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How Effective Leaders Plan for Action and Prepare Their Team

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Effective leaders have developed their skills in thinking critically, aligning the organization or team, and taking appropriate action.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is what enables leaders to understand the impact of their leadership and to examine the relationship between their assumptions and conclusions, conclusions and actions, and actions and results.

A critical thinker challenges assumptions and evaluates conclusions objectively, based on the desired results. Critical thinking encompasses:

  • Seeking information: asking questions and questioning assumptions
  • Developing awareness: being mindful of prejudices and mental shortcuts that may have led thinking astray
  • Evaluating evidence: including data gathering, problem analysis, and risk management
  • Applying standards: including personal and organizational values, industry and regulatory standards, and rules of behavior
  • Thinking ahead: considering potential consequences and results.

A leader should also help the team develop critical thinking skills. Those skills help build a team that quickly adjusts to new information and events, even in the midst of executing a task or plan. Success is likely to cause an organization or team to rely again and again on old responses that may no longer be appropriate; with critical thinking, they develop the skills to look for new solutions and strategies.

Aligning the Organization or Team

Given that problem analysis has taken place, both leadership and employees need to understand the reasoning and purpose behind a decision or plan and must be motivated to execute it. 

Recent practice encourages opening up decision making and strategic planning to include representatives of everyone likely to be affected or involved. Proven benefits of that approach, as opposed to the traditional top-down approach, include an influx of ideas that might have been overlooked by leaders and an even greater degree of employee motivation and commitment.

Surveys of employees are uniform in finding that the ability to make a difference in the world is an extremely important motivation for employees—at least as important as money. Unfortunately, most employees either don’t understand or don’t believe that a company’s mission and goals match their desire to make a difference. An effective leader makes that connection.

Taking Action

With the decisions made, and a plan developed, execution begins—if a plan can’t be executed, it is worthless. 

When the right team is selected to execute a strategy and given the support they need, they can be left to get on with it. Effective leadership requires checking in with the team to make sure that goals are being reached, motivation is still high, and any course corrections are identified and initiated.

Execution requires that a leader have the assertiveness, grit, and influence to set actions in motion and see them through. An effective leader understands the strengths and weaknesses of the team and is not afraid to make decisions in the moment. Every member of the team needs:

  • Clarity about goals
  • Accountability
  • Ownership of their role
  • Access to needed resources, tools, training, and skills
  • Interaction with the leader—a sense that the leader is part of the team.

Execution does not end with the successful completion of a task or project. Evaluation is also necessary and ensures that the lessons to be learned, by the leader, team, and organization, are captured and available for the next decision or plan.

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