A Chief Operation Officer’s effectiveness is 100 percent related to their ability to lead. Success means …
- Solving complex problems, implementing solutions, and driving change — no matter how big the obstacles
- Building good communication and collaboration across the organization
- Gaining the support of other leaders like the CEO and CFO, and harnessing their ability to drive change within the organization.
All these are important … but two critical keys in particular don’t get much press:
- Using the right Leadership Framework
- Asking the right questions.
Using the Right Leadership Framework
Although no two COO positions are exactly the same, there are guiding principles. Many COOs see their role as operational, but if you follow the LDI Leadership Framework (described in Great Leadership by Antony Bell), you’ll quickly realize there are two other critical dimensions, and any leader, especially a COO, needs to recognize these three distinct dimensions to their leadership:
Organizational Leadership. COOs must create and clarify direction, align the organization and resources in that direction, and sell and promote the message of the direction … CAS (Clarify, Align, and Sell).
- Operational Leadership. The COO must plan and shape processes, organize and control the operation, and measure, with problem solving … POM (Plan, Organize, and Measure).
- People Leadership. For those that report directly or indirectly to the COO, they must ensure the right people are in the right seat. This is accomplished by selecting and matching the right people, explaining and clarifying expectations, and motivating and developing … SEM (Select, Explain, and Motivate).
For many operationally minded COOs, this Framework helps them see the importance of the other two dimensions and where their leadership needs focus. They also need tools to develop all three dimensions, which brings us to the second key …
Asking the Right Questions
Each day is a new challenge, with new issues and constant room for improvement. Asking the right questions as you meet with people at every level will help you identify these issues more quickly. In his book The Coaching Habit, Michael Stanier states we can change the way we lead (forever) by simply using and applying seven core questions to get you to the answer your need:
Question 1: “What’s on your mind?”
Question 2: “And what else?”
Question 3:”What’s the real challenge here for you?”
Question 4: “What do you want?”
Question 5: “How can I help?”
Question 6: “If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?”
Question 7: “What was most useful for you?”
By talking with people at various levels, you will gain insight and gain a clear view into the decision-making processes. It can be helpful to aggregate and categorize this information to more clearly understand organization-wide versus unit-level issues.
Internally within key clients, I like to use surveys to get the right information. This information becomes data. The more measurable your questions, the more you will be able to articulate key challenges in a non-controversial way. Data is a great tool to illustrate both problems and improvements; it helps remove the negative emotions.
Be sure to prioritize your findings. Identify which tasks require your involvement and delegate the rest. To gain trust, be transparent, open, and solicit feedback. Once the issues reveal themselves, use your education and experience to bring effective solutions. And with your executive team make necessary adjustments to keep KPIs on track and keep your focus on executing the operating plan.
Use the right Leadership Framework and ask the right questions … that’s how you get to knock-out success as a COO.
Mitch Smith is EVP of LDI, and with a long record of successfully creating, building and selling companies, working both as a COO and as CEO, he has focused particularly not only on the kind of leadership he needs to exercise but also on helping others exercise the kind of leadership their roles require. This passion to help leaders be the best they possibly can is at the heart of the sentiments he expressed in these reflections.
LeaderDevelopment Inc. improves the performance of leaders at every level, transforming their teams to reach their true potential. The LDI Leadership FrameworkTM provides clarity, focus, and habits, helping leaders effectively navigate the three core areas of leadership:
- Organizational Leadership – leading the organization or department
- Operational Leadership – leading the tasks and operations within the organization or department
- People Leadership – bringing out the best in people within the organization or department
Our training is tailored to each organization, taking into account both its current challenges and its future goals. Classroom and team training is followed up and reinforced with individual LDI-Certified Coaching.
We are a diverse group of leadership experts, former senior business executives, former CEOs and entrepreneurs, executive coaches, senior HR executives, senior military officers, and psychologists.
These leadership “gurus” bring you a solid grasp of our transformational Leadership Framework, and the skills and resources to help you apply it.