John Spence, author ofAwesomely Simple: Essential Business Strategies for Turning Ideas into Action, says that there are four problems that CEOs consistently identify as the biggest challenges holding back the performance of their organizations:

  • Lack of a vivid and extremely well-communicated vision;
  • Lack of open, honest and courageous communication;
  • Lack of accountability;
  • Lack of disciplined execution.

While Spence’s informal survey was limited to CEOs in the for-profit sector, my experience in the social sector indicates that these same challenges dog not-for-profit organizations too. 

When asked what they need to focus on going forward to optimize the performance of their organizations, Spence says the CEOs offered these insights:

  • Relentlessly over-communicate a clear, compelling and focused vision for the future of the organization to all stakeholders.
  • Foster an environment that demands honest, transparent and courageous communication to develop high levels of trust and respect.
  • Establish specific and quantifiable standards of performance and then be rigorous — but not ruthless — in holding everyone accountable to meeting or exceeding the agreed upon standards.
  • Develop a culture of disciplined execution by establishing the systems, processes and checkpoints to ensure consistent, virtually flawless execution of all critical initiatives.

That’s good advice for leaders at all levels in every sort of organization.

Finally, Spence echoes Ken Blanchard’s observation that there is a huge difference between knowing what to do and actually doing it. Gaining knowledge is relatively easy, especially in this Information Age. Developing the focus and fortitude to execute an organization’s mission, vision and goals while continually developing its talent is what really separates exceptional leaders from mediocre ones.

Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute

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