Leadership is very rarely about doing what’s easy. If the decision ends up on your desk it typically means no one else can or should be making it. As Harry Truman was fond of saying, “the buck stops here.” If you are delegating properly, then your people will feel empowered to step up and make most day to day decisions. If you are picking the right people, then they will be capable of using sound judgment and thinking through just about anything. However, some issues still do come down to leadership prerogative and accountability.
It seems like almost every day we read online or in print media about another famous person or business leader who commits self-sabotage. It’s almost as if they can’t help it. There is something about success which turns certain people against themselves. You would think getting to the top of the mountain in life would […]
Everyone should be mindful of their temptations. Temptation is an issue we all deal with. I don’t usually mix my faith which I deem to be a very personal issue with my leadership development work. And, I have no intention of radically changing course now, however what we read and study does affect us and […]
The biggest mistake leaders make is to think it is all about them. They believe that success or failure is a direct result of their own personal behavior rather than a team effort. Show me a successful leader and I will show you a person surrounded by good people who each do their own jobs exceedingly well. While it is common practice in this country to celebrate the individual, no one builds a high performing organization by themselves. This doesn’t mean that the leader isn’t an essential ingredient; however, he/she needs other ingredients to complete the recipe.
Over the years I’ve noticed that it is inexperienced or mediocre leaders who feel like they have to dominate all conversations. It’s almost as if what anyone else has to say has limited or no value and it is only their opinion that counts. We’ve all been in meetings where there is that one person who simply will not be quiet and yield the floor to others. They are also often prone to interrupting their colleagues before they can finish their thoughts and using obvious body language when the center of attention isn’t focused on them. This is bad enough when it is a peer but even worse when it is the actual leader of the group. Nobody likes a “know it all.”
Beware of putting yourself or anyone up on a pedestal. There are right ways and wrong ways to feed someone else’s or your own ego. Just because an individual has experienced significant success in one aspect of life, doesn’t mean they are equally competent in all other things human. It doesn’t do that person or you any good to blanket the praise. It is one thing to appreciate and respect individual accomplishment. It is another to think that similar success could be achieved in whatever else that person attempted. In fact, it can be dangerous as we heed advice or jump to conclusions about different situations based on who we choose as our role models. For example, Bruce Springsteen is a very talented songwriter and musician, but there is most likely a difference between his songwriting and his own reality. He is not a deity, he is a man. Thinking he has life all figured out isn’t fair to him or you. No one of that stature can ever live up to the hype.
Avoid being put on a pedestal by yourself or by others. I’ve seen good people get too full of themselves when they begin to view themselves as extra special and different from everyone else. In happens in all industries and in all sectors. Nonprofit leaders certainly aren’t excluded. It is never good for any of us to be surrounded by people who are too deferential. Success without humility typically leads to ego issues. I’m not saying we shouldn’t value or respect accomplishment, but we shouldn’t put a disproportionate emphasis on the attributes of the person. Superlative outcomes are usually the result of good timing, hard work and specialized focus not generic ability. In addition, doing good work that taps into your unique talents makes a positive difference in the lives of others should be enough of a reward. Don’t get too caught up with celebrating YOU.
There is alot of talk about compromise in the media lately especially as it pertains to our federal government. There is this general sense that if political leaders would just be reasonable then there is an easy pathway to finding common ground. While I am certainly a fan of win-win negotiations, I don’t always believe that compromise is the best course of action. Sometimes you have to stand on principle and do what you believe is right instead of what may be politically expedient. Courage can be a lonely place at times, but going against your core values/beliefs usually has much worse consequences. Some things should be non-negotiable.
Imagine if someone was rushed to the Emergency Room of a hospital with severe symptoms of something wrong and then decided to tell the doctor that that it was no big deal and then selectively shared information about their true physical state. You would think this person was being irresponsible with their health. This happens all the time in business. Leaders let their pride and ego get in the way and it prevents them form being forthright and honest at the very time they need to be. I’ve seen many a business go down the tubes that didn’t have to because the leader was slow to act, slow to ask for help and unwilling to face reality. Avoidance rarely works in business or life.
As you grow as a leader and start to have some success it’s important that you not get too full of yourself and remain somewhat humble. This is especially true as you begin to do more public speaking. While you certainly can, it’s not advisable to just say whatever is on your mind and believe you have all the answers. I’m often amazed how many people forget this fact. Otherwise smart people who have a lot to share with an audience kill their credibility with unwise or unnecessarily controversial statements. You have to know when to use your personal censor button.
When you lead others it’s about them not you. Many leaders struggle with this idea especially those with big egos. The truth is that without followers there isn’t a need for a leader. People need to see their own interests aligned with yours. In addition, there needs to be something that holds them together besides the strength of your personality, size of your brain, and/or level of your self-confidence.
When in doubt ask good questions and leverage the knowledge and experience of other people. There are few things less attractive about a leader than someone who acts like they know the answer when they don’t. Confidence can be a good attribute but hubris is not. People ultimately see through your words and pick up pretty quickly if you simply make it up as you go along. More importantly, those around you who do have the answers lose respect for you and begin to question everything you say.
In sports and in life, it doesn’t matter how much potential you have or how good you are, if your team/organization consistently loses or doesn’t live up to expectations. I’ve seen many capable and talented leaders stumble when it comes to getting results from others. It’s not always the smartest, most confident, and technically superior person who wins, but rather the leader who is able to get great results from average people. Leaders need to grow and leverage the capabilities of their team, continually develop their own skills sets, and step up in the clutch if they want to leave a legacy of winning and high performance.
We’ve all met people who seem to argue for the sake of arguing and we also know how we typically feel about them. Some people just have to have to find flaws in everything and/or disagree to be disagreeable. Just like the parable of “the boy who cried wolf” if you are find fault with everything, then it begins to diminish how seriously people take your opinions as a whole. It’s one thing to have a different point of view. It’s quite another to always default to having a different perspective. There’s a fine line to being objectively critical and becoming a crank.
A weakness I often see in leaders is a belief that their job is to supply all the answers. They tend to dominate discussions and almost always want to have the last word. The problem is that no matter how smart and capable you are, you will always be limited by your own thinking and life experience. In addition, if you create an environment where everyone looks to you for answers, then you will hinder the growth and development of your employees and enable mediocre effort (and commitment).
I am worried that many of our leaders have become way too tactical and reactive these days. Instead of seeing the big picture they are getting mired in the details and forging ahead with actions that will have less than optimal impact on the problems/challenges they are trying to address. Actions should never drive strategy. Strategy should drive action. There are also rarely simple solutions to complicated issues. Sometimes you need to step back and actually think through what you are doing before you do it (especially in times of crisis).
“Pride does goeth before the fall.” It never ceases to amaze me how many people especially leaders can’t admit it when they are wrong. It’s almost as if the sheer fact of admitting their mistakes will make them weak and vulnerable to others. Our last president couldn’t even come up with one mistake when frequently queried about his handling of two major wars. In multiple press conferences you could tell there was an inner struggle going within him and defensiveness about what to say or not say. The press was quite frankly stunned by his lack of a response. I don’t for second believe he didn’t have anything to offer he just couldn’t be seen publicly doing it.
Maybe it’s my age and being more aware of things, but I am convinced there are more egocentric people today than when I was a younger. You meet people like this all the time. Whatever happens is always about them regardless of the situation and its consequences (for others). Sadly, they have been buoyed in their attitudes by a cottage industry of self-help gurus and marketers that continue to reinforce the worldview that everyone should be the center of their own universe and each individual’s primary concern should be their own happiness and self-satisfaction.
It never ceases to amaze me how much a group of people can get accomplished if no one individual cares too much about who gets the credit. However, in most organizations there is far too much wasted energy on “ego” related issues and worrying about the wrong things. And, it often starts at the top of the organization. Maybe it’s because our society has put too much emphasis on fame and celebrity. Everyone wants to be somebody, but they are not quite sure what that means or what it costs or the right way to get there. Consequently, we have become much too concerned with what others are doing and how we stack up against their efforts.
I know a lot of people get tired of sports metaphors for business and life, but they can still sometimes ring true. Everything Aaron did well is applicable in our personal and professional lives. I didn’t really have a horse in this race as a fan. I just wanted to see a good game and my expectations were exceeded. We also observed one of the best leadership performances I can remember in a long time on a football field (and during the two weeks leading up to the game).
Your own ego can be your biggest obstacle to success in a group context; don’t worry about who gets the credit or speaks the most, rather focus on generating the best ideas and getting results.