The LeadershipZone for better leadership

Get into the leadershipzone – practical tools and ideas you can use to improve your effectiveness as a leader or manager

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leadershipzone fundamentals 4 & 5: your ‘Project Control’ room

One of my coaching clients took me to see his new pride and joy: a gleaming control room to monitor every inch of a regional railway.  The flashing lights, overhead computers and intensely focused engineers was a joy to behold: it brought out my ‘inner control freak’ in a big way.  It also reminded me of being privileged to be shown around an Air Traffic Control centre one evening, when Concorde passed through the airspace just before entering it reached the speed that creates a ‘sonic boom’ over the Atlantic Ocean.

These control rooms had three key purposes: to oversee activities within certain geographical areas, ensure the smooth running of activities within those areas and optimise the safety of the people working in them.  When we’re drowning under a sea of paper and a range of complex priorities, having space to set them out improves working conditions. 

I’m not going all ‘feng shui’ and New Age here; being able to define the zone within which your leadership takes place is one fundamental requirement of your leadership.  It will lead to better definitions of  your vision, mission and values – because it’s clear what’s in scope and what’s out.

A dedicated ‘Project Control Room’  where the WHOLE project can be laid out and left out – visually or physically, has a range of valuable uses.  People can see what’s happening and –

  • Progress can be monitored
  • Visitors can be briefed and ideas presented
  • Issues and challenges can be debated
  • It improves communications and decision-making
  • Delegation and decisions are easier

It doesn’t have to be just transport systems that use control rooms; complex IT systems or projects, hospital services, projects that rely on a number of people across technologies or departments.  Imagine walking into a hospital and seeing the flow of patients out of the Emergency Waiting Room into treatment areas; reducing bottlenecks and saving lives.

Having a control room within which to keep track of these key purposes is an undoubted luxury, but when I saw the Network Control Room, it brought home to me how valuable this space would be to other leaders.

Control rooms don’t have to take up physical space: they can be shared on the internet, reside on flip chart paper or similar temporary methods.  I’ve just bought some rolls of reusable magic flipcharts which stick to any wall.  I’m going to use it to map out my next book, laying it out at eye level around the room I’m using in Italy to achieve the best flow for my ideas.  My plan is then to capture the final version on the computer, roll up the charts, bring them back and re-use them.

By providing technologies which allow your team to map out their ideas, they can share and debate them with colleagues – whether in person, or via a host of modern telecommunications channels.

What has this to do with leadership?  By providing our people with the tools they need to do their job we’re delivering on the fundamentals of engagement: people trust us more when we provide what they need to be successful.  they’re better equipped, both in practical terms and emotionally, to deliver on their role.


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LeadershipZone Fundamental No. 2: a place to innovate

We’re still looking at the fundamentals of what it takes to create a zone in which leaders can work effectively and the team can deliver.  You know the phrase: ‘in working order, on time, to budget’ – and of course, our stakeholders want to have their say too-

  • Leaders pray:  ‘please let it be successful with minimum hassle’;
  • Customers say:  ‘make it easy to get it working – usable/intuitive – and affordable’
  • The Board demands: ‘make us look good in the eyes of our investors’
  • Shareholders ask: ‘will it create higher dividends?’
  • Society asks: ‘is it safe, and will it meet our needs?’

We’re faced with the daily reality that the LeadershipZone is a complex place, where competing demands come at us from many directions.  Yesterday we looked at the need to focus; today we’re going in the opposite direction – by providing space for your team and your stakeholders to think widely?

We’ve touched on the need for diversity in whatever we do in the LeadershipZone.    ‘Space‘ means different things to people, depending on how we best interact, share ideas and chill out.  And as social beings, we need to network, exchange ideas, support each other and debate together – it’s a vital part of our make-up.

If you are going to use a meeting room for your problem solving, think about your purpose before you book the first space that comes available.  If your meeting’s purpose is task oriented, and you have a clear outcome that you’re working towards, pick a room with a lower ceiling.  This focuses peoples’ attention.  Shakespeare was, as ever, ahead of us on this one – Hamlet said:

“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space”

wide open spaces inspire innovation and creativity

By contrast, the outdoors is a place to chill and get creative.  Personally I love walking and talking through ideas; many of my coaching clients like to have their sessions in the open air: as well as getting some fresh oxygen to the brain, the surroundings create stimulus.  If it’s blue-sky indoor thinking you’re after, find a room with a high ceiling – church halls and older buildings often have these.  Wider spaces stimulate creativity and innovation.

One final point of difference to watch out for is peoples’ attention spans: this varies from person to person.  Educationalists are just beginning to realise that younger people need shorter lessons, mixed with physical, 0utdoor activity to contrast with the focused learning.

Be aware of the length of your own ‘focus time’ first and foremost; and then observe your colleagues.  Younger, or less mature people, may have shorter attention spans, with higher demands for breaks.  Notice when people start to show signs of boredom, impatience or humour – this is often a signal for ‘time to refresh ourselves’.

While some of us may stay in the focused zone after one, or even two, hours, leadership can only work on the convoy principal: you need to take everyone with you – and that may mean adapting to their pace.