Some leadership characteristics that are positive—to a degree—can sabotage a leader and their business
Here’s one of the real kickers of being an entrepreneur: some of the qualities that make us a success are the same ones that can sink the whole ship. A number of the clients I’ve helped have learned that there can be a dark side to what most of us consider good habits and traits.
One client was so focused on their business—in theory, a level of engagement that is good in a leader—that they wound up slowly strangling their personal freedom and sacrificing team trust. Another practiced the smart approach of always learning and absorbing new leadership concepts, only to go overboard with ideas and be pulled in so many directions that they couldn’t move.
I’ve experienced some of these problems myself. For example, I used to be the classic, stoic leader who quietly felt like I had the world on my shoulders. I wanted to show a fearless strength for my employees and inspire them with confidence. But eventually, I realized that something had to give and learned that facing up to and sharing some of the burdens transformed me, my team, and my business for the better.
There are numerous examples of doing this, done by a range of different leaders. And many of these scenarios share the same theme: There’s a fine line between a good habit or trait and an excessive practice that could harm everything you’re trying to achieve.
And often, identifying whether you’ve gone too far starts by asking key questions.
What are you afraid of?
Admit to the answer, because avoiding fear only seems like courage. Constantly playing the superhuman to instill a false sense of security in yourself or your team is a very bad move. Eventually, that levy will break.
“Fear, kept unexamined and dammed up for too long, may then be manifested in excess when a crisis finally arrives—e.g., in financial panic or in support of totalitarian means for restoring order,” writes Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne in Psychology Today.
Fearful decisions—especially those that are quickly made in stressful times—set businesses up to crash and burn. Leaders need to be courageous and proactively face facts, good or bad. And real courage takes a lot more than outwardly acting like a winner.
As many as 70 percents of us suffer from “imposter syndrome” at one time or another. And failing to acknowledge your fear and problems, as well as failing to share legitimate issues with your team, make it far less likely these issues will be solved—in addition to causing leaders incredible stress.
Do you go with the flow or micromanage?
Leaders often need to ditch whichever one of the answers to this question applies to their leadership style—or both if they have a split-leadership personality. “Going with the flow” and “micromanaging” are basically the bad-habit versions of “open ideas” and “vigilance about achieving goals.”
Leaders who go with the flow can create too many open lanes and lose focus on practical, achievable objectives. While this is a good habit when we’re talking about the flow of ideas—the give and take that lets everybody be heard and contribute—a laid-back, iterative style will result in an unclear trajectory for the business if it’s taken too far.
Micromanagers, of course, have the opposite problem. They likely haven’t faced up to their fears of failing and giving up responsibility. Their engagement in the success of the business may be an admirable trait, but micromanagement has a range of disastrous effects on a business, including but not limited to the fact that it’s bad for your employees’ mental health and engagement. You may micromanage with an iron fist or an open smile, yet the results are largely the same: Your team will become annoyed, they won’t trust their abilities, and their productivity will tank.
I use the Entrepreneurial Operating System® to find the right balance between loose leadership and micromanagement. It provides a roadmap for avoiding both extremes.
For one example, getting the right people in the right seats enables micromanagers to ease off of this tendency, as competent employees with the skills and the will to do a job well naturally need less hands-on supervision.
At the same time, various EOS elements provide the necessary structure to pull “go-with-the-flow” leaders back into focus. These include devising a 1-Year Plan, setting Quarterly Rocks, conducting Quarterly Pulse meetings to assess the objectives, and holding weekly Level 10 meetings (L-10s) to open the floor, discuss issues, field ideas, and solve problems in a dedicated time window.
Drilling down further, L-10s create solutions that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound (SMART). In typically 90 minutes once a week, leaders can effectively engage with and manage the team while avoiding both micromanagement and “anything goes.”
Bad leaders never ask “Why?”
Let’s consider a CEO who knows what they’re doing and consistently works on how to do it better. Sounds like a good leader, right? Not necessarily. “What” and “How” are essential, but a vital part of the equation—“Why” they do what they do—is missing. Conducting business without understanding why you do it is an all-too-common habit and perhaps the worst one a leader can have.
Simon Sinek neatly summarizes the Why in his TED talk as being the place where everyone—customers, shareholders, and employees—makes a vital connection with your business. Knowing our Why is knowing ourselves. And when leaders project this knowledge outward, they create a relational space where others can join them and share the vision and values.
Finding their purpose is something I take great pleasure in helping leaders other discover. This Why goes hand in hand with Who a leader is and who they want to connect with. Defining a service and perfecting production aren’t enough without purpose—yet plenty of leaders think these business mechanics are all they need. In truth, purpose is essential for both success and getting a full, rewarding experience from running a business.
The principles of EOS® and Why Discovery have allowed me to structure my own business in a way that frees me to live my life by design. And they have also enabled me to dial back some of the good leadership traits—such as projecting confidence and being highly engaged in the business—that can turn into weaknesses when they are taken too far.
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