Leadership. More Down to Earth, Please.

Sound the trumpets! Call the honour guard! Get your cameras! The leader is coming!

Leadership sometimes looks like that, but for those in business, especially larger companies where ‘sightings’ of senior management can be extremely rare, perhaps the festivities are more muted, but that aura around our leaders still exists.

Good or bad, ultimately we find that so many leaders are in fact human after all. More often than with good leaders, poor leaders sometimes find themselves at the centre of some calamity of incompetence which brings them back down to earth in dramatic fashion. Wouldn’t it have been better for them to have just kept their feet on the ground in the first place?

In 1970 Robert K. Greenleaf wrote “The Leader as Servant”, where he talked about a leader whose first chooses to serve, and then chooses to lead as a way to better serve the development of others and their organizations. Their priority is tending to the needs of their colleagues so that they may perform to the best of their abilities, which leads to better results for the company.

The reality is that leaders are on a continuum with one side being ‘jerk’, the other side being ‘inspirational’. I would expect and hope the majority wants to be on the inspirational side.

So how do we get there?

The first task is figuring out where we are on the continuum. Let’s be honest, we will need help with this one. One suggestion by Marshall Goldsmith in his book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” is likely the most powerful way towards self-diagnosis but also the most painful: you need to ask someone.

Receiving honest feedback from subordinates can be a real gut-check. You may find that you are not the inspiration you thought you were. It can be devastating.

Fortunately in his book Marshall outlines techniques to help make this not so painful, and helps you ask the right questions. For instance, rather than ask “what do I do wrong?” you ask “what can I do better?” The positive tone of the question is likely to generate more generous answers.

If there is a trust issue between you and your employees, it may become obvious if the answers to the question are universally neutral or indifferent. Telling your boss your opinion can be ‘career limiting’. If you are “that” type of boss, no one will take too many risks with responses.

When the leader emerges from the holy of holies, his or her feet should touch the ground! Unfortunately no one can do that for them, they have to use all of those skills that got them to where they are to ensure that they deserve to stay there.

If you are the leader you need to pay attention to how you act as a leader, because you can bet everyone else is!


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