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Executive Power

December 2013

5 Things Great Leaders Do … and Failing Ones Don’t

Roxi Hewertson

Roxi Hewertson

Are you a great leader or an “at risk” failing leader? How do you know? What would your staffers say? What would your own supervisor say? Here are five winning and five failing behaviors and attitudes that show up consistently in leaders who succeed, and those who fail.

5 Things Great Leaders Do

1 Read/understand own emotions and recognize the impact on self and others
It all begins with the amount of emotional self-awareness you demonstrate, which others around you use as a cue. By developing an accurate view of, and aptly managing, your own emotional responses to situations – and the ways in which you impact others’ – the rest of your skills and talents will be duly magnified and leveraged. Great leaders know what pushes their buttons. They know where their passions lie. They know how to manage themselves and others in times of high stakes emotion, crisis, conflict and when backs are to the wall. Great leaders know their impact on others matters regardless of intent. Great leaders also pay close attention to their impact, regularly seeking feedback so that they may recover gracefully when their impact and intent are not in sync.

2 Know one’s strengths and limits
The best leaders understand they can never know and do everything … and don’t pretend that they do. Instead, they recognize what they are really good at and leverage those skills, spending time doing what they do best and continuing to learn in areas where they are not as accomplished. Great leaders surround themselves with people who are smarter and more experienced in areas of their own personal gaps. A great leader will assert, “Great question. I don’t know the answer to that, so let’s find a super star that does.” When you understand what you know, don’t know and how you tick, you can more readily understand how to lead others to their highest potential, honoring their unique needs, motivations, strengths and challenges.

3 Know and have a good sense of one’s self worth and capability
There is a big divide between confidence and arrogance. Confidence comes from a strong sense of self-worth and self-awareness. Arrogance comes from fear in many cases and a sense of entitlement in others. The best leaders are very confident in what they know and can do from an objective view, rather than an assumed view. These leaders continuously test themselves to see what they are capable of, stretching and growing and learning. At the same time, great leaders tend to be grounded, centered, stable people who are calm during a crisis, and rock solid in modeling their core values, particularly under pressure. A sure sign of this quality is when others say, “I always know and respect where (s)he stands, even if I disagree.”

4 Think and act with optimism – seeing the “upside”
There are two kinds of attitudes in the world – those who think and act through the lens of abundance, and those who think and act through a lens of scarcity. Attitudes shift throughout our lives for many reasons, and great leaders know the message they are sending about whatever attitude is current. Great leaders go for solutions, new ideas and silver linings, even in the worst of times. They may change course, but they never give up. They thoughtfully navigate their staffers to a better place – often to places their subordinates didn’t even know or believe possible. The best leaders will tell the truth even if the “sky is falling” and then shine a light on the path to get everyone to a better place. These are the leaders whose employees say, “I would follow my boss anywhere.”

5 See and seize opportunities for contributing to the greater good
Despite conventional thinking, great leaders have low ego needs because of their solid confidence and self-worth. By not wasting time and energy to shine up their image, this kind of leader frees up energy and time to create something greater than themselves, often building a legacy that contributes to something far more important than their personal agendas. Great leaders proactively look for ways to get the best for the most, even sacrificing their personal agenda to achieve a greater overall solution or result. Great leaders believe in a shared vision and continuously drive to the best outcome for the most people involved.

5 Things Failing Leaders Do

1 Discount others’ emotions and perspective
Failing leaders just don’t pick up on or value other people’s signals. Or, if they do, they don’t care, all demonstrating a fundamental lack of empathy. This emotional intelligence skill relates directly to social awareness. One cannot be a good leader without empathy, period. If the leader cannot walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, he or she will have big blinders on and miss important information, ideas and perspective. People led by such a person generally leave as soon as they can because they do not feel trusted, heard, understood or respected. This type of leader will have limited influence over time, and they will not inspire others. They are ego driven, often arrogant, and will surely fail while scratching their heads and wondering why.

2 Miss key organizational clues, norms, decision networks and politics
These types of “leaders” are mostly clueless and leading in name only. They somehow landed a leadership title, most likely by accident, circumstance, timing or favoritism. They have very little emotional intelligence in terms of self-awareness and organizational awareness. They could be fearful or they might be in denial. More likely, however, they have, what could be called, “organizational blindness.” They just don’t pick up the clues when their boss is displeased with them, when the tide is changing, or when people are talking about them behind their backs. They make decisions that are not theirs to make and don’t make decisions that are theirs to make. They don’t develop a wide network; they just show up and act more like an individual contributor than a leader, even with their peers.

3 Blame others for outcomes
Author Jim Collins is right in asserting that great leaders look “in the mirror” when things go wrong and “out the window” applauding others when things go right. In fact, when things go wrong, it is about the leader since that’s who is responsible for the culture and the success of their team. Holding people accountable for their performance is important; blaming them for mistakes or failures is a non-starter. The difference between accountability and blame is the way the issue or problem is dealt with. Asking questions to understand how or where things went wrong allows the leader to “own” the problem for the team, and then have a candid discussion about the situation and the solutions – without fear. Failing leaders don’t ask; they tell.

4 Avoid dealing with and resolving conflicts
Failing leaders avoid dealing with conflicts, fail to provide constructive feedback, and duck key relationship issues. They often think, “If I ignore it, it will go away.” Sometimes it does, but rarely. More commonly the conflict grows exponentially until it’s a toxic, smelly mess. No team can be functional without the ability to resolve their inevitable and necessary conflicts. Dysfunctional co-worker relationships and teams of any kind simply cannot get the work done well, so their results suffer and the leader will eventually fail. Even the “nicest” leader will lose the respect of colleagues, direct reports and the boss if they cannot or will not clean up their own messes and effectively sort out problematic issues.

5 Isolate self and/or team from others in the organization
These are the lone wolves who think they – or they and their team – can do the job better than everyone else. These failing leaders may have a tight “in-crowd” of direct reports who believe in them, hear a lot of “yes” from their direct reports, and see themselves in an “us vs. them” proverbial shootout at the OK Corral. They work best in “silos,” rarely sharing resources or knowledge across the organization. They believe they are in it alone, that no one understands them and that, if anyone interferes with them, it will dilute their agenda, work or image. Failing leaders divide and try to conquer. Winning leaders don’t undermine their counterparts as failing leaders do.
Instead, they collaborate and synergize, leveraging the brains, talent, and time of other leaders in the organization for the good of the whole.

Leadership authority Roxana (Roxi) Hewertson is a no-nonsense business veteran revered for her nuts-and-bolts, tell-it-like-it-is approach and practical, out-of-the-box insights that help both emerging and expert managers, executives and owners boost quantifiable job performance in various mission critical facets of business. Through, Roxi – “the Dear Abby of Leadership” – imparts invaluable free advice to managers and leaders at all levels, from the bullpen to the boardroom, to help them solve problems, become more effective and realize a higher measure of business and career success. I95