Leadership Challenge: Back to Basics

Back to basics

Back to basics As part of the challenge to read 200 books this year, I committed to read a handful of leadership books that have been collecting dust on my bookshelf for years. I’m a book enthusiast of sorts. I’m not as passionate about reading them as I am in collecting them, apparently. I have the appetite to read, just not the attention span; so, I typically read a few dozen blog posts a day vs. book chapters. This weekend, I cracked open one best seller on leadership, and abandoned it after one chapter out of boredom. So, I moved on to book #2. This book is written by someone with a huge following as a leadership guru. After one chapter, I tossed that book aside too. On the 3rd try (and fail), I realized the problem wasn’t with the book challenge. The problem was with my expectations.

I am looking for something to rock my world. I’m looking for the “Ah Ha” moment that changes the way I think about everything I do. I’m looking for a magic wand. But there is no magic wand in leadership or management. I’ve concluded that there are so many books on management and leadership because we need constant reminders and reinforcement to do very basic things. The basics may not be exciting, but they are the proven ways to make a difference. One great example is the Stop-Start-Continue exercise. This was the topic of book #2, chapter 2. I closed the book while grumbling about how the author is making tons of money and signing books on techniques that everyone already knows. And then it hit me. I couldn’t remember the last time I facilitated my own Stop-Start-Continue. It turns out I needed the book of basics because in the rush of meetings and to-do’s, I hadn’t taken the time to do the basics myself.

While it’s not a magic wand, the Stop-Start-Continue is a great exercise to start the year. It is a valuable way to gather feedback on a specific objective. And, the Stop-Start-Continue technique can be conducted several ways.

  • For leaders—ask your team members to weigh in on what is and is not working for them in terms of your leadership. What isn’t helpful and should be reconsidered/discussed? What activities would they like you to start doing? What is effective and should continue (or be expanded)?
  • For teams—ask the team to weigh in on what is and isn’t working in terms of their processes/communication.
  • For the business—ask the team to think of what is/isn’t helping drive the business forward.
  • For customers—ask the team members closest to your customers what feedback they’ve received. They likely have valuable insights on what should/shouldn’t continue, but often don’t feel like they have the voice, influence, or authority to make the changes.

At the heart of the activity, you’re asking knowledgeable participants to provide honest feedback and brainstorm ideas. Again, it’s not magic. But it’s a basic, overlooked, underrated activity that can have impact and align your team for the year ahead.

As with any feedback and brainstorming session, it’s critical to lay the ground rules first. Commit to being open to the feedback given. It’s likely that you’ll be challenged to stop doing something that you believe is necessary. Be honest that there are no promises. For example, the team may suggest that they should stop writing monthly progress reports. However, those reports provide necessary information for decision makers. While you may not be able to accept the suggestion outright, there is value in exploring why the team feels the time is used ineffectively. Talk through alternatives and be open about what is and isn’t possible. Finally, create a judgment free zone for brainstorming purposes. All ideas are noted and considered as part of the ongoing creative process.

Finally, at the end of the Stop-Start-Continue session, commit to a plan to revisit the issues presented in a timely manner. Showing you’re engaged, open to ideas, and willing to take action will build trust and excitement for the team when you announce the next Stop-Start-Continue session. Talking, listening, being open, and building trust—it really is the basics that make a difference.