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What do you want?

To be successful as a leader, the above question must always serve as a guide. Leaders get things done through people, and people can’t help you if there is not a clear vision and understanding of what you want. Successful leaders spend much of their time painting a clear vision of what should be accomplished today, this week, this month and this year.

But first, the leader must have a clear vision of those things themselves. With the backdrop of their employer’s mission, vision and goals, the leaders should decide how those ideals manifest themselves within the workplace in actual behaviors.

Let’s take the concept of safety as an example. Most organizations have established a vision and mission that are well communicated throughout the workforce. The leader converts those ideals into safe work behaviors through effective safety meetings, observing workplace behaviors, providing the proper safety equipment, and discussing safety with others formally and informally. Successful leaders reinforce this and use their interactions with the workforce to keep the message alive and the organization moving closer to, rather than further from, the safety goal.

Difficulties can occur when we turn our attention to more nebulous things like quality, productivity and culture. Generally, organizations have messages that promote these concepts, but these messages often do not get the “airplay” in formal and informal communication situations among leadership and the workforce.

Sure, we want high-quality work, but “good enough” saves money. We absolutely want high productivity, but sometimes it can become, “this job needs to last all week, okay.” Our organization prides itself on being open and honest, but business tells us that certain things must remain secret. This real-life incongruency can cause the leader to withdraw and just go with the flow. Emotional energy gets spent avoiding, shifting blame and laying low. Yuck!

What can you do? How do you get what you want?

First ask yourself what you want in terms of quality, productivity and culture. Make a written list of the behaviors that would be evident in the workplace.

Next, discuss this list with your workforce. Ask them what they want and listen. Make notes and continue to ask these questions. Have these discussions as part of your daily kick-off meetings, taking one idea and asking the best way to make that happen.

Catch people doing things that you want. Make a concerted effort to walk the jobsite and look for your people doing things that you want and recognize them for it. Tell them why it’s important and how they are contributing to the organization’s success.

Lastly, keep asking questions. Listen to the answers, ask more questions, use the feedback to adjust your behavior and keep recognizing the things you want.

About the author: Alan R. Crnko is an Alliance Safety Council board member and business consultant in the Baton Rouge, LA area. He has spent his career providing workforce development services. He can be contacted at