Last updated: 29 October 2015
Do you remember the days when you had to struggle with paper maps while driving in order to figure out where you were going?
Thankfully, GPS systems have largely done away with that frustration.
Being able to just plug in your final destination and having the route all figured out for you is a beautiful thing, but even those high-tech gizmos have their limitations.
If you have a really up-to-date system, it might be able to alert you to major construction projects, but they still can’t tell you about that nasty pothole coming up in the next mile. And it only takes one major pothole to cause you some major headaches.
Being a leader can often feel like you’re taking a major road trip without the benefits of a GPS device or even a paper map.
You may also be a bit fuzzy about what the final destination looks like. But if that prospect gives you a nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach, you’re not alone.
After all, the road to effective leadership is littered with far too many examples of mistakes ranging from minor bumps in the road to major derailments that can be fatal for your career.
Which is why having your own “GPS” device to warn you about those nasty potholes is essential.
One that is made up of your values, beliefs and a number of tried and tested strategies that can be plugged into (and then applied) to any business.
Below are 5 of those “strategies” flipped on their head to show how deadly they can be if you don’t follow them.
Pothole #1: Lack of Self-Awareness
“Know thyself.” ~ Socrates
Daniel Goleman popularized the whole notion of emotional intelligence and the critical role it plays in leadership effectiveness.
Understanding the emotional world of others is a key factor in working with and leading others.
But it begins with the critical notion of self-awareness.
You can’t understand others if you don’t first understand yourself.
This self-awareness includes knowing your emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values, and goals, and their impact on others. Journalist and author Sydney J. Harris said,
“Ninety percent of the world’s woe comes from people not knowing themselves, their abilities, their frailties, and even their real virtues. Most of us go almost all the way through life as complete strangers to ourselves.”
Luckily, there are lots of tools out there that you can use to get a real sense of who you are.
Utilizing these tools to gain in-depth self-knowledge takes time, effort and even some money, but it’s well worth it in terms of what you’ll learn about yourself.
Here are some tools to get you started:
1. MBTI: Myers-Briggs type indicator
This one is a classic personality test, and many of you may have taken it.
If you have, go back to your results and re-familiarize yourself with them. Most people have heard of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI that has been used for decades to classify and explain different personality types.
Millions of people have found it to be invaluable in helping them better understand themselves and others through its classification scheme consisting of 16 different 4-letter type combinations.
2. The PACE Palette
This offers an amazing level of insight through 4 different personality types identified by the colors red, yellow, blue and green, so it’s already a lot less complicated than the Myers-Briggs type indicator, but also very profound.
It’s very focused on how the different types best communicate with each other, which is very useful.
3. LSI: The Kolb Learning Style Inventory
According to Kolb, there are 4 modes of learning that make up the learning cycle, two of which relate to taking in experience, and two that relate to dealing with experience.
What the LSI instrument does is give you scores in each of these 4 dimensions to show your own tendencies relative to their ongoing sample of people taking the instrument.
4. SDI: Strength Deployment Inventory
This is an important tool because the people you lead don’t come with instruction manuals, and this one is all about empowering you in your relationships with others.
It helps you identify your personal strengths in relating to others both when things are going well and when you are faced with conflict. And it suggests ways that one’s personal strengths might be used to better relate to others.
Using the SDI shows which of the 7 different Motivational Value Systems drive your behavior when things are going well.
In light of your Motivational Value System, the tool then helps walk you through 3 distinct stages of conflict and how you can most successfully navigate them, which is valuable knowledge to have as a leader.
Pothole #2: Mistaken Motivation
“Employees who report receiving recognition and praise within the last seven days show increased productivity, get higher scores from customers, and have better safety records. They’re just more engaged at work.” ~ Tom Rath
One of the most important things you do as a leader is to inspire and motivate others to give their best to the organization. Easy, right?
Well apparently this is much more difficult as evidenced by the huge turnover that happens throughout workplaces.
And that turnover has a mind-boggling cost.
Authors Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick note that turnover siphons off as much as $5 trillion every year from the US economy.
With a figures like that, just increasing employee commitment by a mere 5% could result in boosting profits by as much as 50%.
Gostick and Chelton’s 2007 book The Carrot Principle: How the Best Managers Use Recognition to Engage Their People, Retain Talent, and Accelerate Performance, note that there’s an unfortunately common mistake leaders make about what motivates employees.
What’s still shocking to many is that it doesn’t necessarily have much to do with money. Instead, it’s about recognition.
Think about this in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
That classic pyramid that shows how humans need to satisfy their basic physiological and safety needs at the bottom of the pyramid, before they can become concerned with the “higher” self-esteem and self-actualization needs at the peak.
Applying this idea to the workplace places external rewards like wages, salaries, benefits and bonuses more towards the bottom of the pyramid.
And at the top of the pyramid are more internal rewards like recognition, achievement, and the desire for autonomy.
Not surprisingly, their research shows that there is a bottom-line impact to effective recognition.
For companies that scored in the bottom fourth for recognizing excellence, their ROE (average return on equity) was only 2.4%, whereas those from the top fourth were at 8.7%.
Workplaces that were characterized as having high morale were those in which 94.4% of managers were seen as being effective in recognizing employee contributions.
By the same token, workplaces with low morale were much more likely to give managers a low grade concerning recognition.
When it comes to inspiring and motivating employees to give their all to your company, there’s no substitute for frequent and meaningful praise for jobs well done.
That is what will lead to a workforce that wants to stick with you because they are satisfied on the job.
Use the following 11 indicators of employee satisfaction to see how your company measures up:
- At work, employees have the opportunity to do what they do best
- Employee performance is evaluated in a manner that makes employees feel positive about working
- Conflicts are managed in a way that results in positive solutions
- Employee opinions matter to managers/leaders
- Managers/leaders share all relevant information to make everyone feel like they’re part of a team
- Employees receive all the information they need to do their job
- The company has developed work/life policies that address employee needs
- Employees trust their managers
- Communication between leadership and employees continually improves
- Managers/leaders do a good job of recognizing employee contributions
- Employees regularly received praise for their work.
Effective leaders make time for their employees.
How else can you find out what’s really going on?
You’ve got to care about your people and show them that you care, and being liberal with praise and recognition can go a long way to creating the kind of “carrot culture” that gets great results.
Pothole #3: Lack Of Vision And Its Implementation
“Don’t underestimate the power of a vision. McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc, pictured his empire long before it existed, and he saw how to get there. He invented the company motto — ‘Quality, service, cleanliness and value’ — and kept repeating it to employees for the rest of his life.” ~ Kenneth Labich
When people talk about vision in business, they tend to mean a compelling picture of what things would look like if true success were achieved.
But think about this on a much more basic, physical level.
Lacking vision means you really can’t see where you’re going, which is obviously a big problem when trying to navigate your way to a specific destination.
Having that vision is absolutely critical to leadership effectiveness.
Everyone in your business needs to know what the vision is if there is to be any hope of actually achieving it.
So the first order of business is establishing that vision if you don’t already have one.
When it comes to creating a vision for your company, don’t think in lofty terms of some kind of mystical or esoteric doctrine.
This is one place where it really is worth your while to keep it simple. And it shouldn’t be very long, either.
But before you can do right by a vision, you first need to clarify your mission.
Think of your mission statement as a concise statement of your company’s reason for existing, capturing the essence of what you’re all about.
Once you’re clear on that, then your vision becomes a description of what the world would look like if you achieved your mission.
Yes, the vision is big, and it describes what you’re really striving for.
As such, it may seem like you’re describing something unattainable. Nothing could be further from the truth!
While it’s true that your vision is an end state you might not ever completely reach, it’s absolutely vital to know where you’re going in order to inform the everyday actions you take that get you closer and closer to that destination over time.
Without it, your company and your leadership will lack direction.
Jim Collins, author of the perennial business best-seller Good to Great, says the vision should include what he calls BHAGs, Big Hairy Audacious Goals that are still achievable.
In a world that seems to value your ability to give answers, creating a top-notch vision begins with asking the right questions.
Here are some great examples to get your wheels turning in the right direction:
- When you achieve your mission, how would your community (or even the world) be different?
- What problems would need to be solved in society to make your company obsolete?
- What do you want the company to become?
- Within what timeframe do want this vision to become a reality?
Most companies have already crafted mission and vision statements. If that’s true for you, it’s worth taking another look at it to make sure it’s a quality statement.
Here are some evaluation criteria you can use:
- Clear and easy to understand by all (i.e. jargon free!)
- Free from ambiguity
- Describes a bright future for the organization and its community
- Powerful and inspiring
- Provides focus and direction for every employee
- Aligns with the company’s mission and values
Creating or revising your vision is totally worthwhile, but only if you then go on to implement it.
This means being aware of not falling into the trap of creating a stellar document and then leaving it to collect dust on the shelf!
Vision without implementation would be like taking a road trip and ignoring every direction given to you by your GPS device!
That strategic plan, by the way, should serve as an action plan for how you’re going to get to your vision.
It is here that many organizations hit a slippery slope.
Too many companies spend endless amounts of time fine-tuning their vision statements when that time would be much better spent on implementation.
Implementing a vision means aligning the company’s actions down to every single employee.
And that’s where you come in as a leader.
It is through your leadership that you can facilitate the alignment of the company to the vision so that it informs people’s everyday lives on the job.
A great benefit of nailing down this vision effort is that it serves as a vital litmus test for recognizing, evaluating, and seizing opportunities.
All you have to do when faced with a new opportunity is ask whether or not it will get you any closer to your vision.
If the answer is yes, then it might well be worth your time to take a closer look at that opportunity.
If not, then it’s a distraction from what you’re really trying to accomplish. Making those sorts of judgments decisively is an essential feature of effective leadership.
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Pothole #4: Arrogance
“Arrogance is an unhealthy ego in need of repair.” ~ Thomas Faranda
Great leaders are able to set their egos aside for the sake of the company.
This may not always easy, especially if it’s your company and you don’t feel comfortable handing the reins over to someone else when it comes to decision making.
But coming across as arrogant and as if you always know what’s best won’t leave your employees feeling empowered to do (or excel in) their job.
Nor will it win you any titles when it comes to being Leader Of The Year.
Going back to Jim Collins words of wisdom in his book, Good to Great, here are 12 characteristics great companies and fantastic leaders are noted as having:
- Personal humility combined with intense professional will
- They channel the ego’s needs away from self as they realize it’s not about them
- They are modest and willful
- Humble and fearless
- The health and future of the company are more important than the wealth of the leader
- They take the time to choose successors who will carry the same commitment to the company, not to self
- The modesty and humility are not false – they are truly genuine and authentic
- Not interested in being larger-than-life personalities
- An unwavering resolve to do what must be done to get the results desired
- Are more likely to attribute their success to luck than anything they did themselves. Collins calls this the window and the mirror, meaning the good-to-great CEOs look out the window to attribute success, not in the mirror. But when explaining failure, are more likely to look in the mirror at themselves, not out the window to place blame elsewhere.
- More of a plow horse than a show horse
- Self-effacing and understated
Pothole #5: Failure To Communicate
Effective leadership rarely happens unless you’ve got a knack of getting your point across in such a way that it compels others to take action.
Even history’s worst dictators, whose legacy is fraught with horrific crimes, were still great communicators.
While they may have done some unforgivable things, they were still able to lead others to take action as a result of their communication.
And of course the reverse is also true. Great leaders have the potential to inspire the masses and make the world a better place.
Simply put, communication is the one skill a leader can’t shortchange on.
One study of 400 large corporations in the U.S. and UK revealed that the total estimated cost of employee misunderstanding of policies, processes or job function amounted to $37 billion per year. Ouch, that hurts!
So it’s your responsibility as a leader that your words are clearly being filtered down from the top. Which also means being transparent and honest, even in difficult situations.
Make no mistake, as a leader, your words and actions are constantly being watched (and judged), to see whether they’re congruent and measure up with the expectations of your employees.