4 Signs Your Leadership Is About to Come Apart
A version of this article first appeared at Inc.com.
Here’s a statement of the blindingly obvious: strong, effective leadership is better than weak, ineffective leadership. Thankfully, it’s usually obvious which is which – most of us can spot a strong leader from a weak one with relative ease.
The problem comes when a weak leader masquerades as a strong leader. Outwardly, they appear effective, dependable, on top of things. But look closely at what they believe to be ‘strong leadership’ and what you see is in fact a set of dangerous, destructive behaviors – behaviors which will eventually strangle the organization.
It’s one thing having to work alongside a weak leader who thinks otherwise. Much worse is to find out, painfully and over a long time, that the culprit is you – that the leadership traits and behaviors you’d thought were strengths are in fact the exact opposite, and that instead of leading your enterprise, like an unpinned grenade, you’re about to blow it up.
Time for some tough love. Here are the four most common behaviors of an ineffective leader who thinks otherwise. Recognize any?
1. You know everything.
My work involves talking with founder/owners and CEOs about their business, usually for hours, sometimes days at a time – and in doing so, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern: The weaker the leader, the more they know.
When I meet with weak or ineffective leaders, they can (and do) talk about their business for hours, uninterrupted and without assistance from others. There’s nothing they don’t know, no one they need to consult and no information that’s not to hand. The whole experience is like sitting with them in a goldfish bowl while the real world carries on outside.
Talking with truly effective leaders is just the opposite: they involve others when discussing their business. Whether it’s putting the VP Sales on speakerphone or wandering down the corridor to talk with the warehouse manager, strong leaders know they can’t – and shouldn’t – know everything about their business. They build strong teams and are proud to depend upon them.
2. You’re always busy.
Yes, running a business (or a division, department, project, group or team) is time-consuming – sometimes to the point of exhaustion.
No, it’s not a sign of leadership strength to be permanently over-scheduled and over-worked.
If you have no time to think – if you can’t recall the last time you took a walk around the block to clear your head, let alone the last full day when cleared your diary so you could review strategy at a 30,000-foot level – then you’re not truly leading. If you’re not taking time to set the strategic compass of your organization, who do you think is?
3. Your default perception of others is negative.
When truly effective leaders talk, one thing becomes noticeable: when discussing others – whether their employees, vendors or customers – the conversation typically trends toward the positive.
Strong leaders look for success in others. They focus on what has been done well, and seek to build on that success. Conversely, ineffective leaders’ opinions of others typically trend to the negative – they focus mostly on what has gone wrong, and spend most of their time ranging from mildly dissatisfied to irritated.
Strong leaders aren’t Pollyannas. They recognize and firmly correct failure or incompetence – but by default they expect competence and success, they enjoy pointing it out in others, and they celebrate it often.
4. You have only two modes of interaction.
Weak leaders (who think they’re strong) interact with direct reports in one of two ways: either they’re in charge, or they’re not there. If they’re in the room, they’re in charge.
Truly effective leaders have another string to their bow, a third way of interacting with their team: to be a resource for them. Genuinely strong leaders are confident enough in their position that they don’t need to always be at the head of the table. They can, when needed or useful, sit down as a peer and be just another voice around the table, even with those who report to them.
When was the last time you sat in on an operations or planning meeting, simply as a resource, and not as ‘the boss’? How did your team react? Were they comfortable and relaxed with you around, or did it all seem forced, a little like playacting?
In reviewing the four behaviors above, did you experience a sinking feeling of recognition in more than one? If so, it might be time to reverse course.
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