In this article for the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees, I was invited to contribute my thoughts about the warning signs that your leadership is failing (and advice on what you can do about it).
A study by the University of Southern California and London Business School (Power and over-confident decision making) found a correlation between over-confidence and how much power a person has. The researchers found that the more power a person feels the more confident they are of the accuracy of their thoughts and beliefs.
However, the Centre for Workplace Leadership’s ground-breaking 2016 Study of Australian Leadership highlighted the growing gap between the leadership capability that exists and the capability that’s needed.
When a leader’s leadership fails it not only stymies their career, it directly impacts organisational performance.
As leader, being alert to the warning signs that something isn’t working is important. Here are five early warning indicators.
They stop being willing to change
It’s easy to get stuck in your ways and to see the traits that got you to your executive role as the skills and capability that will carry you forward. However, in a world that is constantly changing success requires leaders to embrace the notion that successful organisational transformation, requires not just change for those around them, but personal change for themselves.
Harvard academics Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, who have studied why many crucial organisational change efforts fail, found that one of the core problems is the gap between what is required and a leader’s own level of development. They said: “…it may be nearly impossible for us to bring about any important change in a system or organisation without changing ourselves (at least somewhat)…”
See themselves as the smartest person in the room
The downfall of many great companies can be traced to the hubris and arrogance of its leaders. Having a fixed mindset, the leaders close themselves off from feedback and feel they have nothing more to learn. They shut down the dissenting opinion, being convinced of their infallibility.
In contrast, sustainable leaders know they don’t have all the answers. They are constantly seeking to push the boundaries, to question, inquire and learn more. They are not afraid to be humble and vulnerable, and to ask for advice. They recognise that if they think they are the smartest person in the room then it’s time to find another room.
Surround themselves with sycophants
While surrounding yourself with ‘yes’ people may make life easier in the short-term, it doesn’t create long-term, sustainable business outcomes. Seeking out differences of opinion is critical, because it is this diversity of thought that aids ‘out of the box’ thinking. Similarly, it is often the person with the dissenting opinion or probing question who generates the unique perspective and who can see the missing piece of the puzzle.
Leaders need people who challenge how they think and consequently, can disrupt their default thinking patterns.
Refuse to hire people smarter than them
Everyone knows the criticality of getting the right people into the right roles. However, leaders can be uncomfortable to hire people who are smarter than them for fear it will show them up in some way.
Effective leaders know that they can’t be ‘all things to all people’. They look for team members to complement and enhance their leadership and capability. As Bill Gates said: “The key for us, number one, has always been hiring very smart people”.
Leaders recognise that each person is unique and therefore has different needs. Consequently, they know how to bring out the best in each person and do so in way which people feel valued and respected.
Last to hear bad news
When only good news hits your desk it’s time to worry. If people hold off telling you what’s really going on it’s a sign that they don’t trust how you will react to bad news.
It’s important to welcome all types of news – even news that is difficult to hear. Not only is your reaction a test of your character, it sets the standard for what happens in the future. If you shoot the messenger, next time an issue arises, you’re less likely to find people willing to alert you to it.
The questions to consider as you reflect on these warning signs is where would you place your leadership? Is it on or off the rails?