acts that can dramatically reduce Coordination Waste and help to build trust and engagement in business relationships. By implementing this as a business process you can improve the efficiency of your business and build stronger partnership and customer relationships.
Join us for the 'Leaders Guide to Coordinating Action' workshop Series
You can learn more about the ‘Leader’s Guide to Coordinating Action’ webinar series by clicking the button below. We’re proud to work with Ian to bring this knowledge to small businesses and startups. Learn more about Ian and his work by heading to the Optimal Future website.