Balance Your Leadership Skills

Vast amounts of information are available pertaining to the definition and components of leadership. It is a complex topic, based on the challenges of human behavior; that varying, uncontrollable and often mysterious element that makes leading far more than following guidelines.

Great leaders know that there are crucial skillsets to be mastered early in their career, and others that take time and experience to enhance. Knowing just the theory isn’t enough to be successful. Leadership success relies on a blend of perspectives and skills, all aimed at bringing out the best in everyone.

Leaders benefit by first acquiring a high-level understanding of what effective leadership is, and what it isn’t. There are many ideas on leading that need to be “un-learned” and replaced.

The Meaning of Leadership

Many people embark on the leadership path with an unfortunate mindset about leadership. Historic self-serving mindsets have contributed to the high degree of employee dissatisfaction and disengagement today. Some experts argue that this trend hasn’t changed much in several generations.

A majority of leaders don’t receive leadership training, according to a recent CareerBuilder.com survey. Many years of data reveal the flaws in traditional leadership thinking. Employees have long indicated what leader character traits engage or compel, and which alienate and cause them to leave.

Contrary to old-school thinking, leadership does not succeed when leaders focus on “what’s in it for me”. Leadership prospers only when it aims to benefit the organization; the people they lead. This bashes the notion that leadership is about the four Ps: Power, Prestige, Perks and Privileges.

True leadership is not about titles, seniority, authority or compensation packages. It’s not about promotions, accolades or being admired. These self-centered behaviors alienate employees and cause multiple dysfunctions throughout the organization.

Leadership author and speaker Kevin Kruse defines leadership as, “a process of social influence which maximizes the efforts of others toward the achievement of a goal.” To put it simply, leadership is the ability to compel people to follow a vision. Leaders employ skills to unify people and guide them along a plan that offers a prosperous future.

Most experts regard leading as the ability to deal with people, visions and ideas, while managing is the ability to coordinate things or tasks. It is widely accepted that effective leadership requires a blend of the following skills:

  • Leadership skills
  • Management skills
  • People skills

Leadership Skills

Fundamental leadership skills are necessary to direct an organization and ensure its future. Leaders are the vision setters. They assess the business climate, see opportunities and chart the course.  Leaders analyze trends, capabilities, resources, competition and markets. Making sense of all this input and fashioning it into an achievable plan is at the heart of leadership skills.

Skillful leaders create a diverse, yet cohesive leadership group of individuals who can collaborate and synergistically refine the vision. Once a vision is agreed upon, the leader engages the entire organization. Part of the skills of leadership is selling the vision to the staff.

A leader who sells a vision understands the needs of all stakeholders, from employees to board members. Ideally, the vision points the way to security and offers direction, affirmation and prosperity.

Selling a vision requires corporate communication skills that stir passion and inspiration in others. Skillful leaders tap imaginations, trigger feelings and link to benefits. It takes skill to properly deliver a message that conveys this.

Management Skills

A vision released for implementation requires significant planning and coordinating. These management skills are used by leaders to take the vision to the next phase: action. During implementation, leaders continue to employ their leadership skills of inspiration and selling, but they now share the stage with management skills.

Managing a vision project gets into the finer details, where action plans, schedules and goals are needed. Specific skills are required to coordinate the many facets of a vision project. Delegation is required to cover all the bases. Many things need monitoring including deadlines, budgets, manpower and the problems that spring up.

Problem-solving is a valuable management skill and can keep a project on track. Issues continue throughout a vision-implementing journey, requiring a leader skillful with mitigation. This includes the wisdom to bring in the appropriate resources.

Another management skill that makes vision implementation successful is the ability to assess progress.  This requires perspective, strong analysis skills and insight. Leaders with great management skills know how to make adjustments and keep their staff at peak performance, without losing interest or motivation.

Undergoing significant change while implementing a vision can sidetrack an organization from its everyday course of business. Leaders with strong management skills recognize this and account for it. They keep their hands on both steering wheels to ensure normal tasks are completed and customers are happy.

People Skills

The most important set of skills successful leaders balance with their leadership and management skills are people skills, or soft skills. “Soft” in this context doesn’t mean weak or vulnerable, but simply refers to a departure from the quantifiable, formulaic or repeatable nature of the facts and figures in leadership or management issues.

People skills deal with the variable, emotional and uncertain aspects of human nature. They require caring about people with a personable approach. A leader’s character and personality play an important role in the effectiveness of their people skills.  Those who have great people skills have a loyal following with employees who perform at their best.

Prominent speaker and author Tony Robbins professes that the current difficulties with employee dissatisfaction are heavily impacted by the lack of people skills at the leadership level. Leaders who regard people skills as unnecessary or unimportant handicap their careers and the performance of their organizations. 

Leaders with good soft skills have a personable way of engaging people. This begins with a focus on helping others, getting to know them and attempting to meet their needs. In response, people are drawn in and extend trust and loyalty. People skills include respectfulness, positivity and fairness. Traits that overlap this leadership-skill category are integrity and setting the example of morality in the organization. A leader’s behavior and mindset establish a culture that drives the personality of the company.

Personal communication skills help a leader connect with people as they actively listen, follow through on commitments and offer encouragement. A leader who is transparent, accountable and open to feedback earns significant trust. This is the kind of leader most people dream of having.

Leaders who balance the three primary skillsets have the most well-rounded and successful leadership careers. They lead people who pull together, go above and beyond and prosper, both individually and corporately.

Lead Better by Seeing More

In this over-information age, an alarming number of business plans fail because leaders ignore the facts needed to make sound decisions. Misguided perspectives can be blamed on a lack of data, wrong data or the inability to understand relevance. Even in hindsight, some leaders fail to see what went wrong.

A fast-paced culture requires precise planning, effective decisions and timely actions, all relying on dependable information. Leaders who want to move their organizations forward must gather evidence, ask the right questions, verify presumed facts and decipher vast amounts of data.

Business plans suffer when:

  • Leaders ignore available information.
  • Necessary data aren’t acquired in time to make decisions.
  • Data are available, but leaders fail to analyze them appropriately.
  • Leaders may choose to overlook key details.

Two Types of Thinking

Of all the skills leaders require today, perhaps none is as challenging as adequately processing information. The ability to spot holes in data, conceive solutions and analyze results calls for sharp thinking.

Thinking can be broken down into two primary categories, suggests Harvard Business School Professor Max H. Bazerman, PhD, in The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See (Simon & Schuster, 2015): intuitive and deliberative.

We employ intuitive thinking during crises, when immediacy is required. Our thinking is instantaneous, with emotion as a factor, and it produces reactionary responses. We make use of immediate information, or that which initially impacts our senses. Sudden information is generally incomplete, incorporating whatever is available at the moment.

By contrast, leaders sift through information, take time to gather data and draw conclusions when employing deliberative thinking. Such thinking is reasoned and structured, diving deep into the issues at hand. We gather data from non-immediate sources, compiling and assessing it to make a more systematic evaluation.

Leaders frequently—and unnecessarily—put themselves in the intuitive-thinking mode, Dr. Bazerman asserts. They over-rely on speed, neglecting to step back and analyze data. Consequently, they avoid doing sufficient research and make ill-informed decisions and plans.

Leaders fail to use information efficiently in three distinct ways, each with a specific cause and solution.

1. Missing What’s in Front of You

Bombarded with more information than they can effectively process, leaders can miss things that are “hidden in plain sight.” Information overload causes important facts to be overlooked. Leaders commonly bemoan how something so obvious wasn’t caught. In the fallout, outsiders critique these oversights and question leaders’ abilities.

During the mortgage lending frenzy of the mid-2000s, for example, financial institutions and regulatory agencies were drowning in their efforts to track interest rates, loan traffic, the housing boom and profits. Lost in this ocean was the higher percentage of risky loans being made to fuel the euphoria. Telltale data were completely available, revealing the risk of loan defaults. No one thought to investigate this critical aspect of the lending environment.

Dr. Bazerman and a New York University colleague coined the term “bounded awareness” to describe how we consistently miss readily available stimuli. Our desired goal becomes our overwhelming mission, despite realities that can upend the best-laid plans. When leaders are so caught up in one situational aspect, they fail to observe another, leading to dire problems. Think of the manufacturer who’s so obsessed with delivery deadlines that he overlooks reports of quality problems.

Leaders can overcome bounded awareness by broadening their perspectives and thinking beyond their typical frame of reference. Careful consideration of issues always trumps a cursory glance. Bringing in a more diverse, cross-functional team is paramount. Leaders make better decisions when their teams answer critical questions:

  • What type of information is appropriate, and which should be discarded?
  • Do we have all the data we need?
  • If not, where do we access more information?
  • How accurate are the data we have?
  • Have we examined all the issues at play?
  • Is there anything we haven’t considered?

If leaders have a vested self-interest, they may skew information to support their emotional position. Such motivated blindness alters reality to make us see what we want to see (and miss the details we’d rather ignore). A retail-chain founder may believe in his brand and company legacy so passionately that he fails to notice its outdated sales approach, which is turning customers toward more progressive competitors.

To preserve self-esteem, a leader may have a self-serving bias, which causes a false sense of reality. The status quo seems rosy, and problems go unnoticed. These leaders often wonder why those around them seem troubled and continuously point out problems.

Leaders can counteract a self-serving bias by seeking guidance from a trusted colleague, mentor or professional coach. Work on seeing things from others’ perspectives to broaden your views and ensure decisions benefit others first (i.e., how can I best help my people?).

Leaders with too narrow a focus limit their observations to major issues and ignore the minor, yet nonetheless important, ones. Equally problematic is a preoccupation with one specific matter that pulls focus from the big picture. This inattentional blindness often plagues leaders and is caused by distractedness.

Leaders can defeat inattentional blindness if they learn to step back from a situation and deliberately examine secondary and tertiary issues. Know that the most effective solutions are achievable only when problems are attacked holistically, not as a series of disconnected parts.

2. Ignoring What’s Hidden from View

Understandably, information outside the forefront is harder to observe, but it may be the most critical to obtain. Details not initially obvious often have the greatest impact, and their elusiveness causes leaders to underestimate them.

Immediate thinking, where intuition and emotion dominate, often prevents leaders from considering hidden information. Some leaders believe that if they cover the obvious items, most issues will be under control. This dangerous mindset regards small details as non-critical and not worthy of inspection.

Consider the leader of an electronics firm who cuts costs and introduces a cheaper version of a product his competitors provide. His company makes significant investments in design, retooling and advertising. Unfortunately, he ignored known R&D research that would have alerted him to new technology that will render his product obsolete.

Gradual-change blindness also causes leaders to miss information. When a series of small changes occur, they may be subtle and, on their own, go unrecognized. But their collective effect is dramatic, and leaders may be lulled into thinking that nothing is really happening as gradual shifts play out. Leaders realize something’s wrong only when it’s too late.

Remember the tale of the frog placed into a pot of cold water on the stove? When the burner is lit, the water heats gradually, but the frog doesn’t notice. When the water reaches a boiling point, it’s too late: The frog is cooked. Had the frog been immediately subjected to boiling water, he would have jumped out of the pot.

Like the frog, people tend to overlook minor changes. An engineering leader, for example, may not observe his team’s attempts to streamline proven product-testing processes. A series of minor concessions may go unnoticed until the final product displays major deficiencies. By then, it’s too late to make reasonable corrections; the project has failed.

Leaders can prevent gradual-change blindness with a timeline view of recent progress. Seek help from those with personal knowledge who can clearly and objectively present the facts. Take regular snapshots of how a situation develops to avoid surprises and reduce risks.

3. Not Wanting to See the Truth

Oversights caused by ineffective thinking seem innocent and unintentional. However, those caused by self-serving motives deservedly draw more criticism. Emotional blind spots are problematic, but rejecting unfavorable data is inexcusable.

Some leaders believe everything must go their way, with a predetermined outcome in mind. They include only the information that supports their position and overlook anything to the contrary.

Pride also impacts perception. Some leaders think they have nothing left to learn. Additional information isn’t required because they know it all and are convinced they’re right. Overconfidence or conceit ruins their judgment.

A seasoned sales director, for example, may push aside the latest customer price target information, boasting of his successful track record. He insists his charm and negotiating skills will close the deal. Unfortunately, all the good-ol’ boys are gone, and his customers are now sharp, methodical number crunchers who can outthink him.

Taken to an extreme, a prideful bias becomes a conflict of interest. Leaders make decisions to benefit themselves, either directly or indirectly, at the expense of colleagues or the organization itself. This behavior is typically rooted in fear of failure.

Conflicted leaders are extremely difficult to work with. The challenge increases with leaders who refuse to admit mistakes and intentionally disregard data that damage their position or self-esteem. Leaders most interested in saving face cause catastrophic problems: failed projects, staff resentment and disengagement, and declining team performance.

Some CEOs are known for inflating their reputations by acknowledging only positive achievements as they prepare to face their board of directors. Information that disfavors their leadership is cast aside.

Leaders who request assistance from a reliable colleague, mentor or executive coach will minimize prideful bias, Dr. Bazerman suggests. Feedback from someone who monitors your style and behaviors allows you to recognize prideful tendencies and minimize the roadblocks they cause in your decision-making.

Better observation skills lead to improved insights, decisions and results. You have only one opportunity to get something right the first time. Make it happen by seeing as much as you can.

Giving Your Employees the Respect They Need

Today’s work environment is tough enough without having to deal with disrespect or incivility. Harvard Business Review research reveals that over 50% of people don’t feel respected by their leaders. Many employees find that disrespect is indicative of their work culture as well, and 25% of them claim that this is caused by a disrespectful leader as their role model. If a leader can be uncivil, then their people take that to mean this behavior is permissible for everyone. Fortunately, these issues are correctable if the proper approach is taken.

The cost of a disrespectful culture is heavy. People who feel they are not respected have poorer attitudes and work ethic. They are less interested, motivated and satisfied. This leads to lower productivity and inferior quality. Anxiety, frustration, absenteeism and turnover rise. Disrespected employees disagree with each other and communicate poorly. They have less loyalty, creativity and effort.

It’s clear that under these conditions, higher outbreaks of interpersonal conflict are inevitable, causing more disruption and HR costs. Upset employees generally impress their attitudes on customers, and this is the first step in lost business and lower profits.

Leaders who withhold respect for their people pay a high price, making their leadership careers difficult at best, and very short at worst.

Basic Human Needs

All people have fundamental needs, and in the workplace they center on being valued. People want to know they’re needed, that their work means something and they’re able to contribute to a cause bigger than themselves. This fulfills the basic human need of purpose, which imparts value.

Humans also have a need to belong. They need to fit in and be accepted as part of a “family”, those they can trust and offer trust to. Being treated with respect reinforces an employee’s positive self-image and self-esteem. Encouragement, acceptance and respect enhance unity and opportunity.

A lack of respect leads to internal doubts, despondency, lack of motivation and performance problems. Employees who have been affected by a disrespectful leader often have continued self-esteem challenges later in life, even when reporting to a different respectful leader down the road. They search for answers, many times in the wrong places, and blame themselves for the disappointments that follow.

Signs of a Disrespectful Culture

A work environment where leaders disrespect their people has both obvious and subtle indicators. Generally, the disrespectful traits of the leader migrate down the line to the employees, since the culture is reflective of the leader. When disrespectful traits are widespread, the indicators become more repetitive and easier to spot.

  • Rudeness or abruptness: This inconsiderate behavior is harsh and offends people. It can take the form of interrupting people, talking over them or always having the last word.
  • Sarcasm, insults, profanity and verbal attacks: Employees often take on the leader’s bad behavior to either find a way to survive, or release the anxiety caused by the leader’s style.
  • Disfavoring people: Typically, it is communicated via the leader’s opinion of an employee’s qualifications, work ethic, loyalties, employment history or association with certain colleagues.

Subtle indicators of a disrespectful leadership or culture take longer to recognize.

  • Silence: When feedback and free expression are not welcome, managers or key employees are silent about disturbing issues.
  • Shoot-the-messenger: When the status-quo remains unchallenged, a culture of shoot-the-messenger may have taken hold.
  • Stagnation: A lack of ideas, creativity or problem-solving may mean that employees feel too disrespected and demotivated.
  • Stressed-out: Overloaded or anxious staff are indicators of unmet needs, typically manpower, tools, equipment or funding, and suggest lack of recognition, neglect and disrespect.

It Starts with the Leader

Workplace culture begins with the leader; the tone of your environment is, and must be, set by you. If there are signs of disrespect around you, it’s likely you are a large factor. This is the time to do some serious self-assessment. Turn to a trusted colleague or executive coach for objective perspective.

The key is to recognize any disrespectful thought patterns or behaviors within yourself, and make corrections. It’s not enough to simply eliminate your disrespectful behavior, rather, you must offer respect in ways you may not have thought necessary. As any coach will tell you; it is very necessary.

Learn and practice expressing genuine respect; regardless of any demographic. The mistake many leaders make is downplaying this subject, giving it low credibility. Great leaders testify to the fact that respecting their people is one of the most critical (and rewarding) responsibilities they have, and how adopting this mindset has made all the difference in the success of their organizations. Once respect is engrained into their culture, leaders understand they can never go back.

The General Right of Respect

People who understand the complexities of the human spirit recognize that respect is the glue that holds relationships together. Mutual respect between two people promotes the affirmation and appreciation people need to work well together, accomplish things and feel fulfilled. An organization of fulfilled people is an organization positioned to reach its full potential.

The need for respect is seen by many as so critical that it is considered a right. People generally believe that everyone has the basic right to be shown respect. From experience we know that a culture depends on people living in mutual respect to function beneficially.

This general right of respect is one of two types of respect, as described by management professor Kristie Rogers in a 2018 Harvard Business Review article entitled, Do Your Employees Feel Respected?. “Owed Respect”, as she calls it, is the respect all people deserve, out of decency and consideration for others. We owe this to each other, and leaders owe it to their people.

This kind of respect is shown by leaders intermingling with their people, expressing interest in them, getting to know them. It tells people that they are worth knowing and worthy of caring. Things as simple as showing courtesy or helpfulness are basic respectful acts. Compliment and encourage your people and see what a difference that makes. This tears down status walls and treats people as partners, not subordinates.

Asking your people for their ideas, feedback and perspectives communicates that they are valuable. Include them in updates, meetings or news. Show them they are respected as part of the team by treating them like teammates.

A powerful way a leader can respect their people is to brag about them to other colleagues or leaders. Support them and cover their backs. There’s no greater display of respect from a leader.

Leaders who take the time to thank their people offer genuine respect. This can be done personally or through an email, phone call or a hand-written note. The effect is amazing.

Performance-Related Respect

The second type of respect is performance-based. Rogers calls this “Earned Respect”. This goes beyond what’s generally owed to people and recognizes accomplishments or acquired skills.

It’s not necessary to distinguish between small, medium or large accomplishments: recognize them all! Let your people hear about the things you appreciate. Some examples of a person’s accomplishments you could inform your staff about include:

  • Gaining extra qualifications through training or a degree
  • Solving a difficult problem
  • Completing a long project that will benefit the organization
  • Favorable comments from customers or coworkers
  • Suggesting a better process, procedure or cost-saving idea
  • A promotion or higher levels of responsibility

You can make these recognitions count even more in one-on-one time, with performance reviews and planning future personal goals. Document their accomplishments and your appreciation. Give some people the opportunity to train others or be a mentor to a younger coworker. Where appropriate, train employees to be leaders. Leaders who demonstrate trust in employees’ potential and efforts convey great respect.

These activities set a tone in your culture that performance, engagement, accountability and respect are highly valued. The key is to be consistent in your respect. Picking and choosing which accomplishments to acknowledge looks like favoritism, and even if this isn’t the intention it will appear to be. Spread the respect equally and frequently. In return, hold everyone accountable for good work, and trust them to do it.

A respectful culture, established and fostered by the leader, is the most powerful means to run an effective, prosperous and dynamic organization.

Persuading Your Employees to Adopt Your Plans

Leaders are continually challenged to assess their organizations for any changes needed to improve function and long-term outlook. They take a deep look at many aspects of the operation, studying information from various viewpoints and departments. Leaders are also tasked with ensuring that all policies, procedures and processes are in alignment with the mission and vision statements.

Mission statements declare an organization’s purpose; what they do and why. Vision statements are (as the name suggests) a vision of where the organization will go; what the results of all efforts will be.

Both statements are intended to unify and focus people with a common purpose and goal. Leaders should understand that ultimate success is possible only when everyone is on the same page at the outset, supporting each other, believing in the mission and the vision. The days are gone where mandated edicts are willingly adopted.

Many leaders struggle to overcome the initial requirement of unity and engagement. Without buy-in from their people, all the magnificent wording of statements, all the splendid planning and budgeting is for naught. The ideas fail before they can be implemented.

What Prevents Plan Adoption

Companies are handicapped when employees are not engaged in the basic mission. Gallup reports that almost three out of five employees don’t know what principles or purpose their company upholds. This lack of assurance leads to another Gallup survey finding that four out of five employees strongly disbelieve their leaders have set a clear direction for their organization’s future.

Why is there such a disconnect between leaders and their people when it comes to their company’s direction? Two possible causes emerge:

  • Leaders may not be communicating what their people need to know, or may not be communicating it effectively.
  • The employees may be disinterested or unwilling to understand what they’ve heard.

Most employees would say that they and their coworkers care about their future and the company they work for. They‘d state that they also make every effort to understand the information their leaders pass on to them about their company’s current state and where they may be heading. The have a vested interest.

The likely cause for the disconnect employees feel about their employer is that they are not sufficiently informed by their leaders. Herein lies the essential issue behind the need for leaders to get employee buy-in when future plans are announced. It comes down to sufficient communication. When all is considered, communication is the essential element in the management of an organization.

People want the assurance that their future is stable; that it’s in good hands, and their careers are safe. When plans or a vision are announced, employees want to feel that they’re a part of it all. They need to sense that the plans were fashioned for their benefit, not someone else’s. These are crucial needs leaders need to understand to get buy-in from their people.

How Communicating Plans Can Go Wrong

The most successful leaders know that communication is two-directional, not one. Developing future plans or visions are monumental tasks. They affect everyone but don’t necessarily involve everyone in each step of their development.

To get broad adoption from your people, they need to have a stake in the plans and see a benefit for them. Employees who see more pain than gain have no reason to approve of your plans. They must be informed to have a way to judge.

Effective communication in big and small settings is the only way to assure this. For every effective way to get buy-in from employees, there are ten ways to fail at it.

The procedural top-down approach to communication doesn’t work in today’s environment.  When managers decide to pass along only the information they believe their people “need to know”, barriers are erected. Filtered information always creates contradictions and errors.  The narrative is often spun to soften its effect, depending on the audience. These things erode trust.

Without trust, people tune out, grumble and become less engaged. At the far end of the spectrum, they stop caring. No leader can gain employee acceptance to any initiative under these circumstances. The same holds true for plans that are mandated from the top office down the line of command, as if they were strict orders to be followed. Employees feel trapped and controlled when they hear about directives they never saw coming, announced after the fact.

Gallup’s Vibhas Ratanjee also notes that if leaders present the need for change under a negative, fix-it mindset, employees become focused on what’s wrong with the company rather that what’s right. If the leadership approach is from a crisis-management perspective, employees formulate a negative impression of their workplace and leadership. This not only stifles buy-in, but may advance desertion.

Another way communication can go wrong is when leaders only inform select people, as if they were more privileged than others. This is done under the assumption that the word will get out well enough. Instead of an equal opportunity for involvement, the “privileged” continue the selection process as they see fit. The disconnection, distortion and discord resulting from this give rise to a resistance of the plans a leader wishes to implement.

Getting Buy-in With a Great Approach

The primary way great leaders have received acceptance for their plans or vision is to involve everyone in their organization from the beginning. People know they are valued and respected when their leader not only informs them throughout implementation, but includes them in its origination.

The beginning steps are key. As Ratanjee explains, visions that include people, with their ideas and feedback, also get their support. Buy-in is at its highest when collaboration is at its greatest. When people see that their needs are being addressed, they commit to seeing the plans put in place. They see a benefit not only for the company, but themselves. This is a double incentive.

Working though the development process—explaining it, talking it out, deciding on directions together­—gives people a sense of empowerment and freedom. There are few things that engage people more than that. Encouraging, challenging and expressing gratitude for all contributions raises the buy-in to its peak.  Everyone will want to see the vision succeed.

Leaders who support people to a higher level of excellence conduct the entire development process from a positive perspective, not looking at how to fix what’s broken, but building on what already works. People want to identify with success. Draw them into a vision that paints that picture.

People need regular communication and update sessions to remain engaged and supportive. Gathering people face-to-face is the most engaging way to involve them in the process. Encourage dialogue and provide opportunities to interact as their ideas, concerns and questions are considered. Great leaders appoint a team of people to facilitate meetings, minutes and follow-up.

Andre Lavoie, CEO and co-founder of Clear Company, stresses the importance of communicating with clarity and specificity. When employees grasp your compelling vision, and then hear a plan entailing concise, logical steps that will require their help, they’ll commit their best efforts. Design plans that create tasks your people can take on, which will enhance their personal goals and address their long-term needs.

If the entire management staff participates in communication and workshop activities, the sense of unity that results will pave the way for maximum employee buy-in and the most rewarding results.

Better Leadership Decision-Making

An organization’s health is only as sound as its leader’s decisions. Some companies prosper from wise leadership directions, while others struggle after flawed choices—the kind that receive extra publicity because of the adverse impact on their organizations, people and communities.

The pressures and expectations that face leaders in today’s demanding climate may prompt a skewed, rushed or compromised decision process. But leaders who approach decisions with objective, rather than subjective, criteria can maximize their organizations’ potential.

Decision-Making Basics

Two fundamental forces determine our prosperity: decision quality and luck, asserts World Series of Poker champion Annie Duke in Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts (Penguin, 2018). Leaders instinctively (and rightly) dislike depending on luck and want their decisions to shape the future.

In our fast-paced world, important issues never become simpler, only more complex. You have less time to take each course of action and make each choice, with an ever-increasing impact on outcomes. Decisions that don’t go well are critiqued and analyzed. The need to make good decisions has never been more paramount—not just for leaders’ well-being, but for everyone under their authority.

People have two different modes of thought when a decision is required, and each has its place:

  1. The automatic, or “flash,” mode is more reactive than responsive. It’s based on instinct and feelings when emergency situations can’t wait for much analysis. Leaders must react immediately or fail.
  2. The analytical mode calls for deliberation and analysis. This is, of course, a slower and more methodical decision process, where time allows for (and requires) thorough evaluation of all options and outcomes. Long-term planning calls for the analytical decision mode, where a leader must respond wisely or fail.

A leader’s decision-making success hinges on resolving the balance between these two modes, Duke maintains. React when necessary, but learn to shape your reactive thinking with as much analysis as possible. Great leaders also learn to prioritize choices that benefit everyone over those that advance their personal agendas.

Decision-making burdens many leaders because each choice rules out an alternative. Other courses of action must be abandoned, and their potential outcomes never come to fruition. This can cause hesitation or paralysis. Leaders are misled into thinking they can hold off making decisions without consequence. But making no decision is in itself a decision, with a separate set of consequences. There’s no escaping it: You always make a decision at every crossroad.

Uncertainty is another challenge for decision-makers. Conditions are constantly changing, and information may be incomplete. Some data are misinterpreted or misunderstood. Some situations are subject to chance, and unknowns may not be recognized until after a decision is reached. Experienced leaders know that even a wisely crafted decision, one made with full analysis and care, can go south. There are no guarantees. Yet, decisions must still be made, and leaders must be held accountable. It comes with the territory.

Decisions Roadblocks

Numerous innate traits inhibit our decision-making process. Executive coaches are trained to spot these human tendencies and help mitigate them to manageable levels.

The executive consulting firm McKinsey & Company describes a basic decisiveness roadblock: being overwhelmed by a situation’s complexity. When this occurs, leaders experience anxiety, doubt and hesitation that can distort the thinking needed to make a wise decision. Everyone has a specific threshold for discomfort. If you’re easily taken aback by uncertainty, you’ll be challenged to effectively work through the decision process.

Associating a decision’s quality with its outcome is another damaging roadblock. Leaders beat themselves up, thinking “I should have known better,” even when they’re not at fault. Duke calls this “hindsight bias,” which occurs when seemingly unassailable ideas fail after unforeseen factors take their toll. Leaders have a hard time seeing that unfortunate outcomes don’t necessarily mean their decisions were flawed. They may have made the best decision possible at the time, which is all anyone can do.

Leaders who struggle emotionally with failure often envision only positive outcomes, despite any information to the contrary. In their need for certainty and comfort, their thoughts can be irrational. They misunderstand causes and their effects, can’t spot some painful truths or avoid negative ideas. This roadblock to reality produces severe consequences.

An offshoot of irrational thinking is bias. Leaders may rely on a slanted worldview or preconceived opinion, passing input through a subjective filter. Leaders tainted by ingrained belief systems see and hear what they want to believe. Minimizing emotional threats insulates their beliefs and offers protection. Important decisions based on biased thinking are often riddled with errors.

Pride is yet another roadblock to sensible decision-making. Leaders who believe they’ve cornered the market on good ideas dismiss others’ input. They avoid new thinking because they fear they’ll appear inferior. Prideful leaders sidestep risks or the unknown to prevent the kind of failure that draws questions about their competency. Pride also leads them to cover a trail of mistakes, which prevents them from learning. Decisions made under the influence of pride rarely go well.

Fear is perhaps the most stubborn roadblock to effective decision-making. Leaders plagued with insecurities and terrified of failure worry about their image. Averse to risk, they lean conservatively, always concerned with the cost of a wrong choice. They’re prone to making decisions out of self-preservation, bypassing what may best benefit the organization. Most leaders’ fears are rarely justified.

Decision-Making Solutions

Leaders can use three primary tactics to overcome decision-impairing roadblocks:

  1. Minimize the level of uncertainty.
  2. Raise their comfort level with unavoidable uncertainties (perhaps harder to adopt).
  3. Refine their thinking to process information better and draw reasonable conclusions.

Each strategy contributes to a sturdy foundation for making choices, pointing the way to higher levels of knowledge, improvement and expertise. Leaders can thereby bolster their confidence and heighten their ability to make better decisions.

Notice that the first tactic doesn’t focus on eliminating uncertainty. Virtually all decisions carry some degree of uncertainty. If a situation is 100% certain, it wouldn’t require much of a decision (or a seasoned leader to make it).

Minimizing uncertainty requires the most accurate information available. Leaders can turn unknowns into facts by asking questions and considering as many angles as possible. Thinking outside the norm helps identify obscure issues. There should be no instances of “we never thought of that.” Great leaders take advantage of an experienced team to address relevant issues. Trying to attack decisions alone never matches collective brainpower.

McKinsey’s consultants advise leaders to remember they needn’t know everything. Strong leaders tap the resources at their disposal and admit they can’t do everything themselves. Such transparency also raises the trust they earn. Greater support from respectful followers eases pressure, reduces perceived threats and lowers the anxiety of making decisions. There’s power in unity.

Leaders who embrace the discomfort of uncertainty make the greatest strides in growth, both personally and professionally. Becoming comfortable with some risks and strengthening one’s resolve through uncertainty makes decision-making less daunting. Draw solace in knowing all leaders are in the same boat, working under the same conditions. It’s part of the universal leadership experience. Allow risks to sharpen your focus and determination. Ultimately, you have little control over certain circumstances, so some degree of uncertainty is acceptable. It doesn’t prevent you from making great decisions.

Duke suggests shifting your focus away from how much uncertainty you have to the degree of confidence you’re facing. Make uncertainty a quantitative and objective analysis rather than an emotional concern. If you can estimate your confidence level, you can gauge where you stand and assess how much improvement you need to be comfortable making a decision. Gather pertinent facts to reduce uncertainty and make the wisest possible decision.

Clearer Thinking

Fact-finding and information management can be taxing, even to seasoned leaders. Emotions influence most thought processes, and leaders can be left with distorted impressions. McKinsey’s experts advise leaders to pause, take a step back and calm the mind. Approach thinking more rationally, and don’t allow anxiety to overrun reason.

Leaders who come to appreciate other perspectives solve problems most productively. Active listening skills are the best tool for engaging staff and enhancing rational thinking. Taking an objective approach, with input and choices, reduces emotional influence, bias, fear and rumors. Getting to the truth always leads to more accurate decisions. Consider hiring an executive coach to provide training in active listening.

Clearer thinking also comes from lessons learned. Legends and unsubstantiated beliefs can finally be put to rest. Leaders who continue to learn, read, ask questions and research gain more real-life knowledge of how their world works. Ask friends and colleagues about their experiences and what they learned from them. These steps reduce misconceptions of current problems and their causes. They also clarify effective solutions, ensuring better outcomes for future decisions.

Our culture draws a heavy line between right and wrong. Outcomes are considered either failures or successes, with few gray areas. Rightness is praised, and wrongness is condemned. Leaders therefore strive to be right to protect their reputations. Duke urges leaders to stop trying to be right, as our culture defines it. Good decisions can still go awry, and a poor outcome doesn’t mean a decision (or leader) was bad. There are too many factors at work behind the scenes, some of which are truly out of your control. Clearer thinking takes this into account and allows greater satisfaction in making the best possible decisions.

Leaders known for their good decisions employ the approaches discussed here, maximizing their certainty, clarifying their thinking and enhancing their confidence. Their decisions benefit their organizations, in lieu of themselves, and garner the respect and trust that seem to be sorely lacking today.

Patient Leaders Prevail

Most leaders would agree that the pressures and expectations of business have increased dramatically in the last decade. Results, profits, and value for shareholders often take top priority, and it seems everyone wants everything faster. With technology evolving quickly and the drive to do more with less, many leaders act like things can be accomplished with the push of a button, and when they’re not, they demand answers.

In the process, leaders lose sight of treating people with understanding and support, which burdens everyone with stress and dissatisfaction. Leaders who are unfamiliar with the specifics of how projects are accomplished lack one of the most powerful management tools: patience.

The Misnomers About Patience

Everyone seems to want instant rewards. The reality of instantaneous reward is seldom realistic. The more complex the circumstances, the more time required to implement true solutions. Patience is the combination of understanding that many things take time and the willingness to allow that to play out.

In this fast-paced culture, patience is often seen as an inability to act. This stems from the incorrect assumptions that all direction is immediately evident, or all choices are obvious or no deadline ever dare be missed. Seasoned leaders know better.

When a leader takes time to choose a direction it isn’t always because of insecurity or the inability to grasp the specifics. Getting to the bottom of things often takes great effort and time to assure the most effective decisions can be made. Accounting for past lessons learned is also a significant process. Many corporate directions have failed because plans were rushed.

Another incorrect view of patience is common with that of other “soft” skills; they are associated with leadership weakness. Leadership expert Ritch Eich describes in Industry Week how patience is lumped into the same category as empathy, approachability, listening and transparency. The old-school mindset leads from intimidation, ego and control with little to no consideration of employee needs. In subservient cultures under old-school leaders, workers have little say and few options.

Today, great leaders recognize that employees don’t put up with this. Talented people are hard to find, and retention is key for success. The old leadership mindset requires an entire paradigm shift; respect and support of employees is critical. Soft skills, including patience, are now employed by the best leaders to engage and inspire employees. They know productivity is vitally dependent on employee satisfaction. People on the receiving end of impatience won’t take long to dislike their jobs and find a better one somewhere else. Leaders who have patience are among those who forge the strongest teams and succeed from that strength.

Patience is seen by many as slowing things down, risking the quick completion of critical projects. Impatient leaders see a need to keep the pace of progress hot; they make rapid decisions in order to obtain rapid results. In reality, haste generally raises the likelihood of mistakes and oversights. This can cause major delays when work needs to be redone or cleaned-up. Paradoxically, slowing things down can speed productivity. A leader’s patience in getting things right offers an effective use of time and talent.

Patience for Positive Change

Thankfully, many leaders have recognized the need to change their cultures. Bottom-line priorities of profits and market share are no longer goals unto themselves, but a result of a healthy employee culture. Satisfied and engaged workers enhance the organization and dramatically boost the chances for success.

Change is critical, and it is difficult. People resist it. Wise leaders know that change takes time. Culture shifts can’t be rushed without suffering. Transitioning from close-mindedness to open-mindedness, from a “good-enough” approach to one of excellence, or from market follower to market leader all require a thorough and deliberate process. Patience is needed to allow people to adapt, retrain, rethink and become convinced of the benefits to the company and themselves.

Many cultures are exclusive, patterned after the “old-boy” club where leaders have all the say and privileges and employees are excluded from the decision tree. A top leader needs great patience to turn this around, where employees are included and accepted and a political system becomes more equitable. This may include replacing some leaders who can’t (or won’t) make the needed changes in character. It all takes time to be done carefully.

Change also breeds conflict. Resolving conflict properly requires the patience to listen and work through difficulties, especially ones centering on personalities. Getting to root causes takes time, as does finding the best workable solutions. Many times, the causes lie under the surface, unseen under the layers that need to be peeled away like an onion. The process is one of stepping back to assess, followed by continuous adjustment and understanding, all under the guidance of the leader.

Typical everyday problem solving also requires a leader’s patience to accurately evaluate the situation and guide everyone to a common solution. Sometimes solutions need to be revised to work out the kinks. Rushing this process often causes more difficulty than the original problem.

Patience for Continued Growth

Fulfilling a vision for an organization requires planning, risk, communication, commitment, motivation, engagement and patience. None of this can be rushed. Great leaders make the critical assessments and necessary adjustments, take the appropriate pauses, provide the crucial resources and guidance and allow people the time to adopt new ways. Many corporate plans are dashed when results are forced too quickly. Haste breeds resistance and resentment. Visions are rarely achieved under those disadvantages. As business strategist Glenn Llopis asserts in Forbes, patience is a great sign of a leader’s maturity.

Leaders must also be relationship builders if they are to succeed. No plans, changes or growth are accomplished without the teamwork and unity that strong relationships afford. It’s been said that good leadership requires good followership. In other words, without inspiring people to follow and contribute, a leader can make no progress. Followers are developed only through meaningful and gratifying relationships. This is a slow, deliberate process. Leaders who have the patience to connect with their people can develop the relationships that are critical to meeting their objectives.

Relationship-building involves time-consuming activities like listening, offering and receiving feedback, personal coaching and mentoring. The trust earned in these processes permits the influence a leader needs to prosper their organization.

All of these circumstances involve highs and lows, trials and victories. Leaders with the determination to stay the course, stick to their values and see the changes through come out on top. Patience is a leader’s greatest tool on this journey. A motivated and empowered staff bolsters the rewards that make a leader’s patience well worth having.

Overcoming Leadership Fears

Companies face myriad threats: a volatile economy, politics, cost overruns, competition and disruptive technology, among others. But there’s a particular internal threat that can dwarf them: fear at the leadership level.

Leadership fears can destroy a company in many ways, including:

  • Indecisiveness, leading to missed opportunities
  • Emotional deception, which prompts bad decisions
  • Suppression of people, forcing high turnover
  • Insecurity that manifests as self-centeredness
  • Confusion that causes leaders to miss threats at the doorstep

Fearful leaders often cannot deal with difficult issues or conversations, so moderate troubles balloon into true crises. They also resist taking the risks necessary to move their companies forward.

Fears can take many forms: discomfort, incapacity, negative feelings, failure and self-criticism. Each carries numerous side effects, most rooted in a fear of rejection. Fears make a leader ineffective and paralyzed. Plans are often forfeited, as is success.

We often forget that fears are part of the universal human experience. They’re normal, to some degree, even for leaders. The goal is to avoid compensating for them and, instead, identify and overcome them. A qualified executive coach can prove invaluable, as it can be difficult to recognize your own fears. Leaders who can successfully put their fears behind them—and learn from them—make the greatest strides.

The fear-reduction process has four fundamental pillars, as outlined by management consultant Peter Bregmen in Leading with Emotional Courage: How to Have Hard Conversations, Create Accountability, and Inspire Action on Your Most Important Work (Wiley, 2018):

  • Fears are greatly influenced by a lack of self-confidence. Leaders who boost their confidence address the most challenging of the four pillars.
  • Strengthen your relationships and support structure.
  • Practicing intentionality moves leaders farther away from fear through focus and an effective game plan.
  • Facing fears directly and exposing them puts them behind you for good.

Boost Your Self-Confidence

A lack of self-confidence causes leaders to second-guess themselves and doubt their own abilities. This stifles progress, and the entire organization perceives what’s happening. Unconfident leaders cause staff to lose trust and hope. Everything tumbles downhill from there.

Becoming aware of your feelings is the first step to gaining more confidence. Identifying feelings as they occur can help you pinpoint their causes, which are likely not as traumatic as you may fear. You can handle emotional ups and downs. You’ve reached your current position by doing so. Career setbacks haven’t destroyed you. The failures you’ve endured have made you a better leader, as will future setbacks. Envision yourself confidently navigating the complexities of your job, as you’ve done before, and regain your confidence.

Understanding the motives behind your actions can prove helpful, suggests Citigroup Managing Director Chinwe Esimai in “Great Leadership Starts with Self-Awareness” (Forbes, February 18, 2018). Honorable and reasonable motives help ensure successful outcomes. Build self-confidence by examining your motives. As others respond to your direction and decisions, you’ll receive positive feedback that helps build confidence.

Look for patterns in people’s responses when you act. If their responses are unfavorable, make corrections and learn from them. Positive staff feedback is a fear suppressor. Supplement this with guidance from a trusted colleague, mentor or coach. Be humble, willing to learn and committed to improvement. View criticism as an opportunity to advance your career.

Gaining a healthier perspective can help you conquer your fears. Bregman suggests mastering irrelevancy. Take yourself emotionally off center stage, and put your people there instead. Stepping out of the limelight can bring a sense of greater freedom and reduce your fears. Accepting more of a behind-the-scenes role can work wonders to boost confidence. You’re actually worth more to everyone when you lead with self-assurance.

Without exception, all great leaders have learned the most through their mistakes. Improvements may come with a short-term cost, but the long-term gains are well worth it.

Build Strong Relationships

Self-confident leaders have a support network of solid relationships, which helps reduce fears and fosters unity. Trusted and respected friends can offer critiques without causing offense. We know our friends won’t discard us, which diminishes any fears of rejection. Building relationships with colleagues and subordinates similarly helps you grow and improve.

Leaders must pave the way in building staff trust. Employees respond with trust when their leaders trust, appreciate and support them. Employees who trust you become followers and supporters, which is the best medicine for leadership fears.

Crafting a culture of trust is one of a leader’s most important jobs, and it starts with valuing and engaging people. Giving them the help and support they need earns their trust. As you set the example, let them learn that helping one another is the most effective and productive way to work, where goals are reached and people attain their full potential. There’s less to be afraid of when unity prevails.

Active listening is foundational to developing relationships. Improving this often-overlooked skill builds trust and strengthens connections. Show interest in your people through engaging conversation, where you ask questions and do less of the talking. This shows that you care, and it cannot be faked. People can always sense a lack of sincerity.

Offering your people understanding and empathy in their times of struggle forges loyal relationships that are extremely helpful when you start to doubt yourself or your abilities. Trying to see things from others’ perspective is key. Sometimes people just need to be heard, but if you can help with a solution, you can establish even greater trust.

Improving your communication skills helps mitigate fears, especially when you’re faced with serious challenges. Be clear, and ask others for clarity. Make points that are relevant to the other person’s perspective.

Leadership expert Tony Robbins stresses the importance of discovering others’ needs with openness and sincerity. When both parties express their needs with mutual understanding, they honor each other and establish respect. You’re more likely to find workable solutions that meet everyone’s needs when respect is evident. Situations seem less scary, your confidence rises, and issues are resolved more readily.

Practice Intentionality

Leaders who convert critiques into improvements develop the strongest followings and have the fewest fears. They not only welcome feedback, but they request it. They view constructive feedback as free self-development lessons.

Take intentional action on the feedback you receive. Nothing earns you more respect than admitting you need to improve and taking the required steps to do so. Make sure people can see how your improvements impact their lives. Knowing that every person can improve eases fears. Everyone is in the same boat, and no one has cornered the market on personal and professional development.

Being intentional about preparation—and even overpreparing, at times—removes uncertainty and builds confidence. Gathering facts and data builds objectivity and reduces subjectivity, where concerns and fears can grow. Anticipating the outcomes of different scenarios leaves less to chance. If you weigh the pros and cons of potential choices, your assessment can help you set aside fears. Understand the truth and scope of circumstances, and trust the people who help you determine them. These are positive, logical approaches that create the most effective outcomes because they minimize uncertainty.

Intentionally sharpen your focus on the tasks at hand. Many leaders are distracted by side ventures or rabbit trails. Tempting opportunities often muddle the picture and invite confusion and doubt. As negative emotions gain a foothold, fears quickly follow and self-confidence plummets. Leaders must stay personally focused, while simultaneously focusing on everyone else. Your company’s vision, goals and objectives are your battle cry; distractions and noise must be blocked. Your path to your goal should remain unobstructed. When everyone maintains focus, you can conquer chaos, keep emotions in check and minimize fear.

Intentionality is perhaps best seen in leaders who show resilience when facing setbacks. People need to see a strong, determined leader, particularly during tough times. If you can quickly dispatch disappointments and find something positive in the problem that confronts you, your people will feel more encouraged. This, in turn, encourages you.

Battling fears is easier when you have your people’s faith and support. Establishing a never-give-up approach musters courage, and the greatest leaders adopt this mindset. They may still experience fears, but their determination to move forward with small wins overrides most anxieties.

Directly Deal with Fears

As with many aspects of leadership, the direct approach is best. Facing fears is no exception. With the help of an executive coach, you can craft a plan to deal with your fears head-on.

Bregman encourages leaders to use fear as an incentive. By exposing your thoughts and perceived weaknesses to your coach, mentor or trusted colleague, a secret’s power is broken. Talking through your fears is therapeutic, and you may see how powerless they really are. Freedom eludes you when you bottle up your fears. Solutions are usually less complicated than you first perceive.

If appropriate, admit past fears to your staff—a move that can further reduce their impact. By being transparent and accountable, you’ll earn people’s admiration and avoid criticism or rejection. Strong leaders needn’t fear showing vulnerability if they deal with their fears directly and effectively. With experience, they realize their fears are generally overblown and far less powerful than originally thought.

Take the opportunity to deal with your fears directly and make much-needed leadership breakthroughs. For some people, it takes reaching an uncomfortable level of fear to prompt seeking assistance. In an odd way, consider this a positive step in the self-confidence journey.

There’s no reason to allow fear to debilitate you. Organizations run more effectively—and employees have greater regard for their jobs—when leaders have the courage to lead boldly.

Leading Powerfully Through Positivity

Negativity and discord have reached historic levels in our culture. Most aspects of our lives are widely affected by worsening attitudes, constant complaints and pessimistic mindsets. Like a virus, they spread easily, even when unwarranted.

Negativity impacts families, communities, institutions and workplaces. Leaders see the results firsthand, regardless of whether they recognize the causes. Turnover rises, projects fail to hit their goals, and productivity falls short of expectations. Leaders receive poor financial reports or drops in market share. Studies confirm the American economy suffers financially each year, to the tune of $300 billion, when corporate cultures turn negative.

Leaders miss negativity issues unless they’re close to day-to-day operations. They fail to appreciate the drain negativity causes—and when they finally take notice, they often implement the wrong remedies. This response cascade is guaranteed to make matters worse.

The Power of Positivity

The most powerful truths are often the simplest. Just as negativity causes myriad organizational troubles, positivity has the opposite effect. Logic tells us that a positive approach has to be better than a negative one. We glean this from our experiences and the common sense we’ve acquired. Evaluations of corporate performance and culture affirm that positivity is a powerful, yet often overlooked, force that can determine whether an organization will thrive or take a dive.

Over the years, studies of corporate performance reveal that a positive culture:

  • Inspires people to have better ideas and find better solutions
  • Yields more realistic visions and more feasible plans to attain them
  • Inspires higher levels of employee engagement, initiative and productivity
  • Sees more projects succeed and goals reached
  • Does better at overcoming adversity and building unity
  • Boosts levels of employee hope and security
  • Outperforms competitors with negative cultures (and takes their market share)
  • Is more innovative and quicker to market with new products
  • Experiences improved communication and collaboration
  • Has more employees committed to success

A positive culture clearly drives performance, which translates into greater prosperity for everyone. Only when leaders embrace this concept can they make cultural changes that profoundly benefit their organizations.

Culture is established by only one person: the leader. You cannot rely on other people or circumstances to set your workplace tone. You need to determine, initiate, maintain and enhance your organizational culture using your character and leadership traits as primary tools.

Many leaders dismiss positivity as a simplistic notion, but it’s one of the most fundamentally powerful tools in their arsenal—and it costs you nothing. Nonetheless, many intransigent leaders refuse to take the first critical step toward experiencing all the benefits of a positively empowered company.

Making the Crucial Decisions

Leaders fashion a positive culture by first seeing a need for improvement. A qualified leadership coach can help spot the telltale signs of negativity. Once problem areas are recognized, it’s time to take the next crucial step: making the decision to do something.

Positive results require a positive approach. Leaders must decide that positivity will be the charter for the company and that conscious changes will be well worth the effort. Life is difficult and negative enough, notes leadership consultant Jon Gordon in The Power of Positive Leadership: How and Why Positive Leaders Transform Teams and Organizations and Change the World(Wiley, 2017). The only true remedy is to be positive.

But Gordon realizes that simple positivity is insufficient. Being positive while also being effective is the perfect combination to overcome negativity’s obstacles. Effectiveness is the blending of reality with a better mindset. One must see things for what they are and implement potent methods to turn around problems.

Leaders must also adopt a positive character—not a superficial positivity, but a genuinely encouraging mindset and determination to see the good in things (and pursue and accentuate them to create a better reality for all).

So, exactly what do these positive leaders look like?

For some, it may mean stepping out of their comfort zone. Those historically influenced by negative environments and people may find themselves overtaken by pessimism and a critical nature. Their challenge: to reject this pervasive mindset and set a new course—one that may feel foreign at first. It may be necessary to start fresh. Leadership coaches specialize in empowering their clients to effect positive changes.

Leaders, however, cannot succeed without a fundamental desire to overcome obstacles and create an environment that inspires positivity in those around them. As Gordon instructs: Develop a passion to be the best at what you do and be a winner. Motivating your organization with that philosophy will start to change the culture. Your winning attitude requires personal investment, for you and your team. With your determination and optimism, the environment will transform. Making these important decisions sets the leader in motion to influence the mindsets around them, to lead the way, and pursue a positive path forward.

Enhancing Your Character

When leaders have a more positive character, their thoughts, behavior, instincts and responses are more receptive to organizational needs. They see a brighter future in which problems become opportunities.

Start building positivity by working to overcome your own negativity, Gordon advises. Reject negative behaviors like complaining, gossip, selfishness, apathy and untruthfulness. By placing a higher value on integrity, honor, service to others, caring and truthfulness, you’ll push negative elements aside, where they belong. You’ll enjoy greater satisfaction and experience personal and professional benefits. The more you practice positivity, the more natural it will become—and the less desirable your old ways will seem.

A positive mindset eliminates the need for ego or pride. Fulfillment comes from the joy of positivity and self-worth. The pursuit of excellence with your employees fosters the enjoyment that negativity blocks.

Minimizing the negative influences around you also increases your ability to transition to positivity, while simultaneously reshaping the culture. Your employees will experience their own character shifts when leadership no longer tolerates negative behavior. Negative people around you become uncomfortable when behaviors and comments are met with disapproval. Your encouragement makes positivity more appealing to them.

Direct reports support and appreciate leaders whose positive character inspires transformation. As people choose to follow you, your care for them will grow, as will your spirit of service.

By diligently building a more positive character, followed by persistence in pursuing it, you and your people will ultimately refuse to live any other way.

Leading by Positive Example

An organization’s culture is an extension of its leader’s philosophy. Leaders need to let people feel their walk, sense their mindset and be compelled to follow it, Gordon says. This sets the positivity example. Put it out there for all to experience and get used to. Gathering employees to inspire a culture shift has benefits, but nothing influences a following like living positively and loving it. People seeing how their coworkers’ lives have improved is the most powerful teaching tool you have.

If your culture encourages acceptance and discourages disinterest, positivity becomes the norm. As with leaders, once people taste the benefits and rewards of a positive mentality, they will buy in. They’ll set their own examples and encourage each other to do the same. They may even correct each other with reminders, taking their cue from you. They understand that you’ve established the goal of working positivity into every operational aspect.

The transition may be slow. Backsliding may occur after frustrations or crises arise. Your coach can help you maintain your focus and hold you accountable. Good outcomes are great motivators when positive approaches are used. Rely on this, especially in tough times.

Sometimes the example set by positive leaders requires difficult decisions that protect the organization from negative influences. Ineffective products or services may need to be discontinued. Negative, damage-inflicting clients may need to be dismissed. Stricter policies may need to be put in place to deal with conflict or detrimental behavior. Toxic employees deserve the chance to be converted to positivity with the appropriate oversight and counseling. If they choose to remain negative, they may need to be replaced.

Your passion for positivity gives you several hats to wear: role model, cheerleader, guardian, coach, enforcer and rewarder.

Building on a Firm Foundation

Great leaders expand their efforts to solidify a collective perspective and build upon the culture they’ve initiated. They continue to battle negativity and reinforce the expectation of a positive workplace. They promote one spirit: one united front to raise the bar.

A solid, positive culture is undergirded by trust. You earn trust by caring about your people and developing relationships with them. Make this happen by:

  • Listening to them and providing for their needs. Applying active-listening skills helps people feel valued, which improves positivity.
  • Encouraging and inspiring your people to think, respond and apply themselves positively.
  • Communicating about everything. Give people information, and let them in on the plans to fulfill your vision. Let them feel worthy of being included in what’s going on in the organization.
  • Getting to know your people, their interests, their lives and aspirations. Let them know who you are by sharing the same. This offers a sense of family and unity, which prompts a positive feeling about the workplace.
  • Trusting people to make more decisions and be ambassadors of positivity. Letting your people take ownership of their culture strengthens it.
  • Inviting people into problem-solving activities and allowing them to inject their expertise to make a difference. Celebrating positive outcomes also reinforces a positive mindset.
  • Providing coaching and mentoring resources to help your people gain skills and become more valuable contributors.
  • Creating a safe environment through transparency and security, where politics, favoritism and deception are rejected. People’s fear and anxiety will be minimized.

In a community of trust, people know each other well enough to think the best of their coworkers, instead of criticizing or grumbling. If your employees sense a greater optimism, your clients and customers will follow suit. Positivity is visible, indicating that a good fundamental culture is at work. Companies that exude positivity draw customers because they know their needs will be met. Your people and your operation thereby prosper.

Be a Great Change Leader

Every successful organization has experienced change. With the business environment and its threats constantly evolving, it follows that the inability to change prevents success. Of course, change doesn’t happen on its own. Effective change not only must be managed, it must be led. This is an unfamiliar concept to many executives.

As change expert Edith Onderick-Harvey explains in Forbes’, Developing A Change Leader Mindset, managing change is not the same as leading change. Change management uses tools and processes to conduct projects. Leading change involves setting a course, establishing a culture and motivating your people to follow. Successful leaders are those who lead change, not if, but when it is required.

Considering that over sixty percent of all major corporate change initiatives fail, executives will benefit from enhancing their change leadership approach. Here are five fundamental pillars of change that great leaders build upon:

Set a Vision

A compelling vision is what underpins all successful change. It not only sets the change initiative in motion, but it sustains its life during execution and long after its implementation. The leader’s vision is founded on an assessment of the way things are, points out the things that need to change and paints a picture of the way things need to be.

Corporate change may involve new products, new markets or a new company image. It may pertain to expansion or downsizing. It may be as basic as upgrading policies, procedures or systems.

The leader’s vision adequately explains the need for change by helping people understand the risks of maintaining the status quo and the benefits of making changes. The staff needs to be drawn together in unity, to not only collectively accept the change, but play an active role in it.

Other managers are commissioned to promote the change and engage their people in the process. This involves extra group communication, where things are explained, people are heard and their concerns are acknowledged. A collective spirit of seeking solutions is critical.

The vision-setting stage is where a leader is especially focused on being credible and available to build as trusting an environment as possible.

Establish a Plan

A vision for change has no chance of success without an effective plan to make it happen. Plans must include the participation of managers and staff, and may require outside resources. Plans need to be realistic regarding scope, timing and staffing. Nothing crushes a vision faster than a plan that can’t be accomplished well.

How can a leader ensure that these things are properly considered? Ask your experts: your people. Leaders develop successful plans by involving their people ¾ getting their input, their ideas and their buy-in. An engaged staff is the primary resource a leader has in seeing a vision to fruition. It’s no longer the leader’s vision; it’s everyone’s vision.

An involved staff is made responsible for their assigned tasks. While each person is held accountable, leaders also encourage them to help each other. The plan comes together with this collective effort, where walls are taken down and territories are de-emphasized.

Organizing people into special task forces or teams can make effective use of their skills and time. Give them authority to make decisions or enhance the plan. An empowered team finds even better solutions and innovations. This enhances their sense of purpose and value. Their enthusiasm will be contagious and augment your promotional efforts.

Make the Investments

The greatest plan for change cannot be fulfilled without the proper resources. The fastest way to lose the enthusiasm you established in your people is to sabotage their efforts by withholding the resources they need to make the changes your plan calls for.

Again, your people are the experts in understanding what they need. It may be new policies or procedures. It may be equipment or systems. It could require more people: either with the same skills or new skillsets the group doesn’t currently have. Talent may simply need to be repurposed, switching people’s roles to accomplish the plan.

Regardless, leaders need to be open to making the investments needed whether in daily expenditure or capital investment. This is a point stressed by MIT lecturer Douglas Ready in his HBR article, 4 Things Successful Change Leaders Do Well. Leaders who support short and long-term investment plans have the greatest chances of realizing their vision. Proper investments not only make the plan feasible during its implementation, but keep the vision (and the company) strong long after the changes are made.

Great change leaders invest for the future, willing to bear short-term pain for long-term gain. They motivate their people to appreciate the investments and make the most effective use of them.

Provide the Training

A plan for change that calls for new procedures or systems requires properly skilled people. Leaders may need to include the cost of employee training in their investment plans. One of the best ways to implement large-scale training is to have a select team of employees undergo extensive training, and then serve as in-house experts able to train their coworkers.

Great change leaders make use of this strategy to optimize collaboration, teamwork and brainstorming. It not only raises in-house expertise, but empowers and engages employees-in the vision and plan.

In addition to technical training, leaders, managers and employees benefit from softer skill training that enhances change initiatives. Great change leaders give their people the opportunity to learn:

  • Project management skills
  • Collaborative workshop and brainstorming/innovation techniques
  • Leadership skills, including active listening, conflict resolution, and constructive feedback
  • Relational intelligence skills; how to read people, work in unity and support others
  • How to give presentations
  • New mindsets, including positivity, overcoming anxieties, and being more agile

A well rounded, trained and prepared staff is a leader’s best approach to any change initiative.

Celebrate Progress

Great change leaders know that people under pressure need occasional relief and encouragement. Workers don’t last long when they’re constantly driven with no feedback on how they’re doing.

Setting up methods to track progress allows people to know where things stand as they move forward. Leaders should not only recognize project status, but appreciate the hard work and progress being made. Do this publicly, and frequently. Emphasize the positives and encourage continued success. The best leaders celebrate little victories along the way, not waiting until they feel a major war is won.

Have gatherings to share stories and accomplishments. Highlight personnel and feed them with acknowledgements and thanks. This enhances their sense of self-worth and value, and it makes a potentially long project more manageable.

At the end of the implementation, even grander celebrations are called for. Make it a big deal ¾ because to your people, it is. These are the kinds of things that keep them engaged in the vision when working out the kinks down the road. It also prompts them to continue applying themselves and allows the vision to continue living in them.

As a leader, your role is foundational in initiating change, drawing your people to its purpose and giving them purpose as they partner with you to implement what needs to be done.

Quiet Leaders, Chaotic Consequences

People seek relief when confronted with obnoxious or ego-driven leaders. They long for a manager who’s quiet, thoughtful, reserved and capable of creating a peaceful culture.

This scenario seems wonderful, on the surface: a break from ongoing torture. But behind their deceptive façade, quiet leaders often present a world of uncertainties and unanticipated challenges. Accompanying the more obvious benefits are surprising detriments that can be as debilitating to the organization as those inflicted by their overbearing counterparts.

Too much of a good thing has served as a generic warning for generations, and it can hold especially true for the quiet leader. Quietness in leadership is better in some ways and worse in others.

Are You a Hands-Off Leader?

Quiet leaders are typically introverts, leading with as little emotional or relational input as possible. They’re uncomfortable with feelings, closeness or the mess of human conflict. Psychotherapist and business consultant Beatrice Chestnut, PhD, dubs them “knowledgeable observers” in The 9 Types of Leadership: Mastering the Art of People in the 21st Century Workplace (Post Hill Press, 2017). They prefer solitude over engagement, intellect over emotion and hard data over subjective input, she notes.

Quiet leaders need space, feeling safer at a distance from their people. They’re overly challenged by interpersonal struggles, strong emotions or typical workplace drama. They don’t aim for the spotlight, but rather efficiency and correctness. Disorganization sets them off. They want the machinery to hum along with effective precision and little need for their direct intervention or correction. They try to align plans and people well enough for all aspects of business to take care of themselves.

Quiet leaders value data and analysis. They process and respond; they don’t react. They base their decisions on their own perspectives, formed after careful and sometimes painstaking assessments, to make the most beneficial choices. They establish control through careful analysis and adherence to procedures and policies, maintaining their distance from difficult human issues. Self-sufficiency is a cherished trait.

As Dr. Chestnut points out, quiet leaders establish firm unspoken boundaries, careful to minimize emotional expressiveness, sharing of personal information or inquiring about their people’s lives. They inhabit a very intellectual and thought-provoking world, kept close to the vest.

Do you relate to some of these traits? You may have quiet-leader tendencies that cause you to manage from a distance, with a hands-off approach. Some of your people may appreciate this style; some may struggle with it. Some may consider it so foreign that they’re unsure how to react.

The Ups and Downs of Quiet Leaders

Though a “knowledgeable observer” seems to defy leadership’s relational expectations, this management style benefits an organization in a number of ways. Quiet leaders:

  • Don’t subject employees to tempers, berating treatment or outward anger.  For many, this is a refreshing change in today’s harsh culture.
  • Rarely invoke politics, favoritism or excuses in their decisions and policies.
  • Are objective in their perspectives and choices, based on data and analysis. Emotionally influenced decisions, which can have tragic outcomes, are not part of the picture.
  • Are humble and thoughtful. They put the needs of the organization and employees ahead of their own.
  • Leave their people alone, giving them space. Micromanaging is not part of the quiet leader’s style.

While this may seem like utopia to many, these seemingly positive traits can invite long-term consequences if practiced to the extreme. Quiet leaders:

  • May be so hands-off that project details can be overlooked to the point of failure.
  • Can stay too distant from people and their interpersonal issues. Misbehavior, arguments, attitudes and low performance are often overlooked. This can lead to a chaotic and disunified culture, right under the leader’s nose.
  • Are often untrusting of others’ perspectives and instincts, relying only on their own understandings. This limits engagement, unity and better ideas.
  • Avoid feelings, relationships and strong emotions. Employees may be inadvertently ignored or left feeling unimportant. Their personal needs may go unaddressed.
  • Typically don’t care to network or build alliances. This limits their influence and the means to gather support for their objectives (and the chances for long-term impact).
  • Can be self-sufficient enough to avoid delegation. The ability to distribute work, balance resources and meet upper-management expectations suffers.
  • Struggle to engage, inspire and motivate workers. People can be left with the feeling that only numbers matter, rather than relationships and the value of teamwork.
  • Experience analysis paralysis, sidestepping decisions until an unrealistic need for confidence is met. Projects and progress are delayed.

Quiet leaders find fulfillment in their role as strategist, problem solver, vision caster or data cruncher. The esteem and respect they receive for this expertise is reward enough for them. Information is king, and they enjoy processing it to make effective decisions. Only purely objective viewpoints are acceptable to them, and they feel they must be thoroughly informed to perform to high standards. They strictly adhere to policies and procedures as they plan their route to success.

Fear of failure plagues most quiet leaders. Decisions are stressful for them unless all data are exhausted and all possibilities calculated. Procrastination is a viable option for them, as they can put off the prospect of failure.

These unfortunate attributes can put the quiet leader squarely at the center of severe organizational dysfunction and, ultimately, failure.

Dysfunctional Behavior

Knowledgeable observers often have a seemingly harmless appearance, so the downsides of their leadership style may take time to surface.

Dr. Chestnut emphasizes quiet leaders’ need to be alone. Employees won’t see them milling about, engaged in small talk or asking how the weekend went. They limit themselves to their office space and meeting rooms, when an appearance is required. An open-door policy is a rarity.

Quiet leaders are generally shy in social settings. They enjoy technical or analytical conversations but will show discomfort in social ones. Communication is most comfortably conducted remotely. A quiet leader is unlikely to partake in social events during lunch hour or after work, choosing solitude instead.

Leaders also avoid contact with outspoken employees who always have something to say, enjoy creating controversy, or spark disputes and disruption. Their inability to maintain control may become obvious when interpersonal issues go unmanaged or are allowed to fester. Poor employee performance may be similarly dismissed, provoking coworker resentment and further disruption. In contrast, they effectively deal with technical issues that require purely intellectual skills.

Staff performance evaluations are strained, if they actually occur. The entire process may be lacking, leaving employees unsure of how they’re doing. Salary assessments, which can be emotional, are frequently sidestepped.

Quiet leaders take pleasure in dealing with objective issues that make use of their analytical expertise. They examine issues to the nth degree and often frustrate their people by procrastinating. A quiet leader sometimes wants more data when more is unobtainable. They refuse to rely on feelings or instinct to help make decisions.

Another indicator of quiet leadership is a reluctance to seek others’ opinions or perspectives. These leaders try to become expert in a specific issue that relies on their singular assessment. Consequently, they avoid delegation, taking on extra tasks and choosing not to engage or train people. They fail to explain their expectations, so staff often doesn’t know where things stand.

Each of these behavioral traits presents an awkward situation, resulting in some level of organizational difficulty. When combined, they lead to significant dysfunction. Without corrective measures, the damage often becomes irreparable.

Advice for Quiet Leaders

Those who understand the quiet personality can help leaders adopt more effective approaches. Executive coaches are particularly qualified to help leaders navigate the emotional and unpredictable nature of human behavior. Leaders can learn how to cope when they feel a loss of control or face conflict. Fear of failure and other insecurities can be effectively managed, and a professional coach can offer valuable stress-management tools.

Quiet leaders are capable of learning that relationships needn’t lead to vulnerability, exposure or rejection. With the right mentoring, they can venture beyond their comfort zone.

It’s difficult to step back and observe oneself, assess character flaws and prescribe self-remedies. The viewpoint of a trusted coach or colleague is a valuable resource for identifying areas for improvement.

Quiet leaders must learn they don’t have the corner on analytical thinking, Dr. Chestnut asserts. With coaching and encouragement, they can begin to accept other perspectives and experiences. The next steps are collaborating with people and developing the courage to discuss ideas on their technical and cultural merits. (This may take a coworker’s prompting.)

Learning to expand the power of relationships and deal with people is crucial. Leaders are more motivated to overcome their inhibitions when they fully grasp the consequences of refusing to change. Using case studies, an experienced coach can remind them of the personal and organizational penalties for keeping one’s distance.

Quiet leaders will ultimately discover their relationship fears are overblown. People are not out to expose, defeat or reject them. Workplace drama is normal and isn’t typically subversive. People want someone to support and follow. They generally want to do great work and succeed. An effective coach teaches the quiet leader how to build trust, let go and ease into taking some risks.

Working for a Quiet Leader

Drawing quiet leaders out of their shells takes patience and understanding. The best approach to helping them feel safe in relationships is to be professional and straightforward, holding back emotional responses or subjective language. Quiet leaders need to know they can collaborate with low risk and enjoy the process with a sense of comfort and productivity. Repeated positive experiences lower their walls.

Offer to help with tasks and ask how they prefer them to be done. Leaders will gradually see the benefits of involving others in their work. Giving positive feedback on how you enjoyed the process offers further encouragement.

Approach quiet leaders with requests for help or training, which further builds rapport and opens doors. Don’t ambush them with spur-of-the-moment issues; rather, ask for an appointment and be sensitive to their need for structure and planning. Quiet leaders hate surprises, so inform them of significant issues as soon as you’re aware of them. Present important details in a calm, objective fashion. You’ll earn their trust with other issues that crop up, and they may learn to collaborate with you in solving them.

Quiet leaders lack the people skills that many consider necessary for effective leadership, but they nonetheless often find themselves in positions of authority. While they may seem like fish out of water in some respects, they can be coached and encouraged to expand their comfort zones, grow their trust and engage others.