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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • June 2, 2013
  • minute read

3 Things No-one Tells You You're Screwing Up 

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A version of this article first appeared in Inc.com

Given the ubiquity these days of 360 assessments, rounded feedback and executive coaching, you’d think that there would be little room for unexposed flaws in a business leader.

You’d be wrong. Due to a combination of taboo, sensitivity, and downright fear, there are many things that business leaders screw up regularly, and which they rarely get called on – however open, honest and transparent the company culture. Here are the three subjects which I see business leaders most commonly screw up on, without anyone ever telling them:

1. Family.

Whether it’s harmless Uncle Joe who has managed the warehouse since time immemorial; brash son-in-low Juan who thinks he’s god’s gift to Sales; niece Effie who passive-aggressively rules the roost in Accounting, or your spouse who has a de facto veto over every and any decision of import – whoever it is, you can bet no-one has told you straight just how horrendously incompetent your family’s contributions to the business are.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to you, because you know your family members are doing a bang-up job. Which, of course, is why no-one dares tell you the truth. 

2. Arrogance.

There is one trait that assessments and other tools seem to rarely catch in a leader: Arrogance. Its near-cousins, ‘Aggressiveness’ and ‘Drive’ often make an appearance, but rarely does a 360 report state the truth: you’re an arrogant son-of-a-(let’s say)-gun.

Maybe it’s the bare-facedness of the word, the force of it, the implication that not only are you this thing, but I don’t like you for it, that makes people turn away from using it.

Being aggressive or driven can – just – be interpreted positively, as attributes that help one succeed. Being arrogant is pretty much an out and out negative – which is why so few people will say it to your face.

Worried this might be you? That what you think of as aggressiveness and drive is actually arrogance? Just ask a few people ‘Am I arrogant?’. If you are, they won’t need to say anything. – their face will tell you all you need to know.

3. Over-staying.

You sit around in meetings way longer than you should – after a certain point, your team would really prefer you to leave and let them get on with it. You remain stolidly attached to a certain project long after it has any real hope of being successful. Because you grew up in sales, you still manage every sales meeting yourself.

Or, perhaps, you simply won’t vacate the seat you’re in and let a younger, or more qualified person take it. Nobody ever tells leaders when they are overstaying their welcome. (And not just in small and medium-sized businesses, either – corporate America is rife with boards that don’t have what it takes to push out directors and CEO’s who are long past their sell-by date).

Don’t be that leader. Watch for glassy eyes – the more people glaze over when you talk, the more likely it is that you’re not contributing much anymore. Oh, and one last tip: The people who will most quickly tell you you’ve overstayed your welcome in the business? Those incompetent family members. Ironic, huh?


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  1. Terrific post. So much of a high positional leader’s value is in judgment and instinct. The wisest ones have their own, internal signals on these kinds of thing. But so many–if not most–do not. Among other things, it’s a reminder of the importance of having a formal or informal council of elders or peers who will give unvarnished feedback at the right times. One who played that role in a historic way was Thomas Dewey. He died suddenly in 1971. He had been urged by numerous people to have a one-on-one with President Nixon, focusing on the excesses of some of Nixon’s more zealous staff. Given the flowering of the Watergate scandal shortly thereafter, one wonders if history might have been changed by such a meeting. As it was, Nixon lacked the kinds of self-knowledge and self-monitoring that were required for the presidency in that challenging historical moment.

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