Arrogance in Leadership

For decades, experts have touted the advantages of humble leadership. Humility draws people to trust, follow and perform in ways no other leadership trait can. The executive world has been given so many case studies and success stories to make it virtually impossible to refute the power of humility in leadership.

Yet more than ever, employees raise complaints about the chronic levels of arrogance in their leaders. Studies show growing trends of employee dissatisfaction, disengagement and turnover due to leadership arrogance. Arrogance at top corporate levels is statistically responsible for startlingly high failure rates in teamwork, efficiency, goal achievement and profitability. One of the top, most disdained leadership traits reported in surveys is arrogance, indicating the prevalence of the problem.

Somewhere lies a disconnect between theory (which is generally accepted) and practice. Human nature plays a key role in this disconnect, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Fortunately, there are ways for leaders to recognize arrogant tendencies and do away with them. Failure to do so typically spells the failure of a career.

The Nature of Arrogance

As with many personality shortcomings, arrogance can be expressed in subtle or blatant ways, and everything in between. Some behavior takes time to assess to see if it is attributed to arrogance. Other behavior screams arrogance from the outset, leaving no doubt about the nature of the leader’s style.

Lesser forms of arrogance come disguised as rudeness, inconsideration, disrespect or coldness. Employees subject to subtle arrogance experience having their ideas or requests ignored, being left out of conversations or having their work redone by someone else. These slights signal to the employee that they are not considered acceptable or good enough. The leader may be trying to put them in their place or indicate that they need to get on the bandwagon (or perhaps out the door).

Subtle arrogance can be general and not directed at anyone in particular. Small inconsiderations by a leader demonstrate a lack of appreciation—or even acknowledgement—in the value of others. Interrupting people as they’re speaking, not returning a greeting or communicating personal information through technology rather than in person are all ways leaders arrogantly devalue their people.

Most employees can tolerate subtle arrogance, especially if it is directed at everyone. Though they don’t like it, people often learn to adapt to it, accept it as one of the unfavorable aspects of their job and keep going. Recognizing subtle arrogance in others and depersonalizing makes it tolerable. However, blatant arrogance is another matter. This goes beyond rudeness to reach harsh and unbearable levels. Blatantly arrogant leaders yell and insult people. They flaunt their power and don’t consider the wreckage they leave behind. Their pressing need is to unleash their frustration or anger, where other people are merely objects of vented abuse.

Blatantly arrogant leaders don’t just simply devalue their people, they hurt them. Temper, anger, audacity, egotism and disloyalty are weapons in the blatantly arrogant leader’s arsenal. They are self-focused on what their position of privilege allows them to do. Their high-handedness breaks the rules of conduct to get things done their way and in their time. Such contemptuousness wreaks fear, resentment and outrage.

Unlike subtle arrogance, the blatant form is intolerable for all employees save for those who are trapped and have nowhere else to go. Don’t think the blatantly arrogant leader doesn’t know who these people are. These unfortunate souls are typically targets who receive “special” treatment. People do not stand for blatant arrogance, and if Human Resources cannot address the problem satisfactorily, they are gone in short order. Life is too short to endure blatant arrogance in a leader.

Some leaders recognize their problem, and some don’t. Neither have an excuse for continuing an arrogant treatment of their people. Due to the nature of arrogance, employees generally have little hope of addressing it with their leader. However, an experienced executive coach can aid a leader in discovering and dealing with arrogant tendencies.

What Fuels Arrogance

Our culture has a large role in the development and encouragement of leadership arrogance. Human tendencies to desire power, prestige, perks and privilege are fueled by a culture that values these things. We are trained from an early age to focus on what we can take from life rather than what we can give. This encourages the quest for the highest level of power to be in the best position to be takers.

Whether it is in business, politics or social life, history shows that egotists are rewarded more than humble leaders, at least from an observable standpoint. Prideful, forceful, outgoing and brash behavior seem to permit greater levels of advancement than humility. Leaders with these traits are seen as more admired, revered and feared due to their ability to take charge and get things done. The fallout behind the scenes, where people pay a high price, is generally overlooked. The big accomplishments drown out the detriments.

Arrogance is born from these influences, where leaders feel privileged and free to do as they wish. Because of their positions and accomplishments, they go unchallenged and unquestioned. A mindset develops that they operate under a different set of rules and can take liberties others cannot. Their behavior, especially with how they treat others, is often granted an exceptional status, where the ends justify the means.

The culture also admires ego and the ability to control the world around you. Those who have command are regarded as impressive and important. As described in the HBR article by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter, Ego is the Enemy of Good Leadership, importance feeds on itself, magnifying the effect in an upward spiral. Young aspiring professionals are being taught and trained, both in school and on the job, to reach the highest level of importance possible in order to be able to tell others what to do: to be “in charge”.  Arrogance is the natural outcome from someone who believes they deserve to be in charge. This is seen as a fulfilling purpose and everything else is simply less important.

Another cultural influence on the prevalence of leadership arrogance is the competitive nature of business. It is commonly believed that to survive on today’s battleground for market share and profits the leader must be tough, aggressive and ruthless. Boldness, notoriety and arrogance are the tactics used to gain the upper hand and be victorious. Most business settings have come to expect this, allow for it and endure it within the ranks.

An HBR article by Bill Taylor on leadership arrogance points out that many view life in business as competitive by nature, requiring an aggressive approach not only with the outside world but within the company walls. Everyone is in the trenches together, and arrogance becomes a “useful” tool to keep the internal machinery running.

Softness doesn’t seem to get it done, at least not in the minds of many leaders today. Humility is viewed as weakness. It draws images of inferiority and being subservient. Today’s talent is raised with these notions, a carry-over from generations past. Unfortunately, this is tragically misguided. A qualified executive coach can help sort through leadership myths and get to the truth about how people are successfully managed.

Breaking the Arrogance Mold

Overcoming arrogance is a matter of overcoming powerful paradigms in corporate culture. Leaders generally cannot sort through this themselves. Engrained for too long, arrogance has become second nature. Their environment supports old-school thinking, and blind spots keep certain realities hidden. Help comes from another pair of eyes that can see what’s happening: the eyes of a trained executive coach.

A leader who’s ready to address interpersonal difficulties in their role can turn to a trusted coach to get a sense of what the issues are. This is the most critical step for an arrogant personality. Taylor writes that arrogance typically rejects the notion of interdependence and the reliance on others for assistance or wisdom. However, leaders benefit greatly by breaking one the most powerful paradigms: the belief that strength is best portrayed by personal independence, to be smart enough and capable enough not to need guidance from anyone else.

This is a false strength, where a facade hides an insecurity of self-image and the fear of what others think, based on the premise that needing help shows weakness or unworthiness. History has shown that the most successful, most admired leaders are the ones who admit they need assistance and get it. This is true strength founded on a confidence and positive outlook that overcomes insecurity and public opinion.

Getting help is a leadership strategy that makes the best use of available resources to achieve the best results. It’s smart, tactical, courageous and bold. Humility, contrary to cultural views, is the strongest position to lead from. A qualified coach can instill these concepts and encourage arrogant leaders to break their crippling pattern.

Another paradigm needing to be overturned pertains to how employees respond to leadership behavior. The old-school mentality of power and control is outdated and damaging. People no longer tolerate those conditions and use their feet to escape them. A telltale sign of arrogant leadership is the rate of employee turnover.

People want several key things from their leader: consideration, support, encouragement and security. Arrogance subverts each of those. People engage their duties when they are cared for and valued, when their efforts are purposeful and appreciated. The leader and the entire organization benefit from an engaged, willing and healthy staff, who can rise above any challenge as a team when nurtured properly. Executive coaches know there is no better incentive to reverse an arrogant leadership personality than that.

Anger in Leadership

Emotions are part of the human experience, and the high pressure of leadership often brings them out into the open. Most leaders are familiar with feelings of frustration, fear, disappointment, impatience or resentment at some point in their career. Amongst it all, one specific emotion can cause more damage than all the rest combined: anger.

Every leader has a different threshold of anger. It can build for a long time before it gets noticed, or it can grow suddenly and powerfully. Anger in leadership can range from total denial to unchecked and explosive eruption.

Some believe that anger is unavoidable, and it should be expected from everyone. This mindset welcomes anger, and considers it part of life. Others believe anger is to be avoided at all costs, especially by management. Either way, leaders need not be framed by anger. There are solutions to manage anger in leadership, minimize its affects and provide employees with the most positive and productive environment possible.

When Leaders Express Anger

Anger comes with a variety of issues and side effects, many of which lie below the surface and go undetected by the untrained leader. Concealing anger may seem feasible in the short term, but it cannot be hidden for long. Leaders reveal their anger through verbal language, body language, reasoning and decision making—or the lack thereof. Your employees will typically sense your anger before you verbally express it.

Leaders who consistently allow anger to be outwardly and openly displayed damage relationships. No one wants to be the brunt of anger, especially from a superior. A leader’s thoughtless anger can crush a person’s self-esteem and cause numerous emotional or psychological issues, which will detrimentally impact their ability to carry out their duties.

Although the nature of anger has changed little through countless generations, the rules of order in the workplace have. The old-school management philosophy favored leadership dominance and control. Anger and intimidation were techniques to wield power, and employee fear was regarded as a means of respecting that power.

Those days are long gone. People no longer put up with oppressive leadership. They require their company to allow them to succeed, enjoy what they do, and have a sense of growth and value in their work.

Much research has shown that the effectiveness of an operation critically depends on the satisfaction of its people. Additionally, a collaborative and rewarding environment is necessary to recruit and retain the best talent. Employees who don’t feel they are benefitting from their job will leave.

Yet leadership anger is still a pressing issue. Consistent anger causes people to deeply resent their leader. They will likely respond with their own version of anger, and like their leader, it may be delayed or immediate. Angry employees bring many debilitations to the organization. One of the most critical is a lack of trust for their leader. Their respect and loyalty are tossed in the waste basket.

With employee distrust comes many calamities: disengagement, apathy, a lack of incentive and poor performance. A leader’s anger generates a toxic culture that can only spiral downward. A leader with a reputation for consistent anger develops a bad reputation, not only internally, but out on the street. Career prospects for a leader prone to anger are short and painful. Fortunately, leaders can rectify anger issues and turn their culture around.

Recognize an Anger Problem

As with any personality issue, recognition is the most critical step toward dealing with it. As speaker and author Antonio Nerves describes in an article for Inc., leaders prone to anger need to realize that this is their tendency. The counsel of a trusted colleague or qualified executive coach may be needed to bring this issue to light. If an employee is brave enough to approach this subject with you, it will benefit you to listen to them.

Your response to the description of an anger issue is key. Leaders who deny their anger cannot be helped. They will continue their descent in an ever-worsening toxic culture. Since one of the key responsibilities of leadership is to enhance and compel the efforts of people, a leader who denies their anger tendencies is not fit to lead. Similarly, distrust of the pointed counsel from helpful resources impairs leadership ability.

A leader who agrees that they have an anger issue, as advised by trusted counsel, can travel down a variety of paths. Although agreeing to this assessment is important, the response and follow-up make the difference between resolution and perpetuation.

Agreeing to the issue, but conceding that it’s acceptable, is not a solution. This old-school mentality is flawed and drives the toxicity of the culture. A leader who believes anger is a legitimate way to get what they want is certain to fail.

Agreeing to the problem, but dismissing its seriousness, is also not a solution. Executive coaches can help reveal what is happening to the culture and the people because of the leader’s anger. Quantitative evidence of inefficiencies, turnover, lack of productivity, conflicts or costly mistakes are powerful testimonies to the seriousness of a leader’s anger.

A solution is possible only when a leader acknowledges the anger problem with a commitment to resolve it. Accepting the reality as described takes courage. The best leaders acknowledge weaknesses. They don’t hide from them or repress them in an attempt to protect their ego or reputation. They accept them, learn from them, and set up a system of accountability to work through them. Great leaders enhance their reputation by being dedicated and transparent in their decision to resolve their issues.

Make an earnest attempt to understand where your anger originates. Could it be a result of an insecurity, intolerance, perfectionism, control issue, pride or fear? Without delving into deep psychology, allow an executive coach to assess your personality to reveal a logical source. This allows your continued awareness to focus on an identified tendency and you can track your progress in defeating its influence. Troubles have significantly less impact if they are identified, understood and prevented.

Resolve Anger Effectively

Once an anger issue is recognized an approach to diffuse it can be created. A leader’s personality and emotional needs determine the best means to manage it. The key is not to ignore it or repress it: two methods many leaders have unfortunately been taught.

As with any disorder, which is generally defined as a challenging personality trait that causes difficulty, anger that is ignored grows worse. Ignoring the problem certainly makes for less work, at least for the short term, but this eventually creates problems more serious than the initial displays of anger.

Repressing anger also yields no resolution. Stuffing angry feelings can take two different tracks for the leader. It often creates an internal pressure that eventually needs to blow, sometimes physiologically. Heart and brain function are put under stress leading to possible heart attacks, panic attacks, high blood pressure, nervous breakdowns or fainting. Prolonged stress of this type takes its toll on life longevity. No leader would agree that any situation at work is worth this kind of risk to health.

Another effect of repressing anger is more subtle, but damaging nonetheless. Holding in anger is counter to natural emotional release. Over time, repression can cause fatigue, burnout, depression, even physical illness. Migraines, indigestion, susceptibility to colds and flu, loss of appetite and weight loss, and disorientation are potential side effects. Such deterioration is certainly not worth the attempt to repress anger and pretend things don’t bother you.

Genuine anger management is work. It takes a focused effort and continuous determination to break an anger habit. It helps to recognize that there is nothing wrong with anger. It is a normal emotion that everyone experiences in some way. Overcoming an anger issue is challenging when going it alone. Most leaders find the assistance and encouragement of a qualified executive coach invaluable.

Anger is best resolved by recognizing when it’s happening. A leader who can discern the onset of anger and step back to reflect on its presence has the best chance of dealing with it in a healthy way. Learn your trigger points. Being familiar with your emotional patterns can prepare you for the next time. It can help you apply the necessary filters to avoid getting upset. Training your mind to anticipate and disarm what once enflamed you is a powerful tool.

Awareness of an anger-instigating threat is also helpful in slowing your responses down. Learn to pause and assess your feelings, as BodeTree CEO Chris Meyers encourages in a Forbes article. Take a deep breath and use more of the logical, trouble-shooting part of your mind. Anger can be expressed calmly with great effect. Your message can still be delivered with firmness, but under control. This gains respect and trust.

Another successful approach comes from learning to substitute negative feelings with positive ones. This is not repression, but rather mastering control over negative feelings. Expert business coach Marshall Goldsmith summarizes this technique in a Harvard Business Review article. He encourages leaders to reject the negativity of anger, and not allow themselves to be defeated by this threat.

Make a choice to not let anger get the best of you. You can still be angry, but not let it get out of hand. Choosing to dismiss the anger leaves room for a more positive feeling to take its place.

The Need for Authentic Leadership

Companies can no longer be impersonal buildings where employees show up each day, carry out their duties and shut off their brains before going home each night. People aren’t satisfied with simply following procedures and checking boxes. They seek professional fulfillment through engagement, passion and long-term value.

The most successful leaders know that employees want a rewarding work life—an environment that cares for them, values their contributions and gives them a chance to grow. Research consistently confirms that organizational health directly depends on employee satisfaction. When people are unhappy, the company suffers in myriad ways; when employees thrive, the company flourishes. There seem to be no exceptions.

Employees follow leaders who engage and inspire them, relate to them and instill trust. Leaders must be authentic, avoiding deception, contradiction, hidden agendas and ulterior motives.

Leadership experts like Bill George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School, have studied how authenticity impacts organizations—and how a lack of it destroys them. Old-school thinking of power-based management, which keeps employees controlled and compliant, has failed. Distant, deceptive and insincere leadership repels people, causing multiple dysfunctions. Only legitimate authenticity works.

Unfortunately, many leaders have yet to grasp what authenticity necessitates and consequently fail to implement it. While authenticity’s facets are broad, its general principles are relatively uncomplicated and well worth the effort to learn and practice.

Branding and leadership expert Anna Crowe outlines four of its key attributes in Get Real: The Power of Genuine Leadership, a Transparent Culture, and an Authentic You (Lioncrest Publishing, 2019):

  • Adaptability
  • Direct communication
  • Putting values into action
  • Leading with passion

Be Adaptable

Employees want their leaders to be reliable sources of guidance and support, able to handle an ever-evolving environment with a variety of inputs, viewpoints and choices. They need leaders to adapt to the diversity of their surroundings and, as Crowe puts it, adjust to people’s unique situations.

Being adaptable requires a confident and, ironically, consistent character. Adaptability doesn’t mean being fickle, constantly changing course or bending under pressure. It calls for sticking to principles and plans with consideration, reasonable flexibility and understanding. Being consistent in how you display these traits allows your people to count on you. They know what they’re getting and what to anticipate. Consistent adaptability provides comfort and support, two important ingredients of fulfillment.

Leaders should assess their personalities to gauge their flexibility. A stubborn, prideful spirit clearly isn’t geared for authenticity. A trusted colleague or qualified executive coach can help you objectively determine how adaptive you are. Coaches are trained to guide you through adaptability’s nuances and steer your personality toward this critical mindset.

An adaptable approach fosters trust in challenging times and allows you to be true to yourself. People will know where they stand with you. When leaders put on airs, hide their intentions or contradict themselves, authenticity and trust are compromised. Leaders who remain calm, collected, insightful, understanding and willing to try new ideas demonstrate the trust-building power of adaptability.

Adaptable leaders know how to build unity within their teams. They avoid power games, politics or favoritism. They understand how to pull people into a common effort, pick their battles, make appropriate exceptions, meet urgent needs and make effective changes when necessary. Leaders who maintain the status quo, rigidly cling to rules and fear new approaches show a lack of authenticity, causing employees to hold back their best.

Leaders also gain respect and trust when they adapt to others’ input. Most teams include people with diverse backgrounds, personalities and perspectives, which encourage a wide range of ideas and solutions. Authentically considering what people offer and appreciating their contributions affirm them and add to their sense of fulfillment.

Communicate Directly

Inauthentic communication is the best way to lose employees’ respect and trust. Dishonesty, mixed messages, inconsistency and unreliability are serious communication weaknesses. They’re noticed quickly and are impossible to hide.

Employees trust leaders who speak clearly and directly. Authentic communication cannot be muddled, confusing or timid. When leaders communicate with purpose, logic, intention and emphasis, people detect authenticity. They trust leaders who cogently convey ideas and account for their audience, which maximizes connection. Speaking as directly as possible delivers the most trustworthy message. People think a leader who hedges or beats around the bush has something to hide and write off communication as inauthentic.

When leaders consistently communicate complete and timely information, people can rely on its authenticity. They know leaders are attempting to benefit everyone. When leaders hold back information for personal or political motives, employees usually discover the deception and develop distrust. Leaders solve communication problems when they recognize that people notice them and form opinions that are difficult to overturn. Seeing yourself from another person’s perspective will motivate you to enhance your approach.

Authentic communication is forged from honesty. Airs and pretenses must be cast aside. Leaders become transparent when they admit to being fallible or poorly informed on a specific topic. Such authenticity is attractive, especially when leaders ask for help. Admitting mistakes reveals a vulnerability that draws people’s admiration and appreciation. As Crowe points out, a leader’s mask severs the connections needed for collaboration and unity.

Leaders who hold themselves accountable to their people earn respect. Making commitments means you must deliver on them. If you’re open to feedback, willing to ask people about their needs, seek ideas for improvement and genuinely listen to feedback, you demonstrate authenticity. Taking action based on this input convinces people you’re authentically interested in their welfare and growth.

Put Your Values into Practice

Successful leaders know that key values set the direction of their organizations. They continuously come back to the fundamental principles that optimize human activity and fulfill their people. Values mean nothing to people unless they’re backed up with action, Crowe emphasizes.

People’s worth is the value most responsible for organizational success. Great leaders regard relationships as their organizations’ lifeblood. People work effectively only when they authentically relate to each other in a culture that promotes relationships. People-centered leaders purposefully relate to their colleagues, superiors and direct reports, thereby setting an example for their teams.

A relationship-oriented culture welcomes workplace diversity, recognizing the advantages of multicultural backgrounds and distinct abilities. Relational leaders put these differences to use, providing employee fulfillment by making sure everyone is included and valued. They respect people for who they are—not only for their technical skills, but for the relationships they cultivate.

Teamwork is critical to maintaining relationships and productivity. We accomplish more when working with blended resources. We are the sum of our parts. Teamwork-centered employees experience greater engagement and fulfillment. If you authentically promote teamwork, you’ll be surprised at the levels to which people can rise.

If you set high goals for your teams, be prepared to provide a commensurate level of assistance. Give of yourself, and clear the way for people to succeed. Demonstrate that you’re willing to sacrifice your own needs to further the team’s goals and accomplishments. Put your people’s needs ahead of self-interest. Employees will do almost anything to please leaders who go out of their way to help them succeed.

Professionalism is yet another value that sets the pace for your workforce. You can have fun and enjoy what you’re doing, but treat situations in mature and intentional ways. Your moral code should reflect authenticity and excellence. Banish negativity and inappropriate behavior, and exemplify a commitment to giving your best. Authentic leaders embody professionalism by walking the walk and not just talking the talk.

Make Passion Contagious

Employees who are passionate about their jobs find fulfillment. Great leaders seek ways to inspire passion in their people. Leaders who make genuine efforts to enhance their employees’ experiences are rewarded with a staff of motivated, productive achievers.

Conversely, inflicting a smothering system of red tape, indecisiveness and apathy kills employees’ interest and efficiency. People are more invested in their jobs if you offer them as much authority as they can manage. Empower your people to make decisions, take action and put ideas in motion. The less your people need to rely on you to make decisions, the more fulfilled they’ll become.

Challenge your people to accomplish what they didn’t think possible. Provide real opportunities that push them. People find passion when they’re free to be all they can be. Create a culture that aims high and demands excellence. Your people can raise the bar on their own endeavors, as you continue to reward their successes and offer positive feedback.

Of course, challenges carry opportunities for failure. Allow for mistakes when people are trying their best. Letting people fail can be positive if you continue to support them and send them back out there with new challenges. People need to learn from their mistakes and often find success in ways that wouldn’t be possible without having failed. A culture that forgives failure reduces fear and hesitancy, two significant roadblocks to fulfillment. Leaders who offer authentic encouragement and confidence boost their people’s passion.

Your most effective way to inspire passion is to live it. Passion cannot be forced or faked (too easy to detect). Leading authentically draws followers, so don’t be afraid to show vulnerability. Not everyone will agree with your visions and ideas. Every time you put yourself out there, you risk rejection or pushback. Confidence and determination help balance vulnerability (displaying strength through weakness, as Crowe puts it).

Authentic feelings, responses and behaviors engage people, affording you respect and trust. Trusting employees are more likely to be fulfilled.

Leaders Build Unity

Organizations run by leaders with traditional management mindsets lag behind their forward-thinking competitors in many areas: turnover, morale, productivity, market share, financial stability and profitability. The impact reaches far beyond the workplace and has a boomerang effect.

Unhappy employees bring work woes home with them. Their frustrations and stress trickle down to their families, neighbors and friends. As these relationships suffer, employees’ lives grow worse. Illness, depression, harmful habits and personality changes incubate, return to the workplace and hasten a downward trajectory. Some experts claim many of today’s current family and cultural problems originate in our workplaces.

Studies and surveys show a common cause: traditional management approaches that devalue people by regarding them as replaceable—nameless resources to be tolerated as long as numbers are met. Old-school leaders want goals achieved; if employees somehow benefit, then that’s a bonus.

Alternatively, leaders whose companies are thriving recognize the importance of people’s welfare. Simply put, companies grow when leaders help people feel fulfilled, individually and collectively. The process requires diligence, patience and passion.

Bringing People Together

People need to be part of something bigger than themselves, and they generally embrace opportunities to contribute to organizational success. They want to be part of a unified team. Relationships are the lifeblood of organizational dynamics—the fuel that makes things happen. When people are fulfilled, unity blossoms and companies profit.

Unified employees are validated with a sense of worth, knowing their team needs them and that they have a purpose. When leadership promotes unity, people know they’re cared for and valued. They know their leaders appreciate them and have their best interests in mind. When people’s lives matter, they’ll go to great lengths to succeed.

Unified employees also bring home far less baggage. They experience less work-related stress and irritation, which also benefits their companies. People’s need for fulfillment is paramount, and leaders must make every effort to provide it. Companies with the most unified people boast the greatest prosperity.

Initiating and maintaining a culture of unity may initially seem daunting. The process involves four basic components, note Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia in Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family (Portfolio, 2015):

  • Promoting value and purpose
  • Fixing the most compelling problems people face
  • Establishing teamwork and family
  • Connecting with people personally

Promoting Positives

People must understand their role in the company’s big picture, and leaders are responsible for conveying this to them.

Share your company’s vision by clearly explaining and discussing it, which unites people in a common cause. Everyone should work toward the same overall mission, depending on each other to achieve it. Leaders who create a vision of a brighter future elicit hope and anticipation. Always add value to people’s roles.

Employees with a higher sense of value have more pride and self-respect, which unlocks unforeseen potential. Value is often based on material assets, information or profit, but it’s legitimately found only in people, Chapman and Sisodia emphasize. When leaders ascribe value to all of their people, not just a select few, more pieces of the success puzzle find their place on the board.

People also feel unified when leaders create a culture of high purpose, moving everyone toward a noble goal. Culture isn’t like a watch that’s wound and left to run on its own; it must be monitored, adjusted and rewound to keep working. Employees follow leaders who honor people with dignity and respect.

Trust is a valuable tool for creating unity and value. Leaders must earn it through authentic, dependable behavior. When trusting people are, in turn, trusted, morale and positivity soar. Employees ultimately feel better about themselves, suffer fewer frustrations, and feel better physically, emotionally and socially. Attitudes and work ethic improve. The big-picture impact is enormous.

Fixing Compelling Problems

Leaders owe their people a vibrant future, requiring them to lower the barricades that slow them down. Take note of what people struggle with, and attempt to make their lives easier by showing care and concern, which builds unity. Simply telling your people they matter without demonstrating it is the easiest way to destroy their trust and work ethic. Words must be accompanied by swift action; otherwise, trust falters.

Assess bottlenecks. Most employees want to be productive and proud of their work, yet the organizational environment may prevent them from feeling satisfied. Are your methods and procedures taxing or wasteful? What about working conditions? Are people crammed together, with no room to work and little privacy? Is their environment noisy or distracting enough to hamper their focus? Do they have ample light to see what they’re doing? Address any relevant issues to improve attitudes and unity.

Employees often complain about too much work and insufficient resources. Is each team member tackling the work of three or four people? Are people putting in relentlessly long workdays? Add or reallocate resources to increase unity. Saving money while your people burn out benefits no one in the long run. An oppressive environment kills unity.

Leaders who commit to solving problems forge even greater unity when they empower their people to be part of the solution. Employees feel valued when they’re trusted as experts and problem-solvers, knowing the company needs them to realize leadership’s vision. A culture built on collaboration and appreciation reaps the benefits of greater unity.

Establish multidisciplinary problem-solving teams to break down traditional silos, urge Chapman and Sisodia. Ask employees for feedback, ideas and solutions. Invite them to evaluate best options, formulate plans to implement fixes and participate in follow-up activities to continue improvement efforts. There’s no better way to obtain people’s buy-in and promote unity.

Establishing Teamwork

People want to be part of a winning team. When they’re engaged, they’ll contribute and feed off others’ energy. Establish a team mindset to get the best from employees. When practiced effectively, teamwork is a positive, encouraging and confidence-building process.

Teamwork involves diligent communication. Give your people the information that concerns them: company operations, issues and activities. This helps them know where they stand and where they may be headed. Communicating goals and progress inspires people to use their talents and discover capabilities they didn’t even realize they had, note Chapman and Sisodia. Place people in roles that make the most of their gifts.

Inspire positivity and innovation. Ask challenging questions, provoke opportunities, and put your people to the test. Give them a chance to learn through mentorships, training and workshops. When people are invested in their contributions, they become emissaries of influence. They sense they’ve found a home and work hard to protect, improve and tout it.

Leaders need to set the example and model desired behaviors. This takes patience and practice. Learn to avoid trust-damaging conduct and policies. Leaders who see the long view take time to develop their people and create unity through teamwork. People who are treated well will reciprocate. They’ll have more to be happy about, which improves attitudes, work ethic and effectiveness.

Connecting with People

The most successful leaders use their people skills to foster teamwork and unity. Relationships are foundational to unity, and leaders who are passionate about their people experience the greatest success.

Unity blossoms when employees know their leader cares about them and can relate to their situations. Connect with and engage your people. Talk with them transparently, and ask questions. Make every effort to understand what they care about, what concerns them and where they want to go.

Use your active listening skills to hear and fully comprehend what people have to say. Deep listening, as Chapman and Sisodia call it, involves sharing and understanding the feelings behind people’s words. Know what’s going on inside people’s heads, and show respect for who they are. Employees feel fulfilled when they know they matter and are being heard.

Listening often requires follow-up. Words are great, but action is even better. Show people you value them by addressing their difficulties and concerns, whenever possible. Provide resources to see difficulties through to resolution.

Celebrate with team members who overcome challenges or perform commendably. This personal touch shows you care. Chapman and Sisodia believe caring is absent in many leaders; old-school managers often consider it a weakness. But employees will reject unnecessary toughness, firmness and control. Caring puts you on the path to unity and prosperity.

A unified, engaged, motivated and inspired workforce is the greatest weapon any leader can have. There’s nothing a unified team cannot do.

Optimize Your Management Team

Extensive research reveals startling conditions in typical organizational settings. Gallup’s State of the American Manager Report, last updated in 2017, confirms a strong correlation between company prosperity and middle management abilities.

Through the Manager Report and numerous surveys, Gallup has exposed lingering trends in employee disengagement, distrust and dissatisfaction, which directly hit the bottom line. Managers are 70% responsible for employees’ attitudes about their jobs, affecting their attendance, quality of work, willingness, loyalty and customer feedback. Gallup’s No Recovery Report found that the American GDP per capita has slowed its growth from 3% to 0.5% in the last 50 years. The growth in personal productivity has essentially stopped, even with the advent of improving technology.

This puts the onus on top leadership to make sure their management structure is as effective as possible, a condition that statistics say is rare. Surveys indicate only 10% of people have a high talent to manage effectively. Unfortunately, they also show that about 82% of the management segment is chosen from outside this small window.

When top leaders prioritize the quality of their management team, their organizations thrive. When they don’t, they struggle, sometimes marginally, sometimes catastrophically. Leaders enjoy the highest levels of success when they put the right people in the right roles, and train them to develop and engage their employees. Each of these steps require a thoughtful approach with diligent upkeep.

Find the Best Management Candidates

Leadership mindsets have changed over the last few decades. In the 2018 article, Want to Improve Productivity? Hire Better Managers, Gallup managing partner Vipula Gandhi describes the traditional leadership philosophy of control and privilege. Experience shows that this has always been detrimental to organizational life. However, employees no longer accept controlling environments or stern practices. Leaders with controlling methods suffer from high employee disengagement, inefficiencies and turnover. This is not a recipe for success.

Another frequent practice is placing people into leadership roles based on their seniority or past accomplishments, with a high emphasis on their technical skills. Unfortunately, effective leading is much more dependent on people skills. Employees respond much more favorably to managers who know how to relate with them than those who have technical savvy. Technical skills can be honed to lead technically, but people desire managers who can lead personally. People skills are heavily influenced by personality, which is much harder to adapt. Many technically capable managers have poor people skills, and thus have poor followings with the associated fallout. 

In order for leaders to run the most effective organizations they need the most effective management team, which calls for putting the right people in management roles. The right candidates have the strongest people skills, so it is important to stress this attribute in the recruiting and placement process. Technical skills are necessary, but weighing them too heavily is a critical mistake.

Unlike technical skills, people skills are more difficult to assess on paper. This is why getting to know candidates personally is critical. Interviews are valuable to grasp a candidate’s soft skillset. Here are some areas to explore with a candidate, whether they are internal or from outside the organization:

  • What is their philosophy of leadership?
  • How does their character convey positivity and motivation?
  • How do they exhibit pride, humility, respect, accountability?
  • What kind of wisdom, discernment and insight do they have?
  • Are they personally interested in people, and enjoy engaging, supporting and encouraging them?
  • How do they value their staff?
  • Do they care about employees as people or just physical resources?
  • What kind of collaborative spirit do they have?
  • Do they seem interested in benefitting themselves or others?
  • What is their definition of fairness?
  • Will they fit into the culture?

Many of these answers can be sensed through conversations or what-if scenarios by asking candidates to role play specific situations. Make sure their people skills are strong enough before offering them a management position.

Training Your Managers

You want your employees to enjoy their jobs and that means enjoying their managers. To enhance your organization, you need your people to be engaged and willing to follow their supervisors. Only the managers with high people skills can ensure this, and only the managers who continuously develop these attributes become highly skilled.

Even good people-oriented managers have room to grow and improve. The most successful leaders make sure their managers are on a path of growth by providing opportunities to train and learn. Most organizations offer technical training, and this is important. However, too many leaders underappreciate the need for their managers to train in people skills. Leaders who emphasis a people-first culture raise managers who excel in these areas.

You may find resources within your staff that have the right experience to conduct training for your managers. If not, find external resources to conduct training in your facility or one nearby. Many executive coaches or teachers have the ability to offer training in soft skills. Here are some areas where training is beneficial:

  • Listening and feedback
  • Delegating
  • Negotiating
  • Empathy
  • Collaboration and multi-discipline interaction
  • Transparency
  • Problem solving
  • Teamwork
  • Interviewing for job openings or promotions
  • Approachability and conversation
  • Firmness with fairness
  • Conflict management
  • Stress management
  • Running a meeting
  • Accountability
  • Coaching and mentoring

A trained manager is able to pass on that training to their people. This is why coaching and mentoring skills are so vital for a manager to enhance the effectiveness of their staff. The most successful organizations engage managers capable of raising future managers.

In addition to people skills, being trained in company policies and procedures plays a vital role for managers to relate well with their people. Here are some areas of specific training that allow managers to assist their people on a personal level:

  • HR policies / internal staff-related policies
  • Employee development and promotion policies
  • Employee career planning and training policies
  • Performance review and assessment procedures
  • Corporate vision and mission philosophies

Well-rounded managers are best able to address the needs of their people and maintain their engagement, motivation and effectiveness. Some types of training may need to be offered as a regular refresher. A priority on training creates a culture of excellence.

Keep Your Managers Engaged

Another important aspect of optimizing your management team is to keep them highly engaged. Gandhi sites a significant Gallup finding in that 85% of employees are not engaged at their jobs. This translates into dire disabilities for leaders. If, as indicated earlier, 70% of employee attitudes are impacted by their managers, then it’s clear that manager engagement is critical.

Few leaders recognize this. Of those who do, many struggle with thinking of ways to engage their managers. If you understand what kinds of things engage employees, the same applies for managers. Each want to be a part of something great. They want purpose, enjoyable relationships, the ability to succeed and recognition for their achievements. The degree may be different for managers and their employees, but similar nonetheless.

Your managers desire opportunity for growth, both personally and corporately. Provide a path to achieve it: Lay out plans to groom managers for advancement. This includes challenging projects that call for higher levels of responsibility, technical skills and people skills. Experience overcoming challenges empowers and qualifies managers for more. Cross-training is another way to enhance the skills of managers, and many experience a greater appreciation for their company.

Managers raise their engagement by being informed and included in leadership matters. Let them in on corporate plans and visions, and invite participation in activities that are normally above their level. This helps managers feel valued and appreciated. They can bring additional perspectives to leadership discussions, with insight from the working end of the operation. Opportunities to create and deliver presentations to higher-level leadership and other departments also increases motivation and gives managers a sense that they have much at stake in their careers.

Make manager engagement a priority by including it in performance evaluations. Most effective are 360 evaluations that incorporate anonymous feedback from all levels including supervisors, colleagues, employees and customers. See how people really view the manager’s engagement.

Leaders who optimize their management team find sustainable success and satisfaction in ways that outshine all other strategies. The employees with the best managers have the best experiences and the best futures.

The Perils of Perfectionism

Employees generally agree that leaders with a passion for excellence, quality and accomplishment benefit their organizations. These qualities place leaders at the top of their fields. No one faults managers who give their all and make sacrifices, but too much of a good thing can also pose problems.

Perfectionistic leaders may be as damaging as those who embrace mediocrity. Perfectionists often obsess over process, commonly insisting that tasks be completed their way. Often accompanying perfectionism is obsessive-compulsive behavior, with leaders demanding adherence to narrow windows of acceptable norms. While ostensibly committed to doing what’s best, perfectionists have tightly controlled definitions of what best means.

Perfectionistic leaders frustrate their people, burden them with extreme expectations and cause resentment. A leader’s desire to do the right thing leads to a rigidly controlled, distrusting and unaccepting culture that smothers people into submission. Fortunately, there are ways to understand and deal with perfectionism while maintaining excellence and productivity.

Do You Have Perfectionistic Tendencies?

Perfectionists believe they have a keen mind for what works (and what doesn’t). They assess optimal methods and outcomes, endeavoring to implement them—a fine goal, as long as leaders avoid obsession.

By definition, an obsession is a dominant, persistent focus on a thought or feeling that overrules all others. Obsessions take leaders down ineffective paths, where they’re blinded into believing that effectiveness is possible only when absolute perfection is achieved. The cycle then escalates: The more leaders focus on efficacy, the greater their need for perfection.

Perfectionists strive for excellence and virtue in everything they do, notes psychotherapist and leadership consultant Beatrice Chestnut, PhD, in The 9 Types of Leadership: Mastering the Art of People in the 21st Century Workplace (Post Hill Press, 2017). Their quest, however, manifests as a noticeable compulsion and calculated culture that alienates many employees. Though perfection is truly unattainable, perfectionistic leaders remain unconvinced. They continue to push for their desired outcomes, even as the consequences of their actions call for corrections.

Perfectionistic leaders develop the skills to blend reason, logic, emotion and insight. They rely on these tools to affirm their sense of purpose—a strategy that helps them solve and avoid problems, while providing motivation and comfort.

If you spot some of these tendencies in your behavior, you may, indeed, be a perfectionist. Despite your best intentions, you may be causing your people and organization to struggle. The more you focus on raising the bar, the less likely you are to see the harmful effects on those around you. Fortunately, a qualified leadership coach can help you assess your issues and develop a healthier, more effective leadership style.

Perfectionism’s Pros and Cons

Leaders who strive for excellence can lay strong foundations for their organizations. They:

  • Aim for the highest standards, through ethical conduct and honorable motives
  • Are dedicated to the organization’s mission, with support and intentionality
  • Exude reliability, honesty, integrity, diligence and perseverance
  • Honor organizational policies, rules and practices with the structure they provide
  • Are detail-oriented, with a clear understanding of how things work
  • Have few ego issues, seeking every opportunity to excel
  • Are terrific teachers who help others learn and improve

But when taken to extremes, these traits create dissent, employee dissatisfaction and turnover. When leaders prioritize outcomes over people, employee morale and a leader’s legacy suffer. On the negative end of the spectrum, perfectionistic leaders:

  • Hold unrealistic expectations of excellence that people can never meet
  • Engage in black-and-white thinking, leading them to reach rash or unfair conclusions
  • Believe their way is the best way—in short, the only way
  • Criticize those who disagree with their assessments and solutions
  • Assume others cannot complete work as effectively as they can
  • Take on too much work, without delegating, believing others will achieve lesser results
  • Make goals seem more critical than necessary
  • Often micromanage or control projects to ensure their standards prevail
  • Can be tough to please, as results are seldom good enough
  • Pressure themselves into doing better and continually need more from their people
  • Are so focused on methods and results that they fail to notice (or deal with) their detrimental effects on employees
  • Are unwilling to develop other leaders or successors, believing no one can lead the organization or replace them

If some of these behaviors sound uncomfortably familiar to you, perfectionism may be jeopardizing your organization and career. Your people need room to breathe and the freedom to contribute with the skills they have. There’s almost always more than one way to achieve a goal. Perfection, as desirable as it may seem, is deceptively dangerous.

Signs and Symptoms

Perfectionistic leaders exhibit widely observable behavioral patterns. They have a precise manner, with a keen attention to detail, punctuality, specificity and process. Tunnel vision causes them to adhere strongly to established policies and procedures. They show displeasure with those whose priorities differ, and they instruct their people to follow “the plan.”  They issue compulsively frequent reminders and criticisms.

Perfectionists assign people to one of two categories: those who support their values and methods vs. those who dissent. Their attempts to teach or make suggestions are largely firm or critical. When these leaders receive negative feedback, they become judgmental and biased.

Perfectionistic leaders are generally inflexible and loath to entertain other ideas. They may become self-righteous when they’ve determined their analysis is thorough and needs no improvement. They hover over employees, attempting to ensure each task is performed perfectly. They emphasize the value of hard work, obsess over details, quickly highlight errors and believe mistakes are catastrophic. Their language and tone convey distrust in others. Declining to delegate is their way of protecting their systems, values and control. Working for them can be unbearable.

Breaking the Habit

Perfectionism’s negative tendencies outweigh the positives when taken to extremes. Consider retaining an experienced executive coach if you’re struggling with a perfectionistic personality. Coaching encourages collaborative, reasonable behaviors that allow you to accomplish noble goals.

Perfectionists must learn how to back away from the relentless urge to seek an unblemished track record. Virtually no project will run flawlessly in the business world, nor should this be one’s goal. Excellence is attainable, so learn to differentiate it from perfection. Over-the-top efforts to realize perfection are unnecessary and counterproductive.

Perfectionistic leaders can learn that success is earned by giving their best and making the most practical choices. Mistakes and oversights are common, and there are always creative ways to work around, mitigate and minimize their impact. The world will never run on perfection, nor will any conscientious leader.

Leaders must recognize how their criticisms affect people and their work. Take the time to gauge morale and productivity levels. Work with a trusted colleague, mentor or coach to improve how you offer feedback and suggestions.

Leaders who are determined to conquer their perfectionistic tendencies will make the greatest strides, Dr. Chestnut explains. Changing one’s mindset is a process that requires transparency and humility. Diligent leaders can learn to adopt proper perspectives.

Reformed perfectionists learn how to be open to other ideas, agree to be teachable and recognize that no one has all the answers. Problems can be solved in multiple ways. The most successful leaders surround themselves with smart, innovative people who bring great ideas to the table. Collaboration is a strength; valuing only your own ideas is a liability.

Working for a Perfectionistic Leader

If you report to a perfectionist, resist the urge to express resentment, defiance or disrespect. Rebelliousness goads perfectionists into reacting, thus worsening your relationship. You want to avoid doing irreparable damage. Be advised, however, that submissiveness is not the answer.

Perfectionistic leaders value unity, knowing it’s key to attaining excellence. They want to be understood and have their core values appreciated. Demonstrate your commitment to excellence by telling your boss that you, too, value quality and integrity—a strategy that will enhance your relationship. While you may disagree on specific methods, work toward conveying your opinions and finding workable compromises, Dr. Chestnut advises.

Emphasize common goals so your boss values your partnership enough to address disagreements willingly. Discuss differences in rational, calm and respectful ways. Help your boss see alternative paths to goals. Outline pros and cons to discover why your leader prefers one approach to another. Detail-oriented leaders value input when they’re guided to objective conclusions. Be willing to critique your own ideas, as well.

Perfectionists, who think clearly and definitively, are more likely to be on your wavelength if you work methodically, as well. Find ways to express appreciation for your boss’s willingness to solve problems and make decisions jointly. Be accountable and willing to apologize for mistakes or delays, which builds trust and prevents judgmental responses. Perfectionistic leaders appreciate positive, but honest, feedback when their teams are attentively pursuing their goals.

You can support your boss’s coveted processes and procedures while offering additional ideas. Let your boss see you as a consistently positive and trustworthy influence, which may diminish hypervigilance and micromanagement. When perfectionistic leaders accept alternate strategies, their grip on black-and-white thinking may loosen. They may come to realize that success doesn’t require perfection or a breakneck work pace. As they learn that processes benefit from some give-and-take, their leadership style may evolve.

The Benefits of Vulnerability

The traditional definition of vulnerability is to be capable of, or susceptible to being wounded or hurt; being open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc. Most people in business understand these definitions and avoid vulnerability at all costs. Nowhere does this have more impact than in leadership circles.

However, recent research in leadership has exposed many old ways of thinking as outdated, ineffective and damaging. With today’s emphasis on human relations, employee engagement and softer leadership skills, greater emphasis is being placed on interpersonal connection and consideration for people.

Why? Because we’ve learned that employee satisfaction is paramount to organizational success. People simply shut down or leave if they don’t feel appreciated. The focus is transitioning from leaders to employees, although this has yet to make deep inroads into every organization.

Autocratic leadership styles are yielding to democratic ones, where people are individualized and supported. Harsh, impersonal treatment is changing to accountable, considerate acts of empowerment. Cold, impenetrable leaders are learning humility and vulnerability.

Definitions are changing with the times, and these behaviors are recognized for their benefits— for employees and leaders alike. The transformations are not easy. It’s difficult to overcome engrained paradigms. But if leaders can do this, the rewards are unlimited.

Perhaps the most challenging soft skill many leaders still have trouble grasping is vulnerability.

False Notions of Vulnerability

The word vulnerability generates negative impressions for leaders because of past experiences of their own or people they know. Generally, vulnerable situations don’t go well, so leaders do what they can to avoid them. They see vulnerability as having their weaknesses or mistakes exposed, which leads to criticism of their abilities or character.

When leaders believe that criticism reflects negatively on them, a number of possible fears come to mind. Their worth in the organization feels devalued, which ultimately means that they are devalued. They sense they are appreciated less, trusted less, and likely not to be viewed as capable of handling challenges. In other words, their careers are handicapped. This can be a big blow to a leader’s world.

As Emma Seppälä describes in her 2014 article for HBR, What Bosses Gain by Being Vulnerable, vulnerability tends to be accepted as a weakness. Leaders can be seen as being unknowledgeable or incapable, unconfident, soft or ineffective. Typical scenarios of vulnerability for leaders include:

  • Promoting a new project that doesn’t succeed because of inaccurate assumptions.
  • Misjudging someone’s proposal and realizing the error.
  • Needing help from a colleague when the relationship is damaged or strained.
  • Trusting the unproven skills of a key team member on an important project.
  • Applying principles learned in a prior field that don’t really work in a new field.

The most successful leaders have learned that these kinds of seemingly vulnerable situations don’t need to portray weakness at all. Everyone makes mistakes, but it is a strong character that is willing to own up to them. Expressing need and being honest and up-front about mistakes reflects an inner strength that doesn’t rely on the approval of others, but rather confidence in oneself. Advances in soft leadership skills are overturning negative thinking about vulnerability and finding ways to make it a positive.

The Positive Side of Vulnerability

When leaders admit their mistakes and show that they want to learn from them, the negative aspects of vulnerability can be minimized. People see this as taking responsibility, being accountable or transparent. These are admirable traits that display relational skills. Employees want leaders who can relate with them and behave more like “regular people”. This dispenses with traditional pretenses of being better or more important, which are resented by subordinates.

Human connectedness is the new attribute that engages people and draws them to a leader. Admitting and apologizing for being wrong prompts a relational restoration that builds trust. Honesty and authenticity signify a leader who cares about relationships and the strength that they afford. Deeper relationships draw out the best in people, and this enhances attitudes, productivity and loyalty.

As Seppälä points out, people can sense what their leader is feeling, and this influences their response. When employees see their leader as genuine and willingly vulnerable they feel good about it, and respond favorably with admiration and respect. Pretenses of superiority or infallibility, which are old-school vulnerability missteps, often work against a leader causing damaged relationships and disunity.

A leader who is willing to be open and vulnerable shows courage. They prioritize team unity and effectiveness above personal image, choosing to sacrifice for everyone’s benefit. This is the image of a person receiving inner strength from their belief in themselves rather than being dependent on the opinions of others. People are open to being influenced by a leader with this kind of character and are often inspired to be more like them.

A leader who asks for feedback, help or advice can use vulnerability to an advantage. Leaders demonstrate they want to learn and be the best they can be by expressing need. Who doesn’t want to follow someone like that? Their drive for improvement is contagious. Everyone wants in on it.

Acquiring a Willingness to be Vulnerable

Most leaders find comfort with the knowledge that vulnerability is a skill that takes time to develop; after all, it is contrary to our human nature to protect and defend. When expressed in a constructive way, vulnerability is a leadership strength, and draws more respect than if you pretended not to be vulnerable.

Vulnerability can be demonstrated in unfortunate ways, which are equally damaging. Doing it for show draws attention to yourself, as David Williams asserts in The Best Leaders Are Vulnerable. This is a false humility designed to impress people with an overly-relational air, hoping to gain favor. Being humorously critical of yourself may be effective on occasion, but when done regularly its fakeness is detected.

Instead, be honest. Sincerely owning up to mistakes is the most effective way to show vulnerability. Doing this in a spirit of humility is very effective. A leader who accounts for their actions well enough to take the heat turns vulnerability to an advantage.

Asking someone for forgiveness can feel like an extremely vulnerable act, but its benefits can be great. Showing the desire to restore a relationship, and taking the lead, is an honorable, trustworthy behavior that draws people. Likewise, offering forgiveness to someone who’s hurt you doesn’t mean you are weak. It means you are above the discord and strong enough to initiate its repair.

Leaders resistant to expressing vulnerability are often concerned that they will be taken advantage of. Displaying genuine vulnerability will show you that this is not the case. It takes courage to head down this path, but it’s a journey that can enhance your leadership more than adopting any other trait.

A leader who identifies their weaknesses can develop the ability to reveal them in the proper setting and manner. The skills of a qualified leadership coach can be of great benefit in this area. Self-awareness leads to greater comfort in being transparent about your vulnerabilities. A keen focus on being relatable with your people lets you expand your comfort zone. Turn your vulnerabilities into strengths!

How to Avoid Leadership Drift

Business is an active, demanding endeavor. Only those who consistently apply themselves succeed. Organizations that thrive require leaders who actively dream, plan, engage, solve, pursue and network. It’s a lot of work, and there’s no finish line.

But no one can keep up the pace indefinitely. Every leader experiences profound peaks and valleys, seasons of being on track or feeling lost. This can be repeated throughout the career of even the most seasoned executives.

Organizations flourish when their leaders are in sync and on their game, and they flounder when their leaders drift off course. Many leaders find themselves off the path because they have gradually, unnoticeably, drifted there.

Leadership drift is increasingly responsible for management failure and turnover. Many leaders face forceful influences and events that detrimentally change them, diminishing their organizational influence and reputation. Without discernment and internal awareness, external factors can cause damage that isn’t recognized until it is severe.

Leaders benefit by applying a dual strategy: addressing the external factors to minimize their impact, and handling their responses to such factors, overcoming the personal issues that can lead to drifting. Most find the second to be much more difficult.

All leaders experience drift at some point in their careers, some of it minor and recoverable, some significant and troubling. The greatest danger is failing to recognize it and taking steps to reverse it. Prolonging a short stretch of drift can render it irreversible, leading to career and team failures.

Fortunately, leaders can take concrete steps to prevent irrevocable consequences. However, since drift is primarily an unconscious issue, leaders generally need a second set of eyes to recognize it and bring it to the forefront. Even when recognized, drift is a critical topic best mitigated through the helpful resources of a qualified leadership coach.

Signs and Symptoms

As the word implies, “drift” is a loss of direction or purposefulness. Any pattern of behavior that reduces leaders’ impact or influence is cause for concern. Leaders who have forgotten their core mission have drifted, explains Cornell University organizational-behavior professor Samuel Bacharach, PhD, in “How to Avoid Leadership Drift” (Inc.com, April 2016). Drifting manifests in a variety of ways, signaling that leaders have distanced themselves from their roles.

Drift can be linked to a loss of interest or control. Expressing apathy toward current issues or projects is a discernible sign, as is coasting on past accomplishments. Drifting leaders often concede their principles or work ethic, permitting situations they never would have tolerated earlier in their careers. Adopting a hands-off management style commonly indicates that a once-diligent leader has drifted.

Leaders who isolate themselves from colleagues or resist feedback may have succumbed to drift. Shutting down, saying or contributing little, and making fewer decisions are red flags.

Just as a boat slowly drifts from shore, leadership drift slowly progresses and may be observed only after a significant occurrence. When employees begin to notice behavioral changes and wonder what happened to their once-respected leader, whispers become conversations. It becomes clear that leadership drift has been going on for some time. Drifting leaders eventually cause their organizations to veer off course, with potentially devastating implications.

“…progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road…“

~ C.S. Lewis

Circumstances are not always under a leader’s control. But drifting, distancing yourself from your role and duties, is. It is a result of choices, made either consciously or not, intentionally or not, calmly or desperately. You may think that drifting was something done to you. But it is something you did to yourself.

Why Leaders Drift

All leaders endure impactful changes or trials. Troubling life events can profoundly affect one’s behavior, mindset or motivation, notes Brigette Tasha Hyacinth, MBA, in Purpose Driven Leadership: Building and Fostering Effective Teams (independently published, 2017).

Challenges often shuffle priorities and strain perspective on personal matters. A loss of a family member, marital crisis, health scare or financial calamity can turn a leader’s world upside down, and one’s focus can quickly blur. Leaders who lose their enthusiasm and determination find themselves drifting.

Alternatively, drift can follow a period of working too hard, for too long, and running on fumes. Burnout is a serious problem, leaving afflicted leaders with no gas left in the tank and no energy or desire to maintain the required pace. Self-preservation supersedes daily responsibilities and issues. Leaders who drift from exhaustion eventually become ineffective, and their role within the organization is compromised.

On the other end of the spectrum, drift may result from boredom. Leaders who are denied new challenges or goals will lose interest in, and enthusiasm for, their jobs. Bored leaders have no determination or satisfaction. There’s little motivation to apply themselves to their tasks. They drift from their responsibilities, abandoning any concerns, and look for ways to escape ever-increasing monotony.

Leaders burned in the past by setbacks or failures may build resistance to risk-taking. Their guard is always up, and they settle into their comfort zones. Coasting is perceived to be the safer route, reducing stress and posing little risk to job security (or so they erroneously believe). Leaders who aim for comfort are assuredly in drift mode, unlikely to move their organizations forward with new programs or products.

Leaders who have experienced rapid success or advancement tend to become self-absorbed. Pride and privilege dull their sense of responsibility, and they issue directives that benefit themselves. If they see the organization as a vehicle for personal gain, they and their values have dishonorably drifted. Their actions will ultimately derail their organizations’ efforts and their careers, and they’ll wonder where they went wrong.

Drift’s Damages

Drifting from one’s appointed responsibilities has consequences for leaders, their people and the organization. Initial signs often go unnoticed. It’s vitally important to spot them in time to prevent a prolonged drift that cripples the organization.

Leadership drift’s most immediate effects hit the operations level. Leaders who lose track of their purpose and discount critical duties cede control and oversight, causing a variety of setbacks: missed deadlines, ruined efficiencies, costly mistakes and poor financials. Problems may emerge slowly, but they can cascade rapidly.

Operational stumbles are often accompanied by damage to human capital. When the machinery begins to groan, so do people. Setbacks and challenges give rise to employee dissatisfaction, low morale and production deficits. Employee frustration compounds operational dysfunction, and the downward spiral continues.

Drifting leaders are likely to miss important tactical information concerning day-to-day happenings, which handicaps their decision-making abilities. When they make poor decisions and fail to perform due diligence, outcomes suffer—along with reputations.

Drifting leaders also miss opportunities. They forfeit their ability to make improvements, changes or corrections, especially when problems result from their lack of oversight. Missed opportunities tarnish leaders’ legacies. They fall behind in dynamic activities and are left out of the planning and developing processes, further limiting opportunities.

Leaders who develop a reputation for trailing behind soon fall out of favor, and career prospects grow dim. Drifting is a common cause of leadership reassignment, demotion or dismissal. In their shortsightedness, drifting leaders often blame their environment, team or upper management for their misfortune. A qualified leadership coach can help leaders grasp the internal reasons for drift.

Drift’s most unfortunate outcome is a loss of values, Hyacinth asserts. Conceding on excellence and accepting mediocrity lead to habitually cutting corners, justifying mistakes and lowering standards. The organization is ripe for failure, making victims of every employee.

Conquering Drift

Drifting leaders rarely have an accurate picture of what’s happening to (or inside) them, so the highest priority is a proper assessment by a trusted colleague, mentor or, optimally, a qualified leadership coach.

An honest evaluation offers observations, feedback and direction, allowing leaders to better grasp the reasons for drift. Coaches help them gain insight into its causes and develop strategies to cure it. Regular assessments are beneficial to tracking progress, tuning areas of difficulty and determining when the desired improvements are achieved.

When leaders understand drift’s underlying issues, they can reclaim the passion they once had for their jobs. They’ll remember what fueled the beginning of their careers and identify the moment when the shift toward drift occurred. They’ll take stock of what they value and reassess what they want to do. Reevaluating career goals allows them to put drift in perspective and reestablish their purpose.

Leaders must relearn some motivational basics:

  • We achieve satisfaction only by applying ourselves.
  • We fulfill our roles by serving and enhancing others, not ourselves.
  • Drift won’t keep us safe or preserve our positions; rather, it drives our decline.
  • We must catch and reverse any tendency to “check out” through continuous self-reflection and honesty.

Executive coaches have the tools to help leaders identify their susceptibilities and make corrections. Addressing problems early can help prevent full-blown drift.

Leaders must put drift in perspective by remembering who’s counting on them. If they chose the leadership track to help people, they must give them the tools required to succeed, reject mediocrity, encourage high performance and be present—each and every day, without exception.

Drift is a leader’s way of surrendering to dissatisfaction after sensing a battle loss. Leaders must fight the urge to withdraw, remain actively engaged and invested, and find the motivation to endure even the most challenging setbacks. Those who monitor their performance with an accountability system can successfully prevent, reverse and repair drift.

The Art of Delegation

An alarming number of leaders suffer from the sensation that each day they are losing ground, unable to stay in front of the wave of overburdening workloads, deadlines and expectations. The toll on productivity, morale and health often goes unrecognized until a crisis hits.

Equally alarming is that in some cases it is self-induced. Many leaders take on assignments, unnecessarily retain work or fail to delegate when the opportunities exist. Granted, in this do-more-with-less culture, leaders may have fewer resources, but overworked managers often fail to understand what true delegation is and are unable to delegate even when they do.

Leaders who don’t delegate suffer from an inability to manage, as desperation becomes the norm. The added stress and anxiety flows from the leader’s desk to the staff, and sets the entire organization on edge. Conditions around the team worsen as attitudes, engagement, efficiency and profitability degrade.

Many leaders view delegation as a sign of weakness, an inability to handle the job, something done out of desperation. However, delegation is a strategic tool used by wise leaders to make the most of available manpower to clear tough obstacles. Learning to delegate offers leaders relief and equips them to manage at their best, which is ultimately best for everyone.

Categorizing Work to Delegate

If piles of work are spilling over on your desk, your last thought might be how to redistribute some of the work, but this is exactly the thing to do. Do it while you still have some clarity of mind and grasp of the projects at hand. Skillful delegation builds team unity and accountability, as people pull together to achieve a goal and help each other get better.

The baffling issue may be where to begin. The pile of work looks overwhelming. The first step is to categorize and separate it into two groups: one that cannot be delegated and another that can. As a leader, you certainly have assignments or tasks that must be handled at your level with your experience, connections or authority.

However, many leaders are surprised by the amount of work on their desk that can be handled by lower levels. Some of it may be busywork, manual-type of work, revising work that has already been done or tasks that can be done with the experience and skills of a staff member. This is the group of tasks that are candidates for delegation. Will it take a sizeable investment of your time to sort through your piles to make these determinations? Of course, but you will find the investment well worth making.

Workload priorities must also be taken into account. As Jayson DeMers, CEO of AudienceBloom writes in an article for Inc.com, develop a priority system for tasks. What is essential and what can wait? Delegating hotter projects may give you enough time to catch your breath and resume a more normal routine sooner than you think. Another tactic is delegating simpler, quick work and allow yourself to tackle the more complex with better focus.

Seasonal businesses offer experienced leaders some predictability to periods of higher expected workload, so it pays to make other staff members available for delegated tasks based on a calendar. Plan for those before the rush hits.

Releasing Control

Some leaders misunderstand the nature of delegation. They believe they can wash their hands of responsibilities when staff members are handed assignments that were originally on the leader’s desk. The employee is now on their own to deal with the outcome, whether favorable or unfavorable. This abdication is not what delegation is about.

An organization still holds the leader responsible, regardless of whose hands actually performed the work. Leaders who try to dodge responsibility by pitching work to others soon experience a myriad of negative consequences, including distrust and disloyalty from their people.

Most delegation hesitancy lands on the other side of the control spectrum, where leaders are not willing to let go of control. As Jesse Sostrin, PhD, describes in HBR, overextension fuels an instinctive reaction to “protect” work. Leaders who keep the workload to themselves often believe that somehow the delegation of work reduces their importance, or at least how superiors perceive it.

Ironically, delegating work puts a leader’s control into action with decision-making, task coordination and goal achievement. The more that work is reserved for leaders, the less of it actually gets done. This doesn’t reflect well on a leader’s state of control. Leaders who can be helped to see this are more able to break their control-clutching behavior.

Another control-related reason leaders choose not to delegate is the perceived time and effort needed to train an employee or bring them up to speed. It seems too inconvenient or too remedial for someone at their level to do, and it feels too much like a sacrifice of control. Leaders who can deemphasize their sense of control and turn their attention to solving problems resist delegating less.

Learning to Trust

When a leader delegates a task, they face a risk of the assignment not getting done exactly the way they expect. This frightens some managers into thinking the employee’s results won’t meet their personal criteria, and the simple way for this to be avoided is not to delegate.

Bordering on the control theme, this concern stems from a leader’s lack of trust in the employee’s abilities. Leaders who doubt anyone can perform a specific task as well as they can severely limit what their team can accomplish. A leadership coach can help mitigate this mindset with one that empowers employees to prove themselves.

If the employee’s skills aren’t fully understood, the leader must be the one to correct this. Fortunately, this is relatively simple to address. If it is a matter of the leader not believing in a specific employee, they may find delegating easier if they use a process of monitoring the employee’s progress.

However, monitoring doesn’t mean smothering or micromanaging someone. People need the freedom to work and use their skills, and are benefitted by leaders who only occasionally verify how they’re doing. Periodically inquiring about their progress is a fair tradeoff for debilitating, pestering distrust.

Keeping knowledge to oneself is not the job-security anchor many seem to think it is. Knowledge is not power, rather, power is the ability to harness the collective knowledge of the staff. Leaders succeed by teaching and trusting people and allowing them to contribute in ways they couldn’t before. Encourage growth and suggest ways to make improvements.

Following Up with Feedback

A critical aspect of delegating is what occurs after the task is finished. This is the delegation follow-up stage, which includes feedback.

The project assignment, whether delegated or not, should come with a clearly communicated set of expectations. How the employee met those expectations is the subject of the feedback. Employees who meet expectations deserve appropriate praise for their success. Giving people recognition and thanks for their efforts keeps them engaged and willing to do more.

On the other hand, when expectations are not met, a constructive feedback process is necessary. This is a considerate discussion on the improvements needed, while pointing out the positive things that took place. Leaders who can give instructive feedback while expressing consideration and thanks earn trust from employees and guide them to improvement.

Nothing causes your people to dread delegation more than an unfortunate response from you. When they dread it, the result of their work suffers accordingly. This in turn causes you to dread it, and the cycles spirals down.

As an expression of humility and openness, ask your people for their feedback on your delegation methods. Can your style be better? This dialogue helps to improve the delegation relationship and make you a better leader. Keep in mind that each employee may have a slightly different approach to feedback and discussion. Knowing them personally gives you the best advantage.

Your goal is to have a staff that welcomes delegated tasks so they can be better contributors. Many leaders find this to be the most freeing way to be better delegators; when the process yields two-way success the organization is better suited to manage high workload situations. Make delegation a welcomed tool in your arsenal and raise the level of production for you and your staff.

Essential Communication Skills for Leaders

Leaders continue to assume greater responsibilities and pressures as markets and technologies call for increasingly faster commerce, responses and results. Information overload and business volatility have become the norm, requiring nimble management and staff interconnection. Leadership success depends on a most essential professional skill: strategic communication.

Task completion and organizational achievement demand peak-level communication. A leader’s fundamental role is to be an excellent communicator and a proponent for a communication-based culture. Organizations led by great communicators are far more likely to prosper, especially when faced with onerous challenges.

Unfortunately, too many organizations are hampered by leaders who fail to grasp the power of good communication (or discount its importance). Some leaders consider information to be communication in and of itself, but it’s really just data. Communication is the ability to convey information strategically—the very core of leadership, affirms executive coach Dianna Booher in Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2017).

Leaders develop and use communication—a soft skill—to work with others, recognizing that success relies on unity and collaboration. When combined with the traditional hard skills of quantitative analysis and decision-making, communication rounds out a leader’s ability to bring people together and achieve high performance. A lack of communication causes multiple obstructions, debilitations and failures, as Booher notes:

In survey after survey, managers report that their team understands organizational goals and initiatives. Yet team members themselves say they do not. In a recent worldwide Gallup poll among 550 organizations and 2.2 million employees, only 50 percent of employees "strongly agreed" that they knew what was expected of them at work. Obviously, there’s a disconnection here.

Leaders must therefore master three essential skills to avoid these disconnects:

  • Communicating deliberately
  • Communicating interpersonally
  • Communicating by adding value

Communicating Deliberately

Giving your people the information they need to complete their tasks and contribute to your organization requires thoughtful and appropriate communication. Assuming that people are getting the information they need or can figure things out for themselves yields unpleasant surprises. Information left unmanaged does irreparable harm. Misunderstandings, confusion, misrepresentation and assumption distort information.

Without accurate and timely information, your people will end up doing the wrong things at the wrong times for the wrong reasons, notes communication expert Dean Brenner in "The True Cost of Poor Communication" (Forbes, November 2017). Good communication requires a deliberate and thorough approach, coupled with significant forethought and diligence.

Communication’s foundation is built on three components:

  • Clarity
  • Specificity
  • Relevancy

Clarity. Information—be it instruction, updates, plans, orders or analysis—benefits everyone only if it’s clear and concise. Asking questions and seeking feedback affirm understanding. Use language geared for your audience to enhance clarity. Present information in a decipherable order and tempo so people can grasp it immediately and avoid confusion. Be clear about expectations and requirements. Set a well-defined, purposeful standard that points everyone in the right direction.

Specificity. Information should be specific enough to be understood, but not over-explained or expressed condescendingly. Convey challenging topics with unambiguous descriptions and explanations. Avoid using generalities on detailed subjects to prevent assumptions and misunderstandings. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes to see if information makes sense and will be meaningful later.

Relevancy. Leaders must be relevant communicators, Booher confirms. Give people information that pertains to them and what they’re being asked to do. Impertinent data may be interesting, but it dilutes the mission and makes staff question your priorities. Timeliness is critical, so share information as soon as your people can benefit from it. Don’t hold it to benefit yourself.

Also keep the following in mind:

  • Forthright and truthful leaders convey information their people can count on, carrying weight and reliability.
  • When leaders hedge or dance around a topic, people question information’s validity and their boss’s intentions.
  • When people know their leaders have integrity, they respond commensurately. A leader’s honest communication is rewarded with attention and allegiance.

Communicating Interpersonally

Employees crave more than basic information; they want to feel valued enough to receive it. They respond optimally when they know their leaders appreciate their engagement, involvement and commitment. When leaders communicate interpersonally, workers feel cared for and connectedness increases.

Practice considerate communication by attempting to understand others’ perspectives. Use honoring and appreciative language, and avoid accusatory or resentful approaches. Strive for face-to-face communication that builds relationships. Indirect connections like the telephone, email or social media are often necessary, but none can compete with an in-person dialogue. Let people see how much you care when you talk with them.

Active listening is a vital communication skill. Many leaders focus only on what they want to say and deprioritize what others say to them. This damages communication and the trust leaders need to build with their people. Good communicators show they want to understand what others have to say. They ask questions and repeat back what they’ve heard for confirmation. Leaders who show transparency by admitting they may not initially grasp something gain trust and make greater relational progress.

Good communicators also want to confirm their audience understands the information they’re given. Ask open-ended questions to ensure you’ve succeeded, Booher suggests. Simply asking if you were understood isn’t always adequate. Ask listeners for specific feedback: what they think about your information or the chance to voice alternative ideas.

Tell stories to communicate ideas and connect with people. Everyone loves to hear personal experiences, which you can use to illustrate concepts or offer analogies. Perhaps the best way to personalize your connections and enhance your communications is to be thankful for people’s attention—or as Booher puts it, give people kudos whenever possible. Thank them out of habit, and show them how much you value communicating with them.

Communicating by Adding Value

Transferring job-related information is a key leadership responsibility. While content is certainly important, the manner in which you convey it is equally critical. Our communications should enrich relationships by making people feel more valued and able to contribute.

Leaders who provide information with confidence enhance trust and promote self-assurance. They achieve a sense of accountability and believability, which boosts people’s trust and improves communication efforts. Successful leaders can build a culture of trust, where communication is central to operations and heightens accountability.

  • Demonstrate that you value your people by communicating with appropriate timing. Determine the best time to have difficult conversations, and anticipate how people will receive them.
  • Always account for your audience’s perspective to ensure effective communication. Your people should sense that you’re fair and considerate, which ultimately strengthens relationships.
  • Never overlook an opportunity to learn what people think or how they feel. People feel valued and appreciated when they’re encouraged to share their personal positions on issues. Inclusive discussions help them rethink their views and forge deeper understandings.
  • Ask open-ended questions that call for thoughtful responses—a technique that builds trust and sets the stage for clarifying expectations, delineating action items and achieving goals.
  • Measure communication success by examining whether follow-up activities match fair and reasonable expectations. Achieved goals give people a greater sense of ownership, purpose and value, which positively impacts your culture.

Your degree of positivity is perhaps the most vital value-adding aspect of communication. As you look for ways to inspire your people, remember that encouragement is a great motivator, and positivity is contagious.