President Obama's recent festival of apologies over the bumpy start to healthcare.gov underlines why it's important to know and manage the more typical reasons leaders fall down. Such faults point us to better leadership, and better leaders can make a better world. This is a key premise of my work as an executive coach.
Yet among 650+ published and posted pieces on leadership, many of which came from the headlines of my own career as an executive and coaching others, I realized I've mostly covered strengths.
Sifting through many hours of notes, it's clear to me the major leadership weaknesses boil down to 10 themes, the first three of which I take from Bob Anderson's work on the Leadership Circle, which has proven to be an incredibly relevant and insightful tool. The remainder is taken from many experiences and engagements.
For each of these I've outlined the weakness, it's impact, and added the "learning edge" which suggests that better, more developmental direction needed to make for a better world of leaders.
Here They Are
1: Distancing, being arrogant, or standing apart from those you lead. In doing so, you disengage, sub-optimize, and ultimately shut your best people up, and shut them down. Beyond that, arrogance often leads to over-promising and under-delivering. Learning edge: to be more candid and ultimately more authentic / humble / and to some extent more vulnerable.
2: Leading to please others, to be liked, likable, fit in, wanted, loved. Good news is there's lots of "nice" to go around. Bad news, such leaders often focus more on people than results. Learning edge: to be more focused on achieving results, personal and leadership accountability, holding others accountable, courage when it comes to performance issues, being decisive, and making harder choices.
3: Leading by being autocratic, directive, perfectionist and/or hypercritical. You get things done, but the cost to yourself and your team tends to lead to burnout and attrition, diminishing potential returns over time. Learning edge: to be more collaborative, kind, trusting of your team, accepting of small failures, allowing for diversity of thought and action, letting go and delegating, understanding that good enough is often good enough.
4: Not delivering good results in a timely manner. One of my CEO clients and I made up a term for his board: "HFN" which means "Hit your f&^king numbers." Good and great leaders need to guide the right people to deliver intended results within expected times and budgets. Learning edge: focus more on accountability, tasks, processes, people, and outcomes than on other things, particularly when results are in jeopardy.
5: Leading through incongruity or hypocrisy; not doing what you say, or saying one thing and doing another. Learning edge: to take your own advice before giving it; to find your own ability to walk your talk, and show the way by doing rather than saying. Being true to yourself and your values, and consistent about them with your people.
6: Tendency to be complacent, stop learning, over-invest in the status quo, or let yourself off the hook too often / too easily. Learning edge: realizing that challenge and striving are good for the heart and soul, and not to be avoided. Seeing that perhaps you've gone to sleep in your work, and finding ways to awaken what you love or could love about your professional life -- whether that's a job or career change, a new / different role, or simply coming to terms with the fact that standing still is no longer enough.
7: Over-optimism about people, strategies, or tactics: Hanging on to lower-performing people and strategies for too long. Learning edge: recognize the grace in realism - in seeing things accurately as they are versus how they "could" or "should" be. Look at the meaning of "loyalty" to a cause or person, and recognize the inherent limitations of loyalty when remaining "loyal" to someone or something is causing issues for others or your organization overall.
8: Over-pessimism about people, strategies or tactics -- treating them like office furniture to be moved and discarded too easily. Learning edge: greater patience for people, strategies and tactics to unfold and come to into their own. Honoring the need to make tough choices when and if all reasonable efforts have been given, while recognizing the importance of fostering potential until then.
9: Lacking emotional intelligence: Problems with access to a range of your own feelings, and letting those feelings lead you to important insights about yourself and others. Learning edge: do the introspection and mental and/or emotional healing work needed to get yourself to access a greater range and balance in your own feelings.
10: Lacking clarity about impact on others, limiting abilities to influence, adapt to culture, and "fit in" organizationally and impersonally. Somewhat related to emotional intelligence, this can come across as lack of atunement, or be seen as "tone deaf" or "failing to read the room." Learning edge: understanding that your impact on others is as important as most other aspects of your work. Self-observe and self-correct in real time, by asking the question (and getting feedback from colleagues/others) - how am I coming across? When best to assert, listen, or inquire? What's my role here? What's needed here?
Tackling any or all of these, or helping others do so, can indeed make the world a better place.
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