The last couple of months we’ve focused on philosophical concepts such as mission and vision. As important as these two concepts are, they are only as good as their implementation. With this in mind, we’ve pulled some tips from business gurus Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan’s book Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done.

The book relies on Bossidy’s experience as CEO of Honeywell Industries and AlliedSignal, along with Charan’s as a consultant and professor, to develop some very easy to follow, common-sense rules for implementing initiatives. Although the book was written within the context of business, the concepts hold true for any organization with a need to get more done. The book has many strategies that could be useful to any organization; however, for this blog we are going to concentrate on what Bossidy and Charan feel are the “essential behaviors” of a leader who wants to improve his or her team’s execution.

1) Know your people and your business

It’s important that leaders know what’s really going on in their organization on a day-to-day basis. Many leaders get tons of information in the form of reports, but it’s important to remember that those have been filtered. The book suggests frequent visits to the front lines of an organization. Most of all, the authors stress that these visits should be meaningful, not superficial. It’s OK to start with water cooler talk, but eventually managers need to dig deep with all levels of employees.

2) Insist on realism

This means insisting that you are being told the whole story, both good and bad. As a leader, you have to be open to hearing some things that may not be positive. However, you can’t manage effectively if you are only hearing about how great the agency is and not hearing about what needs improved. The authors note that one of the most important aspects of this is the willingness to look at competitors (or in this case, similar non-profit agencies) and get an honest assessment of how your organization compares.

3) Set clear goals and priorities

This is an obvious suggestion. However, time and time again leaders fail to give a crystal-clear picture of what is expected. Bossidy and Charan emphasize the importance of being direct and plain-spoken when detailing plans. They also strongly suggest focusing on just a few main objectives at a time. The authors adamantly believe that a leader should have no more than three or four large-scale priorities.

4) Follow through

Again an obvious point, but one that sometimes gets forgotten. Think about the last planning meeting you had. At the end, did anyone set a specific time and method of following up on progress? Often meetings break with the best of intentions, but because there’s no assurance of a follow up, the initiative falls by the wayside. Often managers put new initiatives to the side because they feel the need to “put out fires” is more important. In this case, leaders didn’t stress the importance of the new initiatives. Communicating that there is an expectation that things will be done and there will be a method of checking is key.

5) Reward the doers

For volunteers and/or non-profits, this may sound strange, but you do need to reward your best performers. Of course, in business this is usually in the form of a monetary bonus, but non-profits can also give rewards. For instance, simple recognition in front of peers can go along way. Also, if you feel that you need to give a tangible reward, you may consider leveraging support from a local business. For example, a restaurant may be willing to donate a meal to volunteers who meet certain goals.

6) Expand people’s capabilities through coaching

It’s not enough to simply tell employees/volunteers what they are doing wrong and direct them to make some changes. A leader who wants to get things done consistently in the future uses the moment to teach. Sure, in the short term, it may seem faster to give directives and move on. In the long run, though, your team will be much more effective if you take the time to be more transparent and give lessons on the reasoning behind your criticism.

7) Know yourself

Bossidy and Charan believe that every leader really needs to take the time to complete some self-discovery. To be most effective as a leader, acknowledge your strengths as well as your weaknesses. Leaders who play to their strong suits and improve weaker points improve their people skills. As such, these leaders are better equipped at getting the most out of their teams, which will ultimately lead to better results.


More details about Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done can be viewed at the publisher’s website: