A large part of running the operations of a company is reducing the friction for others to get work done.
Work can have friction because of the time it takes to search for information, or the difficultly in accomplishing tasks. Sometimes it is related to how decisions are made, and other times it has to do with the tools that are used. Whether as a small business owner, or COO of a larger organization, you would see great results in reducing the friction involved for your people to get their work done.
Once you define part of your role as reducing friction, you will start to see areas where people may be frustrated, held back, blocked, or simply not wanted to muster up the energy to accomplish something. Use these observations as clues that there is friction there, and look for alternatives and helps. There will always be an easier way to do things, and problem with how they are currently done, but being on the constant look out for how to make it easier for your people to get things done will result in a great operation over time.
A popular axiom today is that one of the key roles a CEO has is that of culture. While I agree with this, I also believe that any head of operations (again, whether this is a manager, COO, or small business owner) has incredible affect on the culture of an organization.
If key knowledge workers are tied up in meetings they will be frustrated and feel overwhelmed with work, with little time to accomplish it. If the tools are not adequate to get the job done, there will be exhaustion in completing tasks.
Keeping people engaged and moving requires the persistent focus on operational friction, and reducing how hard it is for individuals to decide, to accomplish, to communicate, and to move forward; in a word, to get work done.
A great operational leader reduces and removes friction for people to get their best work done, and helps them work seamlessly without reduced energy or excitement.
If you see something draining your people, try to reduce or eliminate it.
A great operational leader tends to be a tinkerer, someone who is watching, tweaking, and improving. They are detailed focused and love removing the issues, capitalizing on leverage points, and building the "machine" that is your business.
For this reason they are a great compliment to a visionary CEO. While you want a visionary and communicator to lead your company, these traits can run counter to what you need for excellent operations. You want someone internally focused rather than external focused. You need detail and minutia rather than grand and expanding. A great operational lead is entrepreneurial, but they use this in their approach to building a better company from the inside out.
You can also use friction in positive ways as well. If there are paths and methods you want people to avoid, you can create friction for doing or using those methods. You can remove software integrations, cut back on access, and make it harder to accomplish tasks in ways you don't want them done. This is analogous to creating policies through economics rather than law.
Most people are like water, they will take the path of least resistance to get something done. So if you would like it done a certain way, make it easy to do the right way, and hard to the wrong way.