As a leader, you can’t obsess over what people think of and say about you. You’d be incapacitated from doing your job if that were the case. But there’s something to be said about avoiding the worst leadership labels that could befall you. Knowing what they are can help you do a quick check to make sure your colleagues see you in a positive light.
And experience tells me you’ll find out what’s being said about you. A brave soul will give you feedback, you’ll read it in “organizational health surveys,” or painful gossip will make its way back to you one way or another.
Do what it takes to avoid having any of these things said about your leadership style.
1. “He’s/She’s looking out for numero uno.”
Ouch. I’m hard pressed to think of anything harsher that could be said of a leader. I’ve worked for leaders where this was the case many times. Each time, the “all about me” mindset is incredibly transparent despite the fact that in each case, that leader believed he or she was fooling everyone. People are attuned to selfishness.
Leadership starts with the opposite. Actually, leadership starts with leading the ship, which includes an entire crew, and is a vessel that the captain should go down with rather than put him- or herself first and throw others overboard. You can avoid being anywhere near this label simply by remembering this–leadership is not about you.
2. “He’s/She’s out of touch.”
This one would majorly sting as well because it’s about attitude and aptitude. I’ve worked for leaders who were out of touch with their business, their total organization, their direct reports, and even themselves and how they were perceived (or a brutal cocktail of all of this). You can’t be out of touch and get away with it, with anyone–not your boss, your peers, or especially your employees.
Being in touch means prioritizing understanding what matters in the business (some businesses call these the KPIs, or key performance indicators) and knowing what’s going on with the organization and employees. That requires caring enough to inquire on an individual basis and to create two-way communication vehicles (like town hall meetings) where people can ask questions and you can get a read on the organization.
3. “He’s/She’s quick to criticize and slow to praise.”
This is the centerpiece of a toxic, never-good-enough culture that will cause people to leave, and pronto. If you’re quick to criticize and slow to praise, you’ll soon find that work deserves criticism and won’t often be worth praise because no one will be motivated to do good work anymore.
Don’t be stingy with praise, and pick your spots to offer constructive feedback. My experience shows me people need about five pieces of positive feedback for every piece of constructive feedback.
4. “He/She puts the micro in micromanager.”
There is absolutely nothing more debilitating and soul-crushing than being micromanaged. Period. If you suspect you do this to your people, don’t despair. You’re hardly alone, and it’s hardly unfixable.
Start by choosing to manage by objective instead. Agree to objectives, strategies, priorities, and expectations, and then let the team do their work. It might be hard to give up control, but don’t think of it that way. You’re just shifting the kind of control you have. By not micromanaging, you’re now more in control of the culture and motivation in your organization–for the better.
5. “He’s/She’s inconsistent and indecisive.”
Inconsistent behavior from leaders erodes trust, causes confusion and fear, and creates a learned inertia where people are afraid to even interact with that leader because they have no idea what to expect. Indecisiveness is no better, as it creates doubt, uncertainty, lack of focus, and even resentment.
To combat indecisiveness, objectively evaluate the true impact of a wrong decision. The truth is we often catastrophize the worst-case scenario. Ask yourself what’s the risk of not making a decision–it might be that costs increase, you carry a parallel path of activity that drains and frustrates your organization, or you lose precious time relative to a competitor. Set time-bound parameters for making the call, and then just make the call. Your organization will applaud you for being decisive, even if they don’t agree with the decision.
As for inconsistency, put repeatable processes in place to help breed operational consistency. And try this simple exercise. Imagine there’s a camera in the corner filming you every time you take action. Would the film have major continuity problems? The world should see you acting in a manner consistent with your values, goals, objectives, and strategies.
So consider how you want employees to describe you, and how you don’t want them to describe you. Then prevent labeling you don’t like.
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