Ten Failures of a Leader: I Don’t Need to Know More about Myself (#1)

Several years ago I was working with a group of leaders on their goals and aspirations.  One of my initial questions related to what they thought was the most important thing that they could do in the coming year.  Some recommended increasing unit performance, others thought it would be good to grow the size of their department, and a smaller group felt it would be good to reorganize their people to better match duties to capabilities.  Although all of these goals possessed varying levels of value for their organization, I found it strange that the goals were all organizational and none were personal.  I moved the discussion to the individual level and received an explanation for why there was little personal focus in the previous answers.  A high level executive mentioned that there was no real need to focus on himself since he was already where he wanted to be: in a position of leadership in the organization. He further elaborated about how he spent earlier years in his career gaining what he needed to reach this plateau, but now that he had arrived, he obviously possessed what was needed.   In many ways, the comment made leadership sound less like a journey and more like a destination.

In all occupations, if we desire to improve, we have to continuously add to our knowledge, skills, and capabilities.  Like every activity in our lives, experience and learning makes us better at meeting our goals.  Being a successful leader is not an exception to this axiom of life.  One of the first steps to determining how to improve is taking an honest inventory of the following:

  • What is my motivation or why do I want to be a leader?
  • How do others see me as a leader?
  • How do I see myself as a leader?
  • What type or style of leader am I?
  • What capabilities do I excel at and how can I build on each?
  • What areas can be improved and what tangible steps need to be taken?

This self assessment is not an easy process for anyone especially someone that has been successful enough to become a leader in the workplace.  One of the common characteristics of a successful person is that he or she has a gift, ability, or level of determination superior to others.  While this is many times the case, a self inventory forces each of us to remove the protective part of our personalities and honestly look at our own faults and shortcomings.

What are some common things that we might learn from this inventory process?

I may be a leader because it was expected of me instead it being something that I really wanted.

The traits that helped us become a leader may not be the same ones that make us a successful leader.  Think how many productive and effective workers are promoted due to performance to positions of leadership to only fail in their new role.  It is only recently and in some cases through a painful process we are starting to realize what makes an employee highly effective at one job is not always enough to make that same employee effective as a leader.

It is never easy to see yourself through someone else’s eyes.

A big job of a successful leader is to try to understand the motivations, aspirations, and needs of those that work for you.  However, a much tougher process is to allow those that work for you to honestly and without fear of retribution tell you what they think of you and your capabilities as a leader.  We all have areas for improvement.  Although even in the best of circumstances this can be a humbling experience, it is a critical part of being a successful leader.

Self evaluation can be an elusive and rewarding experience.

It is a normal part of being human to develop an internal image of who we are.  Think your current employees and how few that would consider his or her performance as average.  Most of us amplify our strengths and minimize our weaknesses.  As leaders we suffer from the phenomenon and can only from if we gain a “true” perspective of our strengths and weaknesses.

The type of leader that I am may not match the image I have in my mind.

There are a variety of personality type or leadership style tests available.  Although the tests vary slightly in approach, almost all focus on categorizing people into specific or ideal types and then indicating the alignment between the types.  In working with leaders in the past, many have used popular leaderships tests to only find that they image of themselves as a leader does not match what the test indicates their true style to be.

Strength and weakness are both very important for improvement.

It is not enough to just address weaknesses or only build on our strengths.  We have to address the failures and the success to become more effective leaders.  In our busy lives, we have to set priorities and many times we focus on the one or two things that we think would make the most difference to our work.  However, it is critical to find the right combination between building on strengths and improving weaknesses.

If you look at leadership quotes from famous leaders, the statements are usually phased as “do this” or “do this and don’t do that.” When you compare those quotes to the lives of those leaders, it is not surprising that most quotes relate to a challenging period in that leader’s life or a tough issue that the leader dealt with and overcame.  One of the characteristics that made past leaders successful and preserved by history is that the leader was willing to examine his or her individual successes and failures and take action.  We all face the challenge.

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