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The Leadership E-Factor

“Meaning does not happen to you – you create it”.  – Tom Rath


For today’s leaders to be genuinely successful now and into the future, I believe that there are four critical dimensions to establish within your workplace. These four dimensions are being Efficient, Effective, Engaged and Entrepreneurial, which together make up the Leadership E-Factor.

I initially created the E-Factor model to give my Proteus colleagues a roadmap and a challenge to ensure we are excelling in all four dimensions across our business. They loved it so much, that the response was ‘we need to share this with our clients’, to help them gain clarity on why the E-Factor is so important for their organisations.

At Proteus we have the privilege of working with many clients helping them to achieve great things. Helping people to take back the controls in a fast paced world of digital disruption and distractions is difficult. Clients tell us that establishing a successful approach can be elusive, as they are feeling busy, rushed and overwhelmed. They often wonder what the important foundations to focus on are and struggle to gain clarity about the critical success factors.

So let’s look at the four dimensions and while we do that, rate not only yourself as a leader, but more importantly assess how robust your organisation is in each of the four E-Factors.

1. Efficiency

Efficiency is about doing things in an optimal way, or doing things in the fastest and least expensive way possible. Being efficient is about having great systems and automating everything that we can to save time and money, while avoiding mistakes.

Metaphorically, efficiency is about operating physically at the optimum level.

When we think about the birthplace of efficiency we often refer to the industrial age and the poster child, Henry Ford. The Ford mantra was doing ‘More, Cheaper, Better, Faster’. Unfortunately, efficiency is now often associated with micromanagement and managers being obsessive about doing everything efficiently, just for the sake of it. As the saying goes ‘it may have been done optimally – but it was the wrong thing to be focussing on!’

Richard Carlson, an American Author, Psychotherapist and Motivational Speaker famously said “don’t sweat the small stuff” and his book had a real crack at people obsessing about the little details. However, I would like to challenge his advice and argue that being efficient is now more critical than ever. In fact, to gain success you actually do need to sweat the small stuff and obsess about the detail. But it is the right details that matter, and the details that matter is serving others.

Efficiency in our post-industrial age needs to be both ‘high tech and high touch’. In our time-poor world the great companies are the ones who ‘hack the system’, by automating everything they can technically, to make our life easier through efficiencies, while simultaneously sweating the details with their high touch service.

Efficiency done the right way means you care. Think about the companies that you love, the restaurant that you frequent, the websites that you trust to buy online from, the stall at the market you always go back to. It’s all because they sweat the service details, they make it easy for you and they dare to care about the little things.

Look at the questions below and then rate yourself and your organisation in Efficiency:

How much more can you automate?

How can you hack the system to provide better service?

How can you make ‘more, cheaper, better, faster’ for a service competitive advantage – not a ‘race to the bottom’?

How do you ‘sweat’ more of the ‘small stuff’ to show you care?

How do you ensure you are operating physically at the optimum level?

2. Effectiveness

Effectiveness is about doing the right task, completing the right activities and achieving the right goals. Metaphorically effectiveness is about operating mentally at the optimum level.

Peter Drucker, the 20th Century uber thought leader, who arguably was responsible for making the transition from the efficient industrial mindset to the ‘knowledge age’ famously said, ‘management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things’. However, people mistakenly think
this quote means that effectiveness trumps efficiency or that efficiency is
no longer required, but no, you need
to do both well.

The real power in being effective (doing the right things) in today’s environment is about being ethical or being a principle-based leader.

We all know in our heart of hearts, what the right thing to do ethically is in any given situation. Whether it’s to have a tough conversation, kill off a redundant product or service, automate an old approach, say NO, give honest feedback, or to start something new… this all requires us to be ethically effective.

So here’s the challenge, do we stop, pause and create the space to ask that deeper question, ‘what is the right thing to do here, right now that is ethical?’ Am I prepared to take a short-term hit and unsettle some people now, by doing the right thing for the greater good with long-term sustainable results?

Effectiveness can be done quickly by recalibrating your mental state daily to do the right thing. This one small daily habit will require little effort, but it will give you massive rewards.

Look at the questions below and rate yourself and your organisation in Effectiveness:

What is the most important thing to work on now?

What things do you need to push the ‘pause button’ on to stop and think, what’s right?

Is what you are doing Ethical?

How do you ensure you are operating mentally at the optimum level?

3. Engaged

Engagement is that rarified state when people are in sync with their company’s purpose, where they bring not only their technical skills to the table but are fully immersed as a person. It’s when your people are emotionally present, group cohesion thrives and where people bring their discretionary thinking and efforts everyday. Metaphorically, being engaged is about operating emotionally at the optimum level.

Engagement is probably the number one challenge for leaders because traditionally we are bad at engaging our people. In fact, the current global engagement rates are disastrous, which is why HR professionals currently obsess about staff engagement.

Have a look at the 2013 Gallup Global Results: ‘The bulk of employees worldwide – 63% – are “not engaged,” meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in organisational goals or outcomes.’

Firstly, let’s look at what engagement is not. It’s not about having a monthly BBQ, wearing jeans on Friday or setting up a table tennis table or beanbags in your office! Engagement is also not about empowerment, as empowerment by nature implies that you still hold the power and therefore this tactic is paternalistic ‘I will give you empowerment – but I can take it back if I choose to’. Seriously, you don’t need to empower people, you need to engage with them and tap into what motivates and drives them.

My favourite expert on the topic of engagement is Tom Rath, where his research discovers that ‘of all the events that engage people at work, the single most important – by far – is simply making progress in meaningful work’. This may appear counter-intuitive, but progress is the key to staff engagement.

If making progress in meaningful work is the key to engagement then we need to ‘game it up’ and as the ‘gamification’ expert Dr. Jason Fox tells us ‘a great game is goal driven, challenge intense and feedback rich, geared towards progress’.

What this means is that we need to be crystal clear about the end goal, then both challenge and coach our people towards progress and have a clear scoreboard where everyone can see and celebrate progress.

I would strongly add that being engaged also means being present. Being present is the 21st century’s leadership currency for engagement in our highly distracted world. The great news is that while paying attention does require a little effort (turn off your smartphones!) the rewards are enormous.

Look at the questions below and then rate yourself and your organisation in Engagement:

What does a great scoreboard look like and how do you ensure progress is being measured and celebrated?

How can you bring ‘gamification’ into your work?

How can you stay more ‘present’ and kill off distraction?

How do you ensure you are operating emotionally at the optimum level?

4. Entrepreneurial

The final dimension, Entrepreneurial, is probably the most important E-Factor. Being entrepreneurial is about moving away from operational to being more strategic. As the small business guru Michael Gerber and author of the E-Myth stated – leaders and entrepreneurs need to ‘work on your business – not in it!’

Metaphorically, entrepreneurship is about operating spiritually (or on purpose) at the optimum level. Simon Sinek famously said that ‘people don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it’ and that’s what entrepreneurs know intrinsically – their WHY.

Being entrepreneurial is about combining creative ideas with the innovation space in making those ideas come to fruition. In our volatile times, workplaces more than ever need people willing to innovate with an entrepreneurial spirit and mindset, where the norm is to embrace the new and being prepared to change before change is even necessary!

The great news is that we can all be entrepreneurs and bring innovation into our everyday workplace. In simple terms, there are three ways to innovate; remove what’s unnecessary, refine what you have or reinvent the new.

The key to being innovative is to stop bench marking and stop likening yourself to your competitors, at best this mindset makes you become mediocre and at worst you will quickly become redundant. Author Peter Bregman said it perfectly, ‘trying to distinguish ourselves by being the same as others, only better, is hard to do and even harder to sustain’ and therefore ‘it’s simply easier to be different’.

So don’t go for just better, go for different. Get inspired by companies outside of your industries and start removing what’s redundant, refine your energy away from the unimportant areas and reinvent your area of strengths by creating things that no one else can replicate.

Elizabeth Gilbert, in her famous TED Talk on finding ‘your elusive creative genius’ said that innovative ideas knock on your door and you need to grab them or they will find someone else. Then GET to WORK! ‘Because at work is where we can truly do remarkable things, make a difference and transform’.

Look at the questions below and then rate yourself and your organisation in being Entrepreneurs:

What is your WHY (your purpose)?

What makes you different –
not just better?

How do you allow for entrepreneurs to shine?

What can you Remove, Refine
& Reinvent?

How do you ensure you are operating, on purpose, at the optimum level?

So there you have it, the four critical elements of becoming Efficient, Effective, Engaged and Entrepreneurial, which together make up the Leadership E-Factor.

Workplaces will continue to be fluid, with porous and blurred boundaries, where we are constantly on and always available in a 24/7 world! The solution to surviving and thriving in our digital disruptive world of distractions is to immerse yourself in the right E-Factor dimension at the right time, while ensuring that you have a team that can excel in all four areas.

The great news is that you don’t have to be individually brilliant in all four. But your organisation does! So embrace the E-Factor and share it with your team to become a robust and resilient company, now and into the future.

Richard Dore is the Co-CEO at Proteus Leadership.

“We need to inoculate ourselves from disruption – move from entertainment to education – where learning trumps leisure.”  – Robin Sharma