I want to preface this article by saying that I will be the first to admit that being a leader is very tough, especially considering the state of our economy, the task of letting employees go and the speed at which change is taking place. And…I too have my fair share of flaws.
However, it is critical, even during tough times, for leaders to take a step back and evaluate their leadership skills. And, this is really not for the leader to do. It is the job of board members, employees and the executive team to spend time giving feedback (a 360 degree review or a 360 interview) so that the leader gets a crystal clear picture of how he is perceived. And…believe me on this, 99% of a leader’s day is spent in “managing perceptions” of others.
If there is a perception out there that you don’t walk your talk or you just don’t have great people skills, then that is the perception from which you should begin a rigorous personal and leadership development plan. And, if you don’t address your flaws, you can hang yourself in a heartbeat! (Yes…I know that we all want to focus on strengths, but when it comes to leadership, you have to address the leadership elephant in the room, or you will spend your day watching your top talent coming in and out the ever-revolving door.)
So, in this blog today, I am going to lay out the five fatal flaws that I see leaders most often live with that can quickly pull a leader off track, lose credibility and at the end of the day…destroy a company or organization.
Fatal Flaw Number 1: INDECISIVENESS. I see this one every day…a leader is at the top of the decision making tree, and she is stuck…completely stuck! She spends her day on e-mail, stomping out fires and gathering more data so that the decision can be delayed. At the end of the day, this leader is usually afraid of making a decision that will take the company down.
In my work as a leadership coach, while there are always bad decisions, the worst mistake is to be indecisive. Through action, you can see what works and what does not work. If you have yourself surrounded with smart people, you will be able to quickly change direction if you need to, but the goal here is to MOVE! Act!
Solution: Work with an executive coach on identifying the leadership qualities which may be getting in the way of decision making and begin to work on a decision incrementalism program. With this approach, you take one big decision, break it into multiple smaller decisions, and begin to act. As you act, you will get feedback…both good and bad, and through this process, you can begin to become more tolerant to “the heat” and to a decision making process that will eventually unfold.
The problem with decision making is always trying to get the big decision made in one fell swoop and just hoping and praying that you “get it right”. Each big decision has multiple parts, and you have to start somewhere, get feedback and then move on to the next, then the next step. Once you have made multiple smaller decisions, the big decision will be finished.
Fatal Flaw Number 2: ARROGANCE. I want to make something clear. I believe a bit of arrogance is necessary in order to lead in today’s world. The belief that you are competent, strong and that you have strong, solid ideas are important for your followers to feel they can trust you. What I am talking about here, is a leader who:
Always thinks he has the best answer
Discounts and dismisses the opinions of others (including the rookies on the team)
Thinks he is better-looking, smarter and more knowing than others
Is cold, distant and aloof
Makes others feel less than or inferior
Creates distance and gaps between himself and anyone who does not “measure up” (which believe me…in an arrogant leader’s mind, this is just about everyone!)
Solution: Spend one hour each day inviting people from each level of your company into your office, and allow them to speak without interruption. Give their ideas very thoughtful consideration, and find ways to implement a few small ideas along the way. This could be anything…from using different cups at the water fountain up to implementing a brand new marketing strategy that is off the beaten path.
The goal here is to open up the gap and become more approachable. If you are an arrogant leader, this approach is going to take time. People are going to be saying “What the hell is going on here? Our CEO has never cared about our opinions or taken the time to talk to us” But, when practiced and implemented over time (and you must stick with this!), your employees will begin to admire you for being willing to take this big step in a great direction.
Fatal Flaw Number 3: FINGER POINTING. In leadership, we talk about blame, finger pointing and irresponsibility every day, but it continues to happen…over and over again, leaders want to make excuses for why the ball is dropped, why customers aren’t happy or why the leadership team is spending four hours a day on Facebook and Twitter. He rationalizes away his failures and certainly is not open to feedback or criticism…because “the dog ate my homework” or…it’s Susan in HR who is the real problem.
Let me say this clearly…stuff (I would use another s word, but I will allow you to fill in the blank) doesn’t flow upstream…it flows DOWNSTREAM. If there are problems in your company, it’s time to wake up, look in the mirror and ask yourself “What am I doing or not doing that is causing this issue to persist?”
Remedy: Sign a responsibility contract with yourself and your executive team. Vow to “take responsibility” whenever something goes wrong. When a problem pops up, admit it openly by saying: “We have x issue, and I am going to take the heat here…I have not done x, and it’s time to fix it…starting today, and I need your help.” On the same note, watch your body language (blank stares, pencil thumping, furrowed brow, nodding non-stop while the person is speaking.)
Sit calmly, and listen to the problem…probe deeper with more questions, and for God’s sake, don’t say one word about “Well…this is what is going on…it’s over in accounting!” (Accounting always gets blamed for everything, so stop blaming your poor accountants for your mistakes!)
Fatal Flaw Number 4: LACK OF VISION. This is really a tough one, because so many leaders simply don’t have a visionary bone in their bodies…they can’t see the big picture, they can’t put the pieces of the puzzle together so that the vision unfolds and they are honestly more tactical than strategic. Look at this picture to the right…can you imagine driving while blindfolded?
That’s a scary thought, but this is what followers feel when a leader is driving their company forward without being able to see where they heck they are going. So, what happens? At the end of the day, the leader becomes more like a task master…he starts to micro-manage, complete tasks that others should be doing, or even worse…he will start off on a path that has absolutely nothing to do with building the vision for a company.
I recently met a CEO who I believe honestly would rather be a motivational speaker than a leader. He spends his time going around speaking on leading and managing others while his company is clearly in the red. The time that he is investing in speaking to organizations on leadership could be invested in time with his team crafting a vision and strategy for moving from the red to the black, but this convenient diversion is exactly what he needs to fuel his ego (that is my opinion only!) If he really wants to be a motivational speaker, then so be it…but the time it takes to solve issues is being drained by this focus on motivational speaking.
Solution: Sit down with your core leadership team, and craft out a compelling vision for your company for the next year. This vision needs to be filled with passion and direction and needs to be very short. It needs to be BIG…and a bit scary (I believe Jim Collins and Jerry Porras calls these BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals!) Once that vision statement is crafted, it’s then time to start living it, eating and breathing it!
As an example, here is McDonald’s vision statement:
“McDonald’s vision is to be the world’s best quick service restaurant experience. Being the best means providing outstanding quality, service, cleanliness, and value, so that we make every customer in every restaurant smile.”
So, whether or not you care for McDonald’s is not relevant here…what is relevant is that they did not say “We want to be a good quick service restaurant.” They said they want to be “the world’s best quick service restaurant experience.” And, this is evident every time I drive by a McDonald’s. There are lines wrapped around the building at 8, 10, 12, 2, 4 and beyond. And, while some are not always clean, most are usually very clean even considering the crowds that go in and out all day long.
Fatal Flaw Number 5: LACK OF DEDICATION TO PEOPLE DEVELOPMENT. Have you ever wondered why your employees are bored, restless, falling asleep at their desks and ready to walk out the door? Trust me on this…it has very little to do with money and much more about the lack of training and development…or maybe you are just downright boring as a leader! Maybe it’s time to spice up things a bit with some very unconventional development approaches.
Many people say that I harp on this one issue, because I am a coach and a trainer, and I have to harp on this, because this is how I make my living, but that is just not the case. I harp on this because 1) On the Strengths Finder Profile, my top two strengths are achiever and learner and 2) I know that without development, your employees will become disengaged and move onto a company that cares about their development and 3) Every day, you should be fully committed to building a strong succession line of people who can step in and run the company should anything ever happen to you (God forbid!)
It is quite common to see leaders just push this task off to someone in HR or the training division of the company, but I believe that CEOs of today 1) Need their own development program and 2) Should be actively involved in the development and coaching of high potential leadership candidates. If a CEO is removed from this process, she cannot possibly know where the talent gaps lie.
Solution: Dedicate one hour each day to development of your people. Start by getting to know both the strengths and shortcomings of your key leaders and look for repeating patterns of both strengths and skill gaps across the company. With some investigative work, you will be able to uncover a key leadership skill that is missing in many departments.
Arrange for meetings with your top executive team to give them an appraisal of where they stand on the leadership development track and begin to set a strong leadership and skill development plan into motion for each individual in your company (and yes…this should be a customized leadership development and skill development plan.) With this approach, your employees will dance out the door each morning, excited, because they know today holds the opportunity for a new skill, a stretch assignment or a new way of thinking and seeing your organization.
At the end of the day, you want to provide challenging and stretching tasks and assignments and allow the people in your organization the chance to “step up to the plate.” People WANT to be stretched, but they can’t if you don’t set the tone as a leader for being dedicated to seeing your people develop over time. You should be so willing to develop your people that they will be recruited away by one of your competitors. While this is often hard to swallow, if you have done your job in developing out the people in your organization, they will think twice before leaving you!
In closing, I encourage you to begin looking at any of the flaws in your leadership approach which may be hamstringing your company, and I urge you to get out and start working with a consultant, coach or mentor who can help you get started on a great path for today, 2015 and beyond.
By Andrew Clapton