Leader behavior a key factor among top-performing firms.

Position:Managing for tomorrow

Have you ever wondered what makes a company a top performer? What, then, differentiates the very best companies from those that are less successful?

Rick Lepsinger has discovered some surprising answers. Lepsinger is president of OnPoint Consulting and co-author of Flexible Leadership: Creating Value by Balancing Multiple Challenges and Choices (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint, 2004).

Lepsinger says top-performing companies are characterized by cultures that are flexible, adaptive, participative, and innovative--and they operationalize these cultural attributes through leader behavior and organizational structure and systems.

"Leaders in top-performing companies are capable in four areas--managing paradoxes, leading change, participative leadership, and leading by example," reveals Lepsinger.

According to Lepsinger, if you're a leader, you need to ensure that you're comfortable doing the following:

* Get comfortable with managing paradoxes. Leaders in top-performing companies are better at finding the right balance between what appears to be mutually exclusive outcomes: achieving short- and long-term goals, establishing control and providing autonomy, ensuring stability and managing change, and keeping costs low and quality high while growing the business. They are also better able to manage the sometimes contradictory needs of customers, employees, and stockholders/owners.

* Understand (and use) the five magic keys to managing change. OnPoint's research identifies five behaviors that enhance the ability to lead and manage change effectively:

Be forthright about the change and its impact. Sixty-four percent of the 655 participants in OnPoint's survey said that open and honest communication from leaders, even when they don't have all the answers, would make change easier. People want leaders to be accessible and to engage in "change talk." What is change talk? Lepsinger says it's an open discussion of the pros and cons of making the change or maintaining the status quo, and of the behaviors required to support the change and boost people's confidence in their ability to transition successfully to the new way of doing things.

Model behaviors that support the change. It is not enough to just say the fight thing or even enthusiastically communicate the benefits and the business case for the change. Employees want to see those words backed up with behavior. That is how they judge how effectively someone is leading and managing a change.


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