There are many excellent subject-matter experts that pen books and articles about gaining and exhibiting specific leadership qualities. Some authors are so well known that their names are now synonymous with success. If a leader or manager doesn’t have a prescribed trait, there are also countless guides and reading materials to help teach or hone that needed leadership skill. Just type a Google search in to any Web browser and — voila! You will find enough reading material to feed an army of hungry or satiated, old or young, new or existing leaders.
In this article, rather than trying to focus on gaining those needed leadership qualities, I would like to discuss four negative habits or traits that can cause leadership loss. What’s critical to point out here is that when someone is offered a leadership role for the first time ever or for the first time with a new company, they simply cannot afford to lose that opportunity because they weren’t aware of or working to improve all their qualities — good and bad. Many are the times when leadership opportunities just disappear and don’t present themselves again; there is always someone willing and able to step in and take on that role.
These four negative traits come from areas that I have observed not only in others, but also in myself. They are now areas of refection and self-improvement. These habits are not unmanageable or insurmountable but, left unchecked, they will cause leadership loss. They simply need to be recognized and enhanced if you want to be a good leader.
Lack of Self-Awareness
Self-awareness is the most important skill in your toolkit. It sets the tone on all aspects of leadership.
Why is it so difficult to be self-aware or to see a weakness in ourselves? When we can clearly list perception as a strength that we possess, then why can’t we be more perceptive about ourselves and how people view us?
Many times, it seems that business leaders or managers are simply not aware that they have a particular leadership weakness. This could be because they possess so many great leadership qualities that it’s easy to just see those skills and overlook a flaw that exists. An additional reason may be that peers and direct-reports are too uncomfortable to point out what they perceive. They rationalize that the strengths outshine the weaknesses. And this is not a topic or task that anyone likes to spend time on because there are so many things going on every day — activities that seem so much more important to the business or to our short-term goals. Who has time to self-reflect?
Here are two exercises to help improve self-awareness:
Introspection — Just like a regular physical exam, take the time to do a regular self-check on self-awareness. Look at recent decisions that you have made and consider the reaction from the decision-receivers’ viewpoint. Examine your demeanor or mood or how you talk to someone. Listen to the way you react when someone asks you for a few minutes to discuss an important issue. Understanding that what you say to your team and your employees and the way you say it can have long-lasting results. Can you conduct an honest self-evaluation? There is plenty to learn about yourself.
Extrospection — Take the time to talk to your direct-reports and your peers. Find someone who can talk truth to power, someone who will give you an honest answer when you ask them what you could be doing better. Conduct a formal or informal 360-degree review. Ask your direct-reports how they view you as a leader. Ask them what areas or traits may need some work. My company recently held a day-long retreat where, with the help of an outside advisor, we examined and discussed how to more effectively communicate with each other — especially when discussing difficult topics. This only happened because we had the self-awareness to recognize that we were allowing our own discomfort to get in the way of having important discussions.
A lack of self-awareness can be fatal to anyone who aspires to become an effective leader.
Are you an obstructionist? Do you blow things up by the way you act? Do you interfere or get in the way of your teams completing goals or objectives? Do you help to set company or departmental goals? If you help to set company or departmental goals and objectives, don’t obstruct your teams from achieving those goals. Help to set the objectives and then get out of the way. Leaders help to remove roadblocks for their teams and employees. They do this by empowering people; they do this by trusting that they hired the right managers and have the correct people on the bus. Help — not obstruct — your managers and your employees to reach the company goals and their own personal goals.
As a leader, do you focus on succession? Is that a strength or a weakness? Do you have a worthy succession plan? When you plan each year’s strategic, financial, sales, and product roadmap, are you also setting aside time to review the current succession plan to consider if it’s still relevant? If you don’t currently have a succession plan, are you setting aside time to develop one this year? The legendary business visionary, Peter Drucker, said, “There is no success without a successor.”
If any company has trouble identifying current leaders as well as future leaders within its employee base or if you as a leader at that company believe that you don’t have enough leaders, then you have a succession problem. One of the primary responsibilities of leadership is to create more and better leaders. That can only happen if succession planning becomes a regular and ongoing part of your strategy.
Trustworthiness is a critical cornerstone trait for any manager or leader. Trust deficiency is simply a deal-breaker. The key consideration here is that once trust is broken between you and a direct-report or between you and a team or department, it’s just so difficult to get back. When people cannot trust you — whether it’s real or perceived — your ability to lead is lost. Game, set, match.
Leadership gained or leadership lost? There is only one clear path: leadership gained. As a leader, sometimes it can be easy to lose your way in the everyday routine of a busy work environment. Taking a moment to review common ways that you can get L.O.S.T. in your leadership is one step in the right direction:
Lack of awareness;
Trustworthiness viewed as a deficiency.
Finding your way as a good leader is all about being aware of and confident enough in yourself to recognize strengths as well as weaknesses, and work on continual improvement.
About the Author
Ric McCullough is the chief operating officer for PSA Security Network, where he oversees the daily sales and customer success operations for the company as well as the marketing, vendor relations and educational programs and services. He has more than 30 years of operations, sales and customer service leadership experience.