Sunday, March 3, 2013

There is no Band Aid for Bad Leadership

As a child, I was always very active. I remember my family moved into a new neighborhood when I was about ten years of age. A few days in this new place, I saw some other kids riding their bikes and I wanted desperately to make friends so I jumped on my bike and took off down the street. In my haste I didn’t put on shoes and about the time I caught up with the others, I stubbed my toe.

This was no ordinary stubbing… I was on the verge of death. But what could I do? I couldn’t cry in front of others. So in the spirit of every brave boy, I acted like I meant to do it and rode back home. But I couldn’t keep the tears back as I stumbled into the house crying for my mother. And what did my mother do… she put a Band Aid on my toe and gave me a big hug.

Don’t you wish it was that easy to fix bad leadership?

But, what is bad leadership? Is it unethical or immoral? Is it incompetence or chaos? Or is it something else entirely? We may have a hard time defining bad leadership, but we certainly know it when we experience it. Some could argue that if you are not a competent leader then you are not a leader at all. But this seems too simple. Certainly there are leaders who do some things well but are not as capable as they could be. Maybe the line in the sand is ethics. Clearly someone who is unethical is not a leader… right? But, leadership, while generally considered a set of positive traits, certainly has a dark side. When considering examples of “bad” leaders, we invariably mention evil leaders like Hitler, Saddam Hussein, or that manager we once had who wouldn’t let us take a cigarette break. But, too often these leaders were in fact good at the act of leadership. After all, leadership is influence it just happens that not all influence is benevolent.

But my purpose here is not to debate good and bad leaders and leadership. Instead, my intent is to convey that effective leadership is not something that is easy to accomplish or achieve. And in those times when we do fail to be effective leaders, there is often no easy fix. Consequently it is better to avoid bad leadership in the first place. Below are a few thoughts on being an effective leader so you can avert the need for a Band Aid.

Adapt Quickly
Leadership is about flexibility and a willingness to change. If we stick to long to one way of doing things, we not only become stale, we become ineffective. With apologies to Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest of the leaders that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Act Decisively
“Make a decision and stick to it.” This was some of the best advice I ever received as a novice leader. My mentor was not suggesting I avoid the input of others or to make decisions in isolation. By all means seek the counsel and contributions of others, but when it comes time to make a decision… do it!

Connect Seamlessly
Consider those around you… what aspirations, passions, and goals do you share? As social beings, connecting with others may be the single most important thing we do for our happiness and our success. Althea Gibson was correct when she stated "No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helped you."

Communicate Relentlessly
Communication is like cheese in a casserole, when you think you have enough, add more. James Hume tells us that “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” Shared information and transparency in your leadership style leads to open communication.

Reward Generously
Hard work and outstanding performance should be rewarded handsomely. This may be money, it may be time, or it may be something else like responsibility, empowerment, or trust. The reward matters less than the act of giving it. Winston Churchill said it best, "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."

How do you maintain your effectiveness as a leader?

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