“ You generally hear that what a man doesn’t know doesn’t hurt him, but in business what a man doesn’t know does hurt. ” — E.S. Lewis
We all do things that we wish we had not done. Those are usually called “Learning Experiences,” unless the event creates a catastrophic backlash or questions the leader’s integrity.
We can use whatever words we want to use, however, in some circumstances those words might create negative results that diminish the credibility of the leader. Choice of words is power, and choice of words is integrity, especially for the entrepreneur and thought leader who must establish a position of influence to support a niche.
Here is my list of behaviors that bring down leaders in any type of organization:
- Ignoring Signs of Problems: There are many reasons that leaders don’t respond to issues that arise in day-to-day activities. First, the leader is unsure of what to do when surprised by unexpected actions or results. The top reason I observe for leaders at any level not responding to unacceptable behaviors or actions is a fear of not being liked. The script that leaders play to themselves is that they must be liked for people to want to follow them. That’s not true. It’s important for people to respect the leader and trust in the leader’s abilities in order to be an active participant. A musical analogy for this dynamic is this: the conductor stops the rehearsal and points out that the trumpets are too loud and that the flutes are not in tune. The conductor presents these as facts and not as a personal criticism. The conductor then defines the prescription to the problem as follows: trumpets, take the dynamics down one level and, flutes, you are slightly flat. The players are not offended and the rest of the orchestra is not horrified. It’s just the reverse. If the conductor did not address the problems and provide the solution, then they would be considered a poor leader. Leaders in business could benefit from this model. Define the problem. Address it as soon as possible. Be factual and specific in the analysis of the problem, as well as the solution. It’s possible because the orchestra has established a culture of high-performance standards that everyone understands and supports. Tip: Deal with the problem as soon as it is noticed or the problem only gets worse, costs money, wastes time, and damages relationships.
- Cutting off Team Members with Ideas: It’s only the insecure leader who doesn’t want to gain the perspective of others on the team. If the leader can’t respect the opinion of team members, then it might be time to get a new team. Tip: Don’t attempt to be right all the time; instead, work to make others always right. This way, time and energy are available to focus on the top leadership priorities that only the top leader can do.
- Taking Back a Delegated Project: Nothing is more damaging to team spirit and personal initiative than the leader who takes back a project or assignment to do themselves. There are two messages implied in this action: 1) the person to whom it has been assigned is not capable of successfully completing the project; or 2) that there is no chance of anyone other than the leader being successful. This is a no-win action. There is a full set of leadership competencies tied to delegation. Most leaders do not even know that these competencies exist, and certainly don’t know that they are needed. Tip: Learn about the reciprocity of leadership over-functioning and team under-functioning. Teams under-function mostly because the leader does it all. What’s the point of even trying?
- Valuing Results and Not Individuals: Effective leadership depends on effective relationships. Value results. Emphasize results. Focus on results. And constantly work on relationships. Tip: Learn to develop healthy boundaries so relationships don’t depend on people “liking” the leader, but understanding roles and responsibilities along with the leader’s vision for the organization. People must understand the “why” before they care about the “what.” Be good at defining the “why.”
- Denying the Problems that You Created: My assessment of many problems in any group emotional system, especially in business, is that the leader unknowingly sets up problems and, because of their lack of awareness of their role in the problem, conflict, confusion, etc., they deny any part in the situation. That’s simply a gap in knowledge and awareness for the leader. First of all, in any situation involving conflict, confusion, and team dysfunction, everyone plays a role. It’s usually the leader who has the primary role in the situation. In order to avoid making things worse, look in the mirror before blaming others for the problem. Having a personal leadership coach who is aware of the subtle interactions in group emotional systems has been a real value to me in my work. I coach entrepreneurs and corporate executives, and my ability to provide value to others is greatly enhanced by having a coach myself. As Covey says in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Sharpen the Saw.” Tip: Always work on relationships and always work on yourself – for both skills and systems.
In summary, we as leaders cannot point fingers for failure anywhere other than at ourselves. Certainly, we have others who challenge us and economic trends that cause us to rethink strategies, but our response either elevates us as leaders or makes those situations worse. Continuing to work on personal capacity building, and knowledge about organizational functioning as group emotional process, will guide us in managing self and in making better decisions. This is especially true for start-up businesses and early-stage entrepreneurs who have the opportunity to build and lead an efficient collaborative culture and to embed the excellence of performance into that culture, to inspire and equip leaders on teams to surpass expectations.
The Transformational Leadership Strategist
(c) 2014 Hugh Ballou. All rights reserved.