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Move over, management

Empower your front line so you can focus on the big picture

Leaders are challenged to improve and grow their business, but too often, they find themselves mired in operational details and daily issues, leaving no time to pursue bold visions. In his book “The Fearless Front Line: The Key to Liberating Leaders to Improve and Grow Their Business,” author Ray Attiyah challenges leaders to set a standard of fearlessness where frontline workers have an “I run this place!” mindset that reflects pride and ownership of their critical role. “This liberates leaders to focus on the big picture, bold strategies and how to grow the business,” he says.

In most companies, nearly everyone is toiling with the same goal: keep the systems and processes in check and get the product — any product — out the door. The systems and processes themselves often seem like the primary focus of the organization. Managers and frontline employees (and top executives and sometimes even the CEO) are tangled up in running the day-to-day aspects of the business (or what Attiyah calls “the Run”).

The key is liberating leaders, and the precondition for liberating leaders is having a front line that can operate reliably, excellently and independently day in and day out every day of the week of every year. “The Run needs to be rock solid — perpetually,” he says.

But transitioning the leadership of the Run to the front line is rarely as easy as simply saying it needs to occur. Attiyah offers three practical ways to shape the leadership culture you want to pervade the Run:

Raise the bar of excellence by investing in top performers and removing obstacles that frustrate them. Most work teams are comprised of 10 percent performers, 80 percent followers and 10 percent draggers. Frontline leaders invest the majority of their time empowering top performers rather than trying to remediate the draggers. When a front line’s top performers are free to naturally pursue excellence, their actions and behaviors become a standard for the followers and draggers.

Foster quick-win success by removing frustrations and making meaningful changes quickly to bolster team confidence, enthusiasm and trust. The most successful quick wins are those that resolve the problems people have been managing around on a daily basis. When teams organize around an improvement effort that can be achieved with almost guaranteed success and in a relatively short time frame, team members experience near-instant gratification for their efforts. Remove obstacles in the Run. The easiest question to uncover them: What are your biggest obstacles on a daily basis?

Implement daily huddles to foster a positive “what went well” environment, communicate your standards of performance and create a simple touch point for communicating status of reactive improvements. Daily huddles produce behavior modeling, communi­cation in a common language, and a raised bar of excellence.

When your entire team is involved and engaged, they become stakeholders in their outcomes and the responsibility for those outcomes is shared.  

Ray Attiyah is founder and chief innovation officer of Definity Partners (DefinityPartners.com), a training, process and leadership improvement firm. “The Fearless Front Line: The Key to Liberating Leaders to Improve and Grow Their Business” is published by Bibliomotion (bibliomotion.com).