Building a Strong Culture

Some companies prosper and draw the business world’s attention. They continuously grow, innovate and impress. In contrast, others struggle, never breaking through to reach their desired success. The latter must deal with downsizing, financial shortfalls, market-share losses and tarnished reputations.

The disparities are glaring. While leaders of prosperous companies garner industry admiration, those who head besieged organizations wonder where they went wrong. They search for explanations as to why their operations haven’t fulfilled their potential.

Research in social science and organizational behavior points to a critical quality, one that most directs every company’s future: culture. A strong culture consistently leads to robust performance, while a weak culture suffers ongoing failures.

Leaders who discount the importance of culture are apt to bear predictable consequences. They must define, assess and strengthen their organizational culture to thrive.

Culture’s Impact

Culture is to an organization as personality is to a person. Personality describes how we think, act and respond to the circumstances we face.

Similarly, an organization’s culture determines how people act or work, what they believe or stand for and how they respond to pressures and challenges. Every company, without exception, has a culture.

Leaders unfamiliar with the concept of corporate culture or organizational behavior are out of touch with the daily workings within their walls. They fail to realize that culture drives:

  • How well (or how poorly) teams function
  • Whether customers’ needs are being met
  • Whether employees’ needs are fulfilled
  • Company health and well-being
  • Future outlook

Leadership expert John Coleman describes Six Components of a Great Corporate Culture (Harvard Business Review, May 6, 2013):

  • A unifying vision or mission that fashions one’s purpose and plans
  • A code of values that influences behavior and mindsets
  • Practices that support and enhance people
  • A recruiting process that matches people to the desired culture
  • A celebrated heritage that tells the company’s story and what it stands for
  • A beneficial working environment to optimize synergy

A trained observer, like an executive coach, can quickly assess whether one’s culture embodies these characteristics.

A strong culture can increase net income by more than 700% in an 11-year span, according to a 2012 study published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Contemporary Research in Business.Other research confirms culture as a significant factor in determining success or failure.

Essential Skill Sets

Creating and sustaining a strong group culture is one of the most misunderstood and elusive aspects of leadership in today’s business climate. Some leaders are disinterested in their culture, with no desire to delve into an area that, for them, is mysterious and superfluous. Others recognize culture’s importance but are too intimidated to tackle it. Still others attempt to craft a culture, but their unfamiliarity prevents them from taking prudent steps—and they may even make matters worse.

A strong company culture doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s based on constructive relationships and interactions. But humans, by nature, fail to engage each other constructively. Selfish impulses and habits get in the way. Fears, stubborn beliefs, prejudices and pride also inhibit healthy group dynamics.

It takes focused and deliberate leaders to establish, nurture and grow a strong culture.
Leadership expert Daniel Coyle identifies three foundational skill sets or proficiencies in The Culture Code (Bantam Books, 2018). The principles are simple, but following them requires wisdom and empathy:

  • Define the organization’s purpose. Values and goals must be shared so everyone is on the same page. A strong culture begins with unity and a common purpose.
  • Foster mutual trust. Establishing a culture where people trust each other and their leader takes time, but it empowers people to excel.
  • Create a sense of safety. People instinctively yearn for safety, security, a sense of belonging and a personal identity. Employees who feel safe engage wholeheartedly, without fear of reprisal or condemnation. Leaders must provide a consistently safe environment.

Post Your Purpose

Without a fundamental purpose, organizations cannot steer efforts in any general direction. Employees need a reason to serve, shared goals, a common cause and focus. They need to know what their organization stands for so they can embrace its stance.

Leaders are charged with creating a vision of the company’s future. They’re required to disseminate and promote it so others can fall in line. Purpose or mission statements are noble callings to serve, respond to and meet the public’s needs.

A purpose can tell a story, hinge on a legacy or chase a dream. Each unites people as they endeavor to achieve something together. Culture is enhanced by accomplishing something that’s possible only when everyone shares the same purpose.

Effective leaders know that hitting people over the head with mission statements causes more harm than good. People respond best to small, frequent, unobtrusive reminders of their purpose. Offer frequent encouragement and feedback.

Leaders can work with a qualified executive coach to hone the following vital skills:

  • Clearly state individual and collective priorities. People want to know what’s expected of them.
  • Overstate priorities to ensure everyone is in sync. There’s no need to be forceful or indignant. Aim for supportive and motivational.
  • Provide high-feedback training, as Coyle calls it. This allows people to fail and find ways to improve. Culture blooms when people are empowered to learn and grow. Be sure to celebrate small victories.

Train to Trust

A strong culture depends on an environment of trust, where people can count on each other, take risks together and benefit from the resulting successes. Leaders who inspire authenticity entice people to step out of their comfort zones and enjoy the spirit of cooperation.

Leaders enhance trust when they’re transparent and humble. Display humility by expressing a need for help. People are drawn to leaders who are willing to exhibit fallibility. Admitting weaknesses and setting aside insecurities reveal a real person who can be trusted.

Trust builds teamwork, which inspires cooperation and a vital interconnectedness. Trust is founded on relationships—and the stronger the relationships, the healthier the culture. Once again, leaders can benefit from the assistance of an experienced executive coach to optimize their people skills and relational intelligence.

Great leaders are comfortable dealing with subordinates when problems arise. They approach difficult situations and challenging employees face to face, with care and honor. They’re firm but fair. Trusted leaders prioritize relationships and make sure employees feel appreciated.

Leaders gain employees’ trust through active listening. When you thoughtfully address people’s situations and allow them to speak freely, you cultivate greater trust.

Giving honest feedback to employees further raises the trust bar. Be candid, sincere and helpful. As Coyle suggests, provide “targeted” or specific feedback. People want to contribute the best they have to offer and be valued resources. They need detailed critiques and a chance to earn your approval. Avoid judgmental comments so you can nurture their self-esteem.

High self-esteem allows employees to show initiative and avoid the need for continuous oversight. The best cultures feature self-directed teams whose leaders interject only when necessary. Employees become more invested and engaged in their work, which makes for a strong culture.

Provide Safety

All humans want to feel safe. They need to feel they belong, are cared for and valued at work. Leaders who provide purpose and a trusting environment are in the best position to offer a sense of safety.

People feel safe when they can trust their relationships without concerns over politics, personalities and resentments. They want to know their relationships will last and grow stronger. Employees who feel safe invest in the team dynamic and perform better.

Leaders build a strong culture when they emphasize relationships and set an example. Show interest in your people, and emphasize that everything done within your organization is built on relationships.

Leaders who foster a sense of belonging build strong cultures. Coyle provides the following helpful strategies:

  • Receive people’s ideas and proposals with an open mind. Make them feel glad for contributing, not regretful. Let their voice be heard, and remind them that you need their ideas because their perspectives have value.
  • Express thanks, which affirms the importance of relationships and provides motivation. If everyone’s efforts are important, a healthy codependency and unity develop.
  • Accept bad news, and don’t shoot messengers. People who face threats for being truthful will learn to be silent. This kills a culture.
  • Roll up your sleeves and get dirty. Leaders who place themselves above ordinary tasks erect barriers. When everyone is equally willing to contribute, teamwork expands and a sense of safety prevails.
  • Don’t pad bad news with good. Beating around the bush or hedging your delivery signals disingenuousness, which spells danger. Say it like it is, but do so sincerely and considerately. Being truthful tells people you have their best interests at heart.

Arrogance in Leadership

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

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

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

The Nature of Arrogance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Fuels Arrogance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking the Arrogance Mold

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visionary Vulnerabilities

We live in an age of remarkable products and services from inventive thinkers with lofty ideas. These visionary leaders, who don’t think or work like anyone else, have started businesses based on novel concepts, and those whose achievements greatly impact society are afforded special status.

Employees often flock to these visionaries’ companies, hoping the future will offer prosperity within a corporate culture that promotes free thought, excitement and cutting-edge innovations. But some visionary leaders can be difficult bosses whose brainstorming and idealistic tendencies frustrate employees and create career obstacles.

As the term implies, “visionary” leaders like to walk among the clouds, devoting themselves to the future, the impossible and the things that could be. Unfortunately, businesses must be run with both a widescreen view and in-the-trenches focus, so pure visionaries with only big-picture mindsets are vulnerable to losing track of their enterprises.

While everyone admires visionary thinking, too much of it creates a dangerous imbalance. Fortunately, visionaries can learn effective ways to keep their companies healthy and productive.

Forwardly Focused

Visionary leaders are bent on taking things to the next level, solving the unsolvable problem, and developing something unprecedented or revolutionary. They passionately blaze uncharted trails. While such ambition is worthy, pure visionaries tend to be interested only in conceptualizing business ideas, and they often fail to involve themselves in the execution stages. Their brains are fast-thinking, idea-generating machines, with each concept analogous to a sheet of paper quickly torn from a thick pad.

Is your mind camped on the “what ifs?” of your business, while other issues are pushed aside? Do you wish you could devote all your time to brainstorming activities while someone else handles the other major responsibilities on your plate?

If you’re a visionary leader, you have many ideas racing through your mind at the same time, each in a different stage of incompletion. One idea may progress to a certain point, only to be superseded by another. Some ideas will be abandoned after a few primary thoughts, while others will morph into concrete descriptions for your staff to pursue.

Visionary leaders are the conceptualizers. They rely on their tactical thinkers—the ones with practical know-how of processes, procedures, policies and planning—to turn ideas into reality. Can you relate to this scenario?

Noted psychotherapist and leadership consultant Dr. Beatrice Chestnut describes visionary leaders’ idealistic tendencies in The 9 Types of Leadership: Mastering the Art of People in the 21st Century Workplace (Post Hill Press, 2017). Visionaries enjoy thinking about what might be and how companies can improve. They’re excited by new ideas—primarily those that come from their own mind so they can maintain control.

Visionaries are strictly future oriented. The present isn’t interesting unless there’s room for improvement. They find their optimism and hope in the next chapter, and they see their role as enhancing lives by creating new possibilities. They love to think outside the box and push the envelope of what’s considered feasible.

Visionary leaders view circumstances through a cup-half-full filter, where negative thoughts are avoided and only positive outlooks are permitted. This helps feed their creative juices and blocks negative emotions that hinder them. Negativity deters the creativity visionaries need to feel purposeful and happy.

If you recognize some of these tendencies in yourself, you may be a visionary leader. And while you may greatly benefit your organization, your focus on future possibilities may distract you from critical responsibilities. This jeopardizes your operation and makes life harder for your staff because you’re likely neglecting the tactical aspects of business. A qualified leadership coach can help you assess your visionary tendencies and guide you toward a more balanced, healthy leadership style. The goal is not to quash your visionary approach, but to bring it into balance with your other responsibilities.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Visionary leaders have a positive impact on their organizations because they:

  • Dream optimistically, encouraging and supporting their people’s inventive activities.
  • Are always working on “the next big thing,” as Dr. Chestnut puts it. They want their organization to be a leader in its field, setting the pace for others to try and catch.
  • Develop great brainstorming skills that overcome challenges most leaders would deem infeasible.
  • Turn negatives into positives. More is always accomplished with a can-do approach, which lifts morale and feeds the visionary culture.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt, looking toward a positive outcome.
  • Are often sought after to create solutions, bringing notoriety and opportunity to their organization.

From a negative standpoint, visionary leaders can be overly idealistic and creative. Their focus on the future draws them away from important tasks. They:

  • Have too many ideas going at one time to properly prioritize, manage or execute.
  • Brush off negative concerns from their staff, avoid problematic issues and overlook warning signs or mistakes.
  • Find ways around roadblocks that impede their visionary process, often breaking the rules. Employees may then feel resentful and frustrated.
  • Lose interest in non-creative tasks and duties. They ignore everyday responsibilities when their ideas seem more compelling.
  • Prioritize activities based on what’s most fun for them.
  • Have blind spots that lead them away from the actions required to understand and address serious issues.
  • Are so unfocused that they fail to grasp current trends or the business climate, thereby hurting the company.
  • Have vague conceptual ideas that management cannot understand or appreciate.
  • Aren’t detail oriented and have difficulty performing accurate work, meeting commitments or completing assignments.
  • Think and speak so rapidly, caught up in their own little world, that they stop listening to others.
  • Have such a strong emotional need to dream that they take their company in the wrong direction. They unconsciously feed their personal needs more than those of the company.
  • Seek quick wins and disassociate from anyone who slows their creative process (with facts).
  • Fail to address problems they deem insignificant.

Strong visionary tendencies can render leaders inefficient and cause pain to those around them. While companies certainly need visionary thinkers, everyone must maintain the proper balance. The best leaders successfully juggle the present and future, focusing on the organization’s urgent needs and prioritizing them over tempting pie-in-the-sky ideas.

What Makes a Visionary Tick?

Understanding the visionary personality helps us forge productive business relationships.

The visionary’s mind runs far and fast. Ideas come naturally; the more unique, the better. The most active visionaries fashion ideas that interconnect and form a clever master plan.

Visionary leaders find joy in dreaming big. They’re drawn to considerable challenges, huge potential and foreseeable payoffs. They have “bright shiny object” syndrome, as Dr. Chestnut explains, and are distracted by the latest, greatest idea to come along. (More mundane ideas are shoved aside.) They become curators of unfinished ideas and plans.

Visionaries love learning and the freedom to use acquired knowledge. Corporate systems, procedures and processes that slow them down or interfere with their creativity are regarded as roadblocks. Visionary leaders resist limiting forces like rules, management decisions or protocol because creativity “requires” boundless autonomy. They see brainstorming as an imperative privilege, one that outweighs all others. It gives them a strong sense of fulfillment and purpose.

Visionaries require positivity to foster creativity. They actively avoid difficult or unpleasant experiences, sometimes at any cost. Past problems are overlooked or put behind them to maintain a rosy future picture. Current problems may never reach their radar screen. To the visionary, creation is the primary good that eclipses most corporate problems.

Leaders with visionary tendencies enjoy living in their imagination, where they can vividly see their dreams while remaining sheltered from the hardships of daily issues. They choose to see a world that reflects their hopes without real-world disappointments intruding.

Visionaries typically disrespect members of the management team who raise problems. Negative feelings make it difficult to cope on a daily basis, and they may feel ganged up on when management presses issues that require tough decisions. Tactical decisions, especially in tense situations, are not a visionary’s strong suit.

The idea phase is much more desirable than the processing phase, where resources are assigned, schedules and deadlines are issued, and implementation tasks are identified, Dr. Chestnut explains. Visionaries want to start the ball rolling and have others take it from there. Implementation plans are grueling for them, as the freedom to think and create seems stifled. The visionary feels imprisoned under these conditions.

Colleagues and executive coaches who understand visionary leaders’ propensities can help them recognize the difficulties they cause and work with them to adjust behavioral patterns. Healthy doses of perspective, concern and determination are vital.

Coaching Promotes Balance

Visionaries can inspire an entire organization to new heights and compel people to accomplish the seemingly impossible. But when taken to extremes, the negatives overshadow the positives. When too little attention is paid to daily business needs, all the bright ideas in the world cannot keep the ship from sinking. Executive coaches, supervisors and mentors must emphasize the consequences in ways that preserve enthusiasm.

Qualified executive coaches will help visionaries forge a healthier balance between creating and leading. Visionaries must come face to face with their blind spots and recognize how their obsession with envisioning is impeding organizational performance.

Time management is one of the primary areas requiring adjustment. Visionaries must understand that tactical leadership skills are equally as important as their visionary abilities. Coaching teaches them how to partition time and effort. Successful visionary leaders learn to ration dream time so other responsibilities are met. Limited time assigned to visionary work can be sufficiently rewarding.

Visionaries must also learn that others may not think as quickly as they do, Dr. Chestnut explains. Slowing the pace to accommodate others is an adjustment worth making. Creative ideas should be prioritized before investing staff time. Asking people to tackle multiple brainstorms is too overwhelming. Only selective ideas—not all—will be processed. Direct reports with tactical expertise can determine which ideas can be implemented; leaders should accept their reasoning.

Living up in the clouds robs visionaries of life experiences and rewards on the ground, Dr. Chestnut adds. They miss out on the relationships and adventures involved in running the company. True, tactical leadership can be painful, frustrating and wearisome. But instead of avoiding these feelings, out of fear or insecurity, visionary leaders should face them, grow professionally, and build character, skill and confidence. Great leaders are forged out of adversity, not pure pleasure. Ideas are implemented through relationships and engagement.

How to Work for a Visionary Leader

Visionaries are often distant and disconnected, so employees may wonder if their boss knows what’s going on. Employees should reach out and find ways to make a connection.

Employees who speak positively and confidently will find it easier to gain a visionary leader’s respect. Instead of citing problems, describe opportunities with solutions. Visionaries shun critical personalities. Consistently bringing problems to your boss will worsen conditions.

Showing appreciation for the visionary’s brainstorming skills builds trust. Leaders will respond with mutual appreciation and a willingness to listen to helpful ideas. Trusted employees can help visionary leaders see the things they need to see. Support leaders’ efforts to handle tactical duties.

Engaging leaders about their ideas further enhances the relationship. Express interest in the vision and help explain it in ways the staff can follow. Ask questions about specifics, applications and how the idea supports company activities. Visionaries will be better able to distinguish the more promising ideas from the mediocre. Help visionaries pick their battles.

Offer to assist with research, setting up meetings, or introductions to other experts. Stay close to brainstorming sessions to monitor excessiveness, and divert leaders to the tactical side, when needed.

Help visionary leaders form new habits relating to time management, operational skills and relationship-building. A well-rounded leader takes care of the business while dreaming about the future.

Anger in Leadership

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

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

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

When Leaders Express Anger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recognize an Anger Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resolve Anger Effectively

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Need for Authentic Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Adaptable

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communicate Directly

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

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

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

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

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

Put Your Values into Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make Passion Contagious

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debunk Coaching Myths

The executive coaching field has grown significantly over the last decade as leaders greatly benefit by having a personal coach. Yet despite numerous resources and successes, the advantages of executive coaching remain elusive: misnomers, misunderstandings and myths block the full truth.

Of course, coaches tout the advantages, but some messages are interpreted as simply self-promoting. Due to the personal and confidential nature of coaching, leaders aren’t prone to proclaim its advantages. Thus, the business world receives incomplete information about coaching, where unfortunate myths taint its significance.

When case studies, testimonials and statistical research debunk common coaching myths, skeptical leaders often shift their perspective and agree to give coaching a fair shake. Those who do are pleasantly surprised and wonder why they went so long without the assistance of an executive coach.

I Don’t Need a Coach

A common mindset causes leaders to believe they don’t need help. They feel their skills and knowledge are sufficient to do their jobs. After all, they’ve been doing their jobs all along, and things seem to be alright; stuff is getting done.

This kind of perspective represents an “iceberg outlook” where only a surface-oriented assessment is made. What lies below the surface is either unknown or ignored. If a leader’s experience or skill level prevent seeing what lurks under the surface, their ship is in danger.

Sometimes leaders are so inundated with day-to-day crises they are robbed of the opportunities to step back and evaluate what might be hiding below the waves. Alternatively, if dangers are suspected down there, some leaders aren’t willing to face them; exploration is postponed until a more “opportune” time arrives.

It’s not uncommon for leaders to envision the most positive outlook. They reason that they can manage their challenges, and coaching won’t be of much benefit. This myth is unfounded, as proven by many leadership stories and case studies.

Human behavior experts agree our self-assessments are flawed because we generally see what we want to see.  The Psychology Today article,“Metaperceptions: How Do You See Yourself? describes how we paint ourselves in the most positive light. But the best source of objective information about a leader’s abilities and tendencies is from another set of eyes. This is where a trained executive coach is invaluable.

Executive coaches have the skills to assess circumstances without the influence of personal or emotional ties, or organizational tradition. They are trained to diagnose issues from observation, discussions and experience. When a leader sees the truth about their situation, their coach can guide them through the process to address issues with fresh perspectives, thinking and behaviors.

The best leaders learn that there’s nothing wrong with having blind spots. Everyone does. The key is to identify and overcome them. More and more leaders credit the added viewpoint of a qualified executive coach who leads them to see what they never saw themselves. They are also thankful for a coach’s ability to guide them through a process to discover their own solutions.

Being Coached is Too Awkward

Some leaders believe the myth that having a coach is an awkward admission of inadequacy; there’s something wrong with them, and they need serious help. This is unfortunate for two reasons. First, there is nothing wrong with needing help. Everyone needs help from time to time, and leadership doesn’t elevate a person to a royal level above this human trait.

Being true to oneself is a key aspect to humility, openness and transparency—traits that leadership experts describe as essential to effective management. Employees trust leaders who are humble, transparent, and willing to learn. They distrust leaders who pridefully separate themselves from their people.    

Secondly, the thrust of executive coaching is not to expose grievous shortcomings in the leader. Effective coaching is designed to build upon the skills a leader already has, and to maximize their potential. Certainly, this involves addressing a blind spot or areas that need improving, but the emphasis is to get even better at leading.

Coaches inject perspectives and pose questions to help a leader gain clarity in what their people need and how best to provide it. This strengthens an organization, often with subtle adjustments. Leaders are not torn down by their coaches, rather, they are built up—similar to how a good athletic coach guides an athlete to be the best they can be.

Some leaders reject vulnerability in the presence of an executive coach as seeming weak or unknowledgeable, further explained by Vik Kapoor in Forbes. The myth is that the leader is inferior to the coach and must bear their soul to them, forcing the leader to deal with insecurities, weaknesses or failures.

Many executive coaches are not psychologists. Their process does not include intensive analysis, nor do they dive in to a client’s past, personal life or private matters. Leaders are not put in vulnerable positions.

The best leaders have learned that while hard skills such as  decision-making, analysis, delegating and control are certainly part of effective management (in the proper proportions), the most powerful leadership tools are softer skills: transparency, humility, empathy, honesty and personal engagement. Leaders unfamiliar with soft skills may feel vulnerable with an executive coach who emphasizes these as part of the coaching process. Great leaders grasp these opportunities to learn and grow their skills in order to become even better at leading.

I Can’t Justify Coaching

Some leaders believe the myth that executive coaching is an unnecessary expense with little return on investment. Unfortunately, the current business culture seeks more short-term gains to justify expenditures. Part of this myth hinges on the belief that the benefits of executive coaching are short term.

Many of today’s top leaders who have executive coaches testify that they have gained better skills and mindsets from their coaching experiences. Their enhanced skillsets have long-term advantages that make them better leaders, and as they continue to apply what they’ve learned the effect only continues. Just as an athlete who is well coached advances in their accomplishments far beyond the current season, well coached leaders become better every year thereafter.

Misconceptions also lie in an underappreciation for what the leader will gain. Contrary to myth, well-coached leaders don’t gain skills in only practices or procedures. They don’t acquire greater expertise in only leadership theory. Leaders benefit from coaching by developing better mindsets, perspectives and attitudes about leading. They can apply themselves in areas they couldn’t before. The benefits touch every aspect of what they do, with long-lasting effects. They become more capable of tackling greater challenges with more effective results, and this makes for a more rewarding career.

But a disproportionate focus on how the leader benefits, rather than the organization as a whole, also fuels this coaching myth. Gallup’s extensive research demonstrates how organizations benefit when the leader’s skills and awareness grow. Employees are more satisfied and engaged. Their productivity and work ethic rise. Efficiency and profitability also rise. Turnover and absenteeism drop. Customer satisfaction is boosted, and that spells prosperity for everyone.

Organizations respond in significant ways when leaders enhance their capabilities through executive coaching. Statistically, the financial return of a well-coached leader can exceed the initial expense many-fold. Organizations that appreciate this extend coaching access to leaders beyond the front office. The potential gains are often immeasurable.

Don’t let myths prevent you and your leaders from becoming all they can be through the benefits of executive coaches!

Leaders Build Unity

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

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

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

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

Bringing People Together

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

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

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

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

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

Promoting Positives

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

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

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

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

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

Fixing Compelling Problems

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

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

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

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

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

Establishing Teamwork

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

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

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

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

Connecting with People

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personality Impacts Leadership

Despite all of the resources available to leaders today¾books, articles, seminars, coaching and training programs¾employees remain dissatisfied with leadership, their jobs and the future. After decades of attention paid to building better leaders, overall workforce distaste and distrust show little improvement. The managerial mindset is also stagnant.

Only 28% of executives think their leaders’ decisions are generally good, reveals a 2009 McKinsey & Company Global Survey. Trends in trust, loyalty and employee satisfaction would point upward if the solution was as simple as improving leadership techniques or corporate practices.

Traditional approaches to leadership development merely scratch the surface. The real issues occur at foundational levels and are remedied only when directly addressed. Methods and practices are important, but companies benefit only when they delve into leadership personality.

The Complexities of Personality

Researchers have exposed a profound truth: While stock prices, market share and material assets are important, softer factors determine true organizational strength. Employee engagement, job satisfaction and creativity play greater roles in performance, effectiveness and profitability.

Leadership personality and style are the most crucial factors in organizational strength, asserts psychologist and leadership consultant Ron Warren, PhD, in Personality at Work: The Drivers and Derailers of Leadership (McGraw-Hill Education, 2017). Human personality traits have remained constant throughout history, so any progress in leadership training depends on addressing them.

The spectrum of human personality is extremely complex, with experts debating its intricacies and nuances. Dr. Warren cites five behavioral traits that determine whether leaders will be beneficial or detrimental to their organizations. Each includes a pair of opposing behaviors:

  • Openness to other ideas / cautious or distrusting of other ideas
  • Conscientious about their impact / careless about their impact
  • Extroverted, people-oriented / introverted, socially uncomfortable
  • Agreeable, cooperative / argumentative, confrontational
  • Confident, at peace / neurotic, nervous

Every leader is an amalgam of these behaviors, which are demonstrated verbally and nonverbally. Each leader is a unique “personality package,” exhibiting these behaviors along a spectrum.

Dr. Warren harnesses the power of these behaviors to identify four key personality dimensions that affect organizational success:

  • Social intelligence and teamwork (a positive trait)
  • Deference (negative)
  • Dominance (negative)
  • Grit/task mastery (positive)

Social-Intelligence Smarts

Socially intelligent leaders are known for their interpersonal skills, relational aptitude and positivity. These personality traits are most beneficial to leading people effectively. Employees are drawn to leaders who show them they’re valued. Alternatively, leaders who lack these traits are detrimental to their organizations’ well-being.

Sociability comes easily to socially intelligent, people-oriented leaders. Relationships are important to them, and interactions allow them to express care, kindness and support. They regard people as more than resources; they’re coworkers, even family.

Socially intelligent leaders treasure genuine personal connections. Communication skills are more critical to organizational effectiveness than IQ or past accomplishments, emphasizes Alex “Sandy” Pentland, PhD, director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, in “The New Science of Building Teams” (Harvard Business Review, April 2012). Unfortunately, most leaders aren’t recruited or promoted for their communication skills.

Socially intelligent leaders are also helpful, and they consider caring for people to be a duty. They’re highly sensitive and focus on others, putting staff interests before their own. They aim to meet people’s needs in the spirit of unity and consensus.

Leaders who are socially intelligent are open to feedback. They’re humble and flexible enough to value others’ views. This inclusive, interactive approach to leadership draws people to them with engagement. Employees who work for open-minded leaders feel valued, which boosts morale and productivity.

The socially intelligent personality is clearly beneficial to organizations. Leaders who struggle with social intelligence have strained careers, but they can learn to shift their mindset toward the relational end of the scale. Outcomes are greatly enhanced when leaders take the time to engage people, show interest in them and develop mutual understanding. People respond favorably when they trust a leader’s motives and authenticity. Social intelligence cannot be faked; people easily see through such efforts. The consequences for faking it can be brutal.

The Deference Dilemma

Deference in leadership presents as complacency or a lack of assertiveness. Leaders who defer to others seek to avoid confrontation and approach their role with passivity. Overly humble or timid, they struggle with an inner turmoil that creates problems for their organizations. Deference can be attributed to ongoing challenges, a sense of futility or disdain for parts of the job.

These leaders ultimately become needy. They seek affirmation, try to fit in and crave acceptance. They often compromise to keep the peace and work overtime to avoid rocking the boat.

Leaders who defer yearn for safety and hope to avoid intimidating situations. They shy away from taking a stand, are better followers than leaders, and respond reactively rather than proactively. Work is severely compromised in a setting that appears peaceful, but which actually lacks direction, determination and vision. Staffers endure significant stress as they question their purpose and future.

Deference increases leaders’ internal tension, anxiety and self-doubt. As problems mount, they take on a life of their own, overshadowing day-to-day activities. A vicious cycle develops: Problems diminish leaders’ confidence, making their next responses less effective and causing new problems to be increasingly severe.

Self-assessment is ineffective in this situation. Without professional assistance, leaders cannot evaluate their issues, make necessary adjustments, or overcome their biases and blind spots. They must work with a trusted colleague, mentor or experienced executive coach to overcome their deferential tendencies.

Leaders can learn that a more definitive style mitigates many troubles. They can become more effective by adopting a more independent, confident mindset, thereby reducing anxiety and avoidance.

Dominance Difficulties

Of the four key personality dimensions, dominance has the greatest potential to impede organizational effectiveness. Self-centered by nature, dominant leaders need to control everyone and everything around them. While their passion, decisiveness and drive have occasional benefits, their inflexibility and overbearing nature are extremely harmful.

When passion becomes all-out competitiveness, a win-at-all-cost philosophy spreads. Winning over circumstances is one thing; winning over challengers or rivals is another. Leaders bent on defeating those who stand in their way can debilitate—or even destroy—a company. Emotionality leads to poor judgment, irrational decisions and potentially devastating outcomes.

Dominant leaders are intrinsically hostile, resentful and prone to feeling persecuted. Employees won’t tolerate poor treatment, nor should they. A rise in turnover may signal that a dominant leader is on the loose.

Dominant personalities are also rigid, stubborn and always want to be right. Once their minds are made up, they generally won’t budge. When challenged, they argue and try to shut people down. People find them to be insufferable and won’t put up with them for long. These leaders make business matters personal, exhibiting an opinionated, pushy or authoritarian style.

Dominance is the fastest way to defeat your staff and drive them away. Behavior must be addressed before consequences become irreparable. Training and coaching can help maintain leadership drive and zeal, while keeping ego-driven excesses in check.

Anger management training may be another option. Counseling aimed at increasing flexibility, agreeableness and accountability has benefited many dominant leaders. Dominance is certainly a challenging behavior, but leaders have more control over it than they think. Valued colleagues or a professional coach can help with ongoing feedback and reformative exercises.

Dominant leaders can learn to let their people breathe, function, share ideas and talk openly. With guidance, they can depersonalize issues and refrain from feeling attacked. Once they value unity as a vehicle for success, they’ll be motivated to monitor the self-sabotaging behaviors that inhibit it.

True Grit

Leaders with grit—or “task mastery,” as Dr. Warren calls it—focus on execution and achievement, promoting and upholding high standards. They have a strong drive to succeed, are group-focused and pride themselves on being strongly motivational.

Personal initiative, ambition and a desire to make a difference characterize these leaders, who love to solve problems and set worthy team goals. Their people are drawn to their strength, determination and confidence.

Leaders with grit have the greatest success in engaging people (as long as they avoid setting unrealistic expectations). They’re extremely conscientious and disciplined, keenly aware of what’s best, what’s right and why. These organized and detail-oriented leaders understand the consequences of their actions and strive to provide the best outcomes for their people and organizations.

Curiosity motivates them to enjoy learning, thinking and creating, so it’s no surprise they’re born innovators who attract like-minded people. They can, however, get carried away with excitement and lose track of their leadership responsibilities. Surrounding themselves with administrative thinkers can help them avoid this trap.

Those who lack grit can work with colleagues, mentors or professional coaches to increase initiative, focus on achievement, work on planning and goal-setting, and create a vision worth pursuing. As these new skills become habits, very little prompting will be necessary. Their newfound desire for achievement will be contagious.

Leading with Gratitude

Many people agree that our culture is growing more impatient, selfish, disrespectful and ungrateful. Those who haven’t noticed are likely not bothered, and may be contributing to these disturbing tendencies. Not exactly glowing statements on our day and age.

These attitudes and behaviors are also visible in every corner of the working world, as organizations struggle to keep employees engaged, loyal, civil and productive. Employees have no difficulty pinpointing the things that annoy them, while taking little time to reflect on those that please them. A displeased workforce yields low returns on the skills and experience invested in it.

Traditionally, leaders have been responsible for setting the tone and correcting a culture. However, those who portray disturbing behaviors can expect their people to live them out as well. Leaders who can exhibit positive behaviors make a tremendous difference in how their people respond, relate to each other and enjoy their work. Positive behavior depends on a positive mindset, and the cornerstone of it all is gratitude.

Gratitude vs Ingratitude

Gratitude is the appreciation for being a benefactor of something that has made your life better. It’s also a recognition that either you didn’t cause it or deserve it. Gratitude is a thankfulness for what you have, who you are or what opportunities lay before you. It stirs satisfying feelings that are promising, optimistic and calming.

Leaders with gratitude know they’ve been given something from a source bigger than themselves, causing a favorable condition with a lasting effect. This creates a positive mindset that can’t be concealed. That mindset fashions a beneficial outlook, which steers helpful actions. This is the best life enhancing tool for leaders and those they lead.

According to executive coach Christine Comaford in her 2017 Forbes article, Great Leaders have an Attitude of Gratitude – Do You?, a grateful mindset offers leaders a positive emotional reserve that can be tapped when tough situations arise. This is a great tool to thrive under pressure, to be motivated to overcome challenges. Alternatively, ingratitude leads to negative emotions that drag a spirit down. A negative focus doesn’t inspire satisfaction, ideas, solutions or helpful decisions.

Grateful leaders see conditions more positively and experience less stress and fatigue. This allows for a better focus, reason and discernment—in all a healthier leadership. Contrary to this, ungrateful leaders are often burdened with debilitating stress and are more susceptible to burnout. A negative outlook misjudges situations, causing mistakes, missed opportunities and unfortunate responses.

Gratitude often spurs compassion and kindness toward others. This draws employees and forms their loyalty, trust and engagement. People find these qualities difficult to resist. They want to be around a leader who’s grateful, and in turn become more grateful themselves. The opposite effect is true for ungrateful leaders: they are hard to deal with. People avoid them and have no desire to know them. Ingratitude spreads like a disease, causing the culture to grow toxic.

Growing Your Internal Gratitude

No question, gratitude is a perspective that forms your mindset and world view. These act as valuable foundations for a positive, value-based life, both corporately and personally. This benefits the people around you as well. But how can you grow this trait within you? How can the seeds of gratitude get planted in your mind?

A fundamental approach is to take stock of what you’ve been given: what skills you’ve acquired, what opportunities came your way, what successes you’ve enjoyed and what people have made your life better. In other words, deciding to focus on the positive aspects of your life is a primary step to being thankful.

Appreciate the small things you have, the little gains that could have benefitted someone else, but came your way. Everyone’s life can be a celebration of positive things. It’s a choice. Take a look back in time and revisit the journey you’ve been on and see how far you’ve come. Isn’t that worth being thankful? When stress rises think of those things you’re thankful for and foster a better perspective.

Recognizing the relative nature of things can also help develop a spirit of gratitude. You likely know of people who are burdened by things that don’t affect you. There are always tougher stories out there. Being thankful for what you don’t have to deal with can complement the thankfulness for the good things you have.

To keep you on the right track, surround yourself with people that can lift your spirits. These are most likely other grateful people. You’ll be surprised how sufficiently their gratitude wears off on you. An executive coach can put you on the right path and encourage you along the way, helping you to train your brain to lean to the positive side of things.

Building a Culture of Gratitude

Since all leaders mold their culture one way or another, a grateful leader influences their people in ways that demonstrate the benefits of thankfulness. People see the difference and they like it, wanting more of it. Work life becomes more enjoyable and rewarding. Leading by example is the most powerful means to prompt a better environment, as your people take on the culture-enhancing aspects of your gratitude.

Noted author and coach DeLores Pressley puts it simply in Smart Business Magazine, authenticity is the best way to make an impression. Phony gratitude is noticeable. Showing your staff that you’re thankful for them is a significant demonstration of gratitude. People who feel valued return the sentiment.

To solidify this theme, leaders who make it a habit to thank their people build a culture of mutual appreciation and emulation. Find ways to reach out to them and add value with thanks, appreciation, congratulations for accomplishments and helpfulness. Giving them your best, with your time and your skills, tells them you’re grateful for having them on your staff.

Leaders who point to the positives in everyday activities reveal a grateful spirit. Of course, there are negative issues in every organization, and lamenting with grumbling or resentment drags everyone down. However, emphasizing a focus on positive solutions or valued lessons learned draws out thankfulness in everyone. Building on positives enhances the opportunities for more, and it unites people in a common, worthy cause. That’s worth being thankful for, too.

Believing in your leadership abilities and the skills of your people, giving them grace when they err and support when they succeed, crafts a positive and grateful culture that has no limits. Make it your example and your expectation that a positive, thankful mindset is what your organization needs in order to prosper. Certainly no one will object to that.

The Perils of Perfectionism

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

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

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

Do You Have Perfectionistic Tendencies?

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

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

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

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

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

Perfectionism’s Pros and Cons

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

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

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

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

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

Signs and Symptoms

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

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

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

Breaking the Habit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Working for a Perfectionistic Leader

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

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

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

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

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