Mindful Leaders Develop Their Strengths and Limit LiabilitiesArticle by Maynard Brusman, September 25, 2019
Leaders are encouraged to develop their strengths and sharpen their skills to maximize their effectiveness. Many resources are available, including books, seminars, conferences and qualified executive coaches. A coach, of course, can address your specific needs, and customize an approach that perfectly fits your personality, circumstances and goals.
Most leaders understand that all their beliefs and behaviors are exposed. They put their character on display every day. Employees rightfully attribute the organization’s success or failure to how the top leader leads.
While focusing on strengths is very worthwhile and profitable, leaders can’t reach peak effectiveness without taking a hard look at their weaknesses. A leader’s prominence in the organization automatically designates their strengths as assets. Alternatively, their weaknesses can be considered liabilities, blocking the organization from reaching its potential.
Although not a fond exercise, some of the most significant personal growth can come from understanding what behavior is blocking collective success. The best leaders make the decision to understand their liabilities, many of which they never notice. Turning them around to become assets will be the most valuable undertaking of their professional careers.
The Impact of Leadership Liabilities
Every leader has weaknesses of some kind. For the most part, leadership liabilities have to do with personality rather than a lack of technical skills or knowledge. Only the leader can address these shortcomings.
Even when other co-leaders bring effective assets to the organization, an ineffective leader with liabilities can undo them, as leadership experts Robert Anderson and William Adams explain in Scaling Leadership: Building Organizational Capability and Capacity to Create Outcomes that Matter Most (Wiley, 2019). As they write, “leaders with liabilities simply get in their own way.”
Working harder to compensate for a perceived deficiency is rarely the solution: more of a bad thing is generally a worse thing. Diminished productivity, morale, unity, loyalty and progress are just a few of the outcomes. Ultimately, the organization is unsuccessful, and so is its leader.
Anderson and Adams point to three primary self-centric tendencies that cause leadership liabilities: disliking people, devaluing people and having emotional deficiencies.
Leaders Who Dislike People
It may seem like a contradiction, but some leaders don’t like people. Poor people skills, such as not acknowledging others, signals dislike. Adding arrogance or disrespect—criticizing, condemning or insulting—is a more blatant sign. An argumentative character fuels the fire. Morale and unity get crushed, sabotaging productivity and team effectiveness.
Anderson and Adams describe how being a poor team player suggests a dislike for people. Unwilling to engage others, they rather work independently, keeping information to themselves. Withholding support may be a way to avoid contact, and it is a liability that handicaps the organization.
Pride plays a role in leaders who always believe they are right. This throws up walls that block teamwork, and thus success. Employees have no tolerance for this kind of mindset and will express it with their feet.
A lack of follow-up or resistance to addressing difficult issues with employees signals dislike. No one gets corrected, taught, instructed or challenged. Rules and policies become meaningless and the company crumbles under its mismanagement.
When People are Devalued
A surprising number of workers claim that their supervisors don’t value them: that they are treated like subservient slaves. It is a significant reason why people quit their jobs. As a popular saying goes, people don’t leave companies, they leave their bosses.
Employees may be driven hard, given unrealistic expectations, buried in work that they have no way to accomplish, or go unforgiven for past mistakes. This is a signal that their needs are not considered important, that they have little value in the eyes of the leader. Messengers of bad news get shot.
Micromanaging also devalues people. It stems from the leader’s belief that no one can match their high standards, so they must be over-guided to get things right. People are not considered competent or trustworthy enough.
Leaders who listen poorly devalue their people. A leader who is lost in their own thoughts signals that only their thoughts are significant. As communicator and author Andy Stanley puts it, “Leaders who refuse to listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing significant to say.”
When Leadership Emotions Take Over
Employees look to their leader to establish safety and trust. Leaders accomplish this in part with behavior that is rational, calm, logical and wise. They don’t get rattled by letting situations get the best of them.
Research conducted by Anderson and Adams reveals that leadership impatience is a common response to difficulty. Leaders who lack patience in tough situations release frustrations and resentments, showing an intolerance for someone, or something. It can be accompanied by anger and disrespect.
Anger and tirades are more serious and indicate a lack of emotional control. Employees are put on high alert when the leader overreacts to bad news. High stress can lead to ineffective shortcuts, lower productivity, depression and defeat.
When decisions are made favoring personal gain rather than team accomplishment, the organization suffers. Protecting one’s image or turf can lead to lying, cheating, blame-shifting or credit-grabbing. It is damaging and is a liability to everyone.
Leaders benefit by making effective relationships a priority. As Anderson and Adams point out, the greatest challenge in minimizing these kinds of liabilities is to find an optimal balance between a focus on tasks and relationships.
This requires an understanding of your liabilities and character. A trusted confidant can offer a different perspective and help you take a deeper look. This may be a close colleague or better yet, a qualified executive coach who has an impartial mindset.
Listen to those who can honestly counsel you and frankly describe what they see in you. With this new knowledge, work to undo some of the behavior that threatens the unity within the ranks.
Develop appreciation for your people and show them that they are valued. Engage your people with enthusiasm and encouragement. Let go of control and see how well they grow and develop.
Your leadership liabilities are dependent on your outlook—your attitude. Are you willing to put in the effort to turn it around? Relying on the expertise of a seasoned leadership coach can get you off to a great start.
Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist & Executive Coach
Trusted Leadership Advisor
Professional Certified Coach (PCC), International Coach Federation
Board Certified Coach (BCC)
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Tags: emotional intelligence, executive coaching, leadership development, mindful leadership