Lead From The Front

A leader must lead from the front and not from the sidelines. True leaders provide clear direction and then take the first steps down the chosen path. From the senior team and other senior executives to the program manager and the technician, employees at every level must have intimate knowledge of the CEO’s vision and objectives for the enterprise. The ancient texts said it best: “If the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will listen?”

At Telstra, for example, our vision was “To change the game by delivering a differentiated customer experience that is simple, integrated, intuitive, and fast.” That vision focused our attention on the customer experience. It was about putting the customer at the center of how we organized ourselves and how we operated to deliver products and services that reflected needs-based segmentation. The customer experience – not a product, system, technology, or network – was at the center.

Our vision was about developing a new business model around media-communications, and this vision required an end-to-end transformation. There were alternatives to this approach. There were political as well as business pressures for Telstra to spin off its directories business or its cable TV business. We could have stemmed the bleeding short-term by patching up old networks. We could have made selective investments in new technologies or overseas. But we didn’t. Our vision was to serve Australia’s people and its cultural and commercial interests by building a game-changing media-communications business.

The requirements we laid out were the following:

  • A telco with next generation networks;
  • A telco with integrated businesses and services; and, ultimately,
  • The world’s first fully-integrated media-comms business that could give consumers and enterprises access to services that would be simple, integrated, intuitive, and fast.

Providing clear direction is achieved by sound planning, an inspiring vision, and the effective communication of that vision to employees, shareholders, and the public. However, vision and planning must be coupled with timely and effective execution, with translating words into deeds, and with making things happen that give life to the vision. Execution according to a plan is essential, but execution that can adjust in real time to changing circumstances in vendor relations, the marketplace, or other elements of the business environment is what separates winners from losers.

I use a social technology I call the “Program Office” to make sure that complex management interventions are delivered on time, on budget, work as they should, and are fixed when they don’t. At Telstra, the Program Office was used to chart progress, provide clear visibility to the status of transformation milestones, and to focus extra management talent and technical skills where necessary to put things back on track. I used the Program Office, which included a team of 30 senior managers with many and varied talents and skills, so I could make sure the trains ran on time in a company where we began with 52,705 employees who were seeking leadership and took full advantage of assistance to make things work – to fix the networks, product development, customer care, and everything else that needed re-engineering to make sure we delivered on our promises.