“ . . . leadership ‘remains the No. 1 talent issue facing organizations around the world,’ with 86% of respondents to the survey rating it ‘urgent’ or ‘important.’ However, the fact that only 13% say they do an excellent job of developing leaders at all levels means that this area has the largest ‘readiness gap.’” (Forbes.com/Deloitte University Press)

It’s hard to dispute that strong leadership is important, so how can this readiness gap be filled in? Here are eight strategies from Monday Morning Leadership by David Cottrell.

Drivers and Passengers

Are you a driver – or are you a passenger? Drivers must keep their focus on the road, whereas passengers have more freedom to goof off. And, to be a good leader, you must become like the driver with more responsibilities and fewer freedoms. As a manager, for example, you must oversee people, and you should not complain about company management. Plus, as a strong leader, you should never look for someone else to blame. That causes you to focus on the past, whereas fully accepting responsibility permits you to focus on today, on now, to move forward and to plan for positive change in the future.

Here’s the bottom line. You can’t always control a situation, but you can control how you respond. Yes, there are struggles in management, but there is no point in feeling sorry for yourself, because that’s a total waste of time.

Keeping the Main Thing . . . the Main Thing

What’s the most important thing – the MAIN thing – for your department or team? Ask ten different people and you’ll most likely get that many answers. So, as a leader, it’s crucial that you communicate what the main thing is, both to the people you manage as well as to your superiors. When everyone has the same understanding of purpose and goals, it’s much easier to remain focused and productive.

Escape from Management Land

How can you do that? Here are three steps:

  • Hire the right people.
  • Coach all of your people to succeed.
  • De-hire the people who don’t pull their share of the load.

And, here’s a common trap to avoid. There are three categories of workers: superstars, middle stars and falling stars. Managers far too often give superstars increasing amounts of work to do while taking away the work from the falling stars. This rewards the falling stars by giving them less work to do for the same pay while your superstars are being overworked. Flip this model upside down! Instead of lowering the bar to accommodate falling stars, raise the bar and reward your superstars.

The Do Right Rule

Do the right thing, even if no one is watching – and even when doing so is hard. It’s your job to establish a code of behavior and to protect your integrity, which will help to build trust between you and your team. Also, do not make decisions when you’re in a crisis. Instead, implement previously-prepared plans as your response. Think of yourself as a pilot who sees a flashing warning light. He or she doesn’t ignore the light in the plane. Instead, the pilot troubleshoots, refers to a manual of potential fixes and then implements the correct one to fix the problem before it becomes an emergency.

Hire Tough 

When you hire tough, managing becomes easier – a much better scenario than hiring easy and managing tough. The right people can be your greatest asset, while the wrong people are your biggest liability. Here are hiring tips:

  • Always plan your interviews ahead of time.
  • Develop your questions and then practice the order in which you ask them.
  • Hire using the rule of three: interview at least three people for each position, see each person three times, and have three people evaluate them.
  • When you interview someone multiple times, schedule them for different times of the day. You will be working with someone all day so seeing them at different times for an interview is useful.
  • Never lower your standards to fill a spot. Finding the right person is more important than filling a hole.
  • Ultimately, make it an honor to work for your team.

Do Less or Work Faster 

You can’t add time to your day so, to be more efficient, you either have to do less or work faster. To accomplish the latter, you’ll need to implement strategies to make better use of your time. Here are examples:

  • First, spend uninterrupted planning time every day. This allows you to be organized in how you spend your time.
  • Next, clean your desk. A cluttered desk doesn’t make you look busy or important. Instead, it makes you look unorganized and can lead to shuffling and reshuffling files or papers, which wastes time.
  • Only check email at scheduled times.
  • Organize similar activities into batches to reduce transition times.
  • Change your lunch time to 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. to avoid lines.
  • Keep meetings short and productive.

Here’s a big one: limit interruptions because time is wasted every time you are interrupted. If you can’t avoid an interruption, limit it. Sound impossible? Here’s one tip: if you stand up when someone comes in your office, that helps to keep the interruption shorter.

Buckets and Dippers

Picture each person as having a bucket of motivation. For some people, the bucket can be overflowing; for others, it is virtually empty and needs refilled. Also imagine each person with a dipper that represents negativity – or anything else that can drain someone else’s motivation.

An outstanding leader keeps everyone’s bucket full. But, how? Here are four ways to fill a bucket:

  1. Identify what’s important for people in order to do a good job and avoid creating confusion or being inconsistent.
  2. Provide feedback on how each employee is doing.
  3. Let employees know you care about them and the job they do.
  4. Also let them know how well they are doing as a team.

The best news is, the more you as a leader fill other buckets, the more your own bucket will be filled. And, interestingly enough, leaders actually need their employees more than their employees need their leaders. If you remove the leader, employees will typically still get 95% of their work done. If, though, you removed all the employees, the leader would probably only be able to get 10% of the work done. So employers should focus on helping employees be the very best they can be.

Enter the Learning Zone

Leaders need to focus on their own growth; otherwise, they will get stuck in their comfort zones where nothing changes. As a leader, you can picture yourself in the learning zone that has three rooms.

The first room is the reading room. Most leadership problems are not unique and wisdom can be found in leadership books. If leaders spent just ten minutes a day reading, they would have read 12 books over the course of a year, which could significantly increase knowledge on a subject.

The second room is the listening room. The main reasons executives fail are arrogance, ego and insensitivity. When leaders forget to take the time to listen to their teams, they become insensitive to their needs and desires. Also, use your listening time wisely. When you are in the car, for example, you could spend time listening to motivational or inspirational tapes instead of talk radio or music.

The third room is the giving room. Teach others what you have learned. The more leaders teach, the more they become accountable to what they are teaching. Set goals for yourself as a leader because goals are the strongest force for self-motivation – because they push you out of your comfort zone.

Finally, stay positive! Bad things happen to everyone, but the successful don’t get discouraged.