Success Sign  Hmmm… How do we get to this exit?

Most of the business community is playing defense right now.  With seismic shifts in the financial markets, stunning changes in consumer behavior, and layoffs all around, it’s easy to see why.  No wonder so many people are looking over their shoulders.

With that trend comes a tendency toward confusion and drift in our organizations.  For instance, I was speaking recently with a senior executive who had recently taken on responsibility for a critical strategic function in his company.  As he spoke with team members, he realized that they were pretty demoralized but he couldn’t immediately see why. Then it hit him – they had been working hard for over a year on high-profile projects, but they had never really understood what success looked like.  As a group of high achievers, they found this extremely frustrating.  They didn’t know if or when to celebrate, so the job had just turned into a long slow slog.

As I work with senior leaders and their teams, I’ve come to believe  that this is one of the most important (and surprisingly, neglected) roles of a leader – to define the “win.”  People desperately want to know what success looks like.  Yes, they want to know so that they can see if/when they may receive a bonus or promotion (or in today’s world, keep their position).  But even more, the people you really want on your team – the ones who have a self-motivating engine – just get off on achieving success.  And most of those high-achievers are very self-critical.  If you don’t help them identify and celebrate the achievement of a tangible goal, they will usually feel like they could/should have done more.

In times like these, it’s hard for leaders to step aside long enough to define the win – beyond “survive!!”  But it may just be more important now than it ever has been.