Much research (for example by Daniel Goleman and Lombardo and Eichinger) has been carried out as to why leaders end up seriously underperforming or being fired and it’s rarely down to lack of business acumen or technical expertise.
The reasons leaders become derailed include:
Overused strengths. When a strength is overused it becomes a weakness. Imagine someone who is really driven to perform but is so competitive that he steps on everyone to get where he wants to go.
Over Confidence. When confidence becomes complacency or even arrogance it can cause problems. Great leaders are also great learners. Once the learning stops, leaders, their people and their businesses stop growing and developing. Who can afford to stagnate in this day and age?
Lack of self management. This links back to my previous post about knowing yourself and showing yourself, with skill. While direct reports want to know their leaders on a personal level in order to build trust, they do not feel safe and secure coping with tears or tantrums.
Poor relationship skills. Outstanding leaders don’t become outstanding on their own. They rely on building strong, productive relationships with the people around them.
Not knowing their impact on others. We learn most, not from books or courses but from our bosses. Both good bosses and bad bosses. Great leaders can see themselves through the eyes of those they interact with. They also realise that they are communicating all the time, not just through their words but even more so through their actions. Knowing this helps them chose what they are communicating, consciously and carefully.
My questions to you are:
- Which of these elements is most likely to derail you?
- What can you do to prevent this?
In their book “Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?” Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones point out that in spite of the huge demand for more effective leaders, they remain in short supply.
This is partly due to the fact that organisations across all sectors still encourage people to conform or become inauthentic role players, rather than being clear about who they are and what they stand for. This of course leads to cynical, de-motivated and disengaged followers. Another reason for the lack of good leadership is the limited knowledge across the board about what leadership is and how it can be developed. I have written here before about how leadership is a dynamic relationship that is situational. So, something that works for one leader in one context won’t work for another leader or in another context. Therefore, focusing on the characteristics of leaders or attempting to imitate great leaders just doesn’t work. As Oscar Wilde says, “be yourself everyone else is taken!”
Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones argue that those people who aspire to be effective leaders don’t need to be fully self-aware but they do need to know enough about themselves to recognise their own personal leadership assets and how these can be deployed to best effect.
Leaders need to be able to:
- Show their weaknesses with care
- Tap into their intuition to judge timing and courses of action
- Manage people with “tough empathy”
- Reveal their differences with skill
My questions to you are:
- Which personal weaknesses do you reveal?
- How do you use your intuition?
- How are you different and how can that help you?
“…it’s the ability to both earn and keep the loyalty and trust of those whom they lead that sets them apart. Leadership is about trust, stewardship, care, concern, service, humility and understanding. If you build into those you lead, if you make them better, if you add value to their lives then you will have earned their trust and loyalty. This is the type of bond that will span positional and philosophical gaps, survive mistakes, challenges, downturns and other obstacles that will inevitably occur.”
Like many in the leadership field, Mike really understands and asserts the importance and value of building trust in those around you. Much research demonstrates the same and as I walk around client organisations and see their values statements on glossy posters around the wall, trust often comes at the top of the list.
So, how to do we actually build and demonstrate trust, both in ourselves and others? Unless you identify the specific behaviours that demonstrate the values that are important in your organisation, they could become meaningless sound bites.
Trust starts with trusting yourself:
- Do you listen to yourself?
- Do you spend quiet time alone?
- Do you allow yourself to fully experience your emotions?
- Do you acknowledge your doubts and uncertainties to yourself?
- Do you admit mistakes and vulnerabilities to yourself?
- Do you accept that you have needs and know what they are?
Others will trust you when you demonstrate your trust in them:
- Do you admit mistakes and say “Sorry”?
- Do you go first in risking showing vulnerability?
- Do you get to know people by asking about their views, passions, ideas and challenges?
- Do you tell people what you stand for and what you value?
- Do you listen openly to others views and ideas?
- Do you delegate in a way that increases their autonomy?
- Do you let people make decisions without checking with you first?
- Do you keep people informed?
- Do you ask them what they need and how you can support them?
- Do you connect people with the resources they need?
Who do you know who is dependent, neat, perfectionist, careful and compliant? They need a peaceful environment in which to work and live. They are likely to go out of their way to avoid confrontation and will choose compliance over confrontation the majority of the time.
People with this behavioural and communication style want to be appreciated for the quality of their work and will comply out of a strong desire to do whatever is asked of them in an accurate and error free manner.
Because of their need to do things correctly and avoid mistakes they are usually cautious and conservative which can lead to others seeing them as acting too slowly. While attention to detail is a real strength of this style over dependence on detail, policies and procedures can become a weakness.
When under pressure they are likely to be too critical of themselves and others, and pass the buck or act defensively when criticised or proved wrong.
Want they want:
- Standard policies and procedures for all to follow
- Protection or removal from aggression or confrontation
- Re-assurance that they are doing a good job
- To feel a part of things
- One-on-one attention
- Not to be given too much responsibility outside their expert role
- To have the quality of their work appreciated
- Information, data and details; factual proof
- Prepare your “case” in advance.
- Stick to business.
- Be accurate and realistic.
What doesn’t help?
- Being giddy, casual, informal or loud.
- Pushing too hard or being unrealistic with deadlines.
- Being disorganised or messy.
So if you work with someone that fits this description, appreciate the quality of the work they are contributing and their drive to get it right and consider what you can do to work more effectively with them from now on.
Although it can be tempting, particularly in times of change and turbulence, to keep our heads well below the parapet, outstanding leaders do the opposite.
They demonstrate they can be counted on when times are tough. They aren’t afraid to step up and be counted, to face into conflict, and to nail their colours to the mast of controversial or unpopular decisions. That’s because they know that leadership is about constantly looking for better ways. Continuous improvement can only happen when leaders challenge the process, question whether the way things are being done, and still make sense.
This is one of the reasons why it’s often “lonely at the top” and, for that matter, lonely anywhere else that outstanding leadership is being practiced. In order to take a stand, leaders need a strong sense of self and lots of confidence in order paradoxically to feel comfortable taking risks, being wrong and making mistakes. In fact, research shows that successful leaders and managers have made more mistakes during their careers than the people they were promoted over. They were promoted for showing the courage and the strength of character to take a stand not because they were always right.
So don’t let the chance of being wrong get in the way of taking a stand when you feel it is the right thing to do.
My questions to you are:
- When have you taken an unpopular stand for something you believed in?
- When has your courage failed you and you have kept quiet?
- What made the difference?
If coaching is so effective why don’t managers do more of it?
When I run coaching programmes for managers they often arrive “bought in” to the idea of coaching. These days they don’t need convincing of the benefits, they are increasingly likely to have experienced being coached themselves, having read about it, or having received some training.
However, when it comes to the part in the programme where we consider what is going to get in the way of fully transferring and implementing their coaching skills these are some of the barriers that frequently arise:
- Lack of time
- Fear of seeming contrived e.g. “Oh I can tell you’ve just been on a course”
- Lack of confidence in skills
- Lack of organisational support i.e. organisation rewards results over time spent developing staff
- Feeling expertise/status under threat. Due to asking questions rather than giving answers
- Fear that team members won’t accept coaching
- Lack of opportunity to coach, especially in geographically dispersed teams
Many of the barriers, e.g. lack of time, lack of opportunity, lack of confidence, stem from a belief that coaching is only really coaching when it is formal, structured, diarised and lasts an hour. That just isn’t the case. Every interaction is a coaching opportunity and a chance to develop your skills and confidence.
This approach also deals with the fears about people rejecting the coaching approach or feeling it is “being done to them” as a result of your attendance on a course. You can choose to take a quiet, incremental approach to implementing coaching. For example, setting yourself a target to practice active listening in situations you know you find difficult for one week. You might follow this by focusing on asking effective questions where you would normally issue instructions, for a week. These small action steps taken consciously and consistently would effectively develop and sustain your skills and be unlikely to lead to objections from your team members. Who would object to being listened to well and asked for their thoughts, ideas and suggestions?
So, while other blocks to implementation may be more complex, if you consciously choose to look at each conversation as an opportunity for coaching, keep it front of mind, and recognise that 3 minutes of quality listening can be far more effective than a longer period of on/off listening you will overcome these barriers, and develop and sustain the coaching approach that you already know is such an effective part of your management toolkit.
I would love to hear more about what might be getting in the way of coaching your staff and what strategies you have found that work well for you.