A Simple Tool to Help SMEs Avoid Unproductive Leadership

People don’t change jobs, they change leaders. And for SMEs, the impacts of ineffective leadership and high turnover have a significant and ongoing effect on productivity and growth — which can be avoided much easier than you may think.

We’re not just talking about the need for a positive culture and bringing the best out of people. We’re talking about vital aspects of leadership often overlooked, especially in SMEs. And with a career spanning two decades in leadership roles at the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) before dedicating my life to consulting and writing about leadership best practice, it’s fair to say I’ve seen plenty of leadership blunders… Leadership is not always seen as a priority in SMEs yet it should be. Small-team environments mean people are closer to each other, which demands stronger relationships. Leadership is entirely dependent upon relationships and in small team environments, things can go pear-shaped fast.

Many people think they’re good leaders (or that they’re just ‘so misunderstood!’) yet their staff turnover is high, productivity is low, people struggle to support and implement strategies, teams are segregated and input is withheld — all of which leads to unproductive cultural habits.

When our habits are damaging relationships, people will form their own unproductive habits to survive us. This stifles innovation, productivity and commitment. SMEs don’t have the capacity to absorb cultural issues as larger corporations do. They tend to move faster with the impact on operations and overall productivity being more significant. But alas, the solution is right under your nose. To change habits, you must change what people think. To do this, you must be conscious of what you are thinking, because what you think determines what actions you take, and those actions will influence what others think.

In short, if you’re still saying “do as I say and not as I do”, it’s time for a re-think. And to pivot away from this approach, here’s the smoking gun for truly effective leadership I adopted from my experience in the RAAF.

I’ve created The 15 Disciplines® of Ethical Leadership framework that focus on developing disciplined thoughts that result in disciplined actions. Each discipline has a checklist, which if you refer to frequently, your actions will develop into highly productive leadership habits. And yes, I did just say the C word: ‘checklist’. And I assure you aren’t just another ol’ group of checklists! They simplify the process of performing complex responsibilities by supporting the development of disciplined practice and behaviours and minimising the possibility of human error.

The result is consistently productive habits and reliably better outcomes. By having a set of checklists, you can consciously reflect on your leadership behaviours. Just like checklists in aviation, I believe there are disciplines people can implement that lead to highly productive leadership habits.

In my latest book, Ethics Trump Power, I expand on the disciplines from my first book, The 15 Disciplines® – The Essential Checklist for Productive Leaders and provide learning points for leaders to routinely reflect against their behaviours and practices to enable positive, productive leadership.

I see many SME leaders overfocused on the task at hand, which comes at the expense of relationships. This impacts people’s quality of life. Furthermore, they expect too much tolerance and forgiveness for their bad leadership practices. The great SME leaders are those who take a well-rounded approach to leadership by embracing all of The 15 Disciplines® of Ethical Leadership, not just a few.

Leadership is complex. To be consistent, one needs to be disciplined. Consistent reflection using checklists helps to simplify the process of performing complex responsibilities and enables ethical outcomes to be achieved without the need for power or punishment.