Why Don’t We Get Leadership Right?

ABOUT THIS CONTENT
A quick look in a library, bookstore or on any search engine will prove our fascination with leadership. As a collective, we’ve been studying it for centuries, so why don’t we get it right? Why are there more zero-sum and inconsistent leaders, who lead us into difficult economic situations such as the one we’re now experiencing, than visionary and effective ones?

Why Don’t We Get Leadership Right?

by Eleni Pallas, Leadership Coach (http://www.pallasco.com).

A quick look in a library, bookstore or on any search engine will prove our fascination with leadership. As a collective, we’ve been studying it for centuries, so why don’t we get it right? Why are there more zero-sum and inconsistent leaders, who lead us into difficult economic situations such as the one we’re now experiencing, than visionary and effective ones?

Why don’t we get leadership right?

My 20 years of experience in the corporate world leading business development projects around the world has taught me that most people lead with the skills that surface when they’re under pressure – whatever those are. That means that even if they have MBAs or have taken leadership training courses and know very well which frameworks and behaviors are optimal, they actually fall back on habits they’ve developed before their training. Most people revert to an authoritarian leadership style when they’re stressed, even if they consider themselves democratic leaders. Why?

Decisions are generally made by conscious thought or instinctual emotions. Although most of us are advised in business school that effective leaders lead with a balance between their brains and intuition, we often end up leading by emotions and coping mechanisms we’ve learned early in life that have become second nature. We know, for example, that a better result will come from including all stakeholders in key decisions, but when we are faced with varied opinions and no agreement, we make command decisions “for the sake of efficiency under time pressure.” We rationalize our behavior and hide behind excuses that often mask our inability to understand the dissent and create a consensus. As a result, we find no reason to change. We know, for example, that we can create value for a project when we engage everyone to do their best, but managing talent takes a creative and flexible leader and when competitors are implementing new products/services faster than we are, we might single-handedly decide which way to go for the sake of speed, possibly sacrificing more innovative or higher quality results. It’s not that an authoritarian style isn’t a valid one, but rather that it’s optimal under extreme situations such as managing after a terrorist attack or a natural disaster. Most leadership opportunities do not entail such levels of urgency and stress.

So, how do we get leadership right?

There are several steps we can take to change our current, natural reactions under pressure responses that consider all the options and desired results. We can transform the leadership we’ve learned in business school into habits that we can depend on at all times. As a result, we can expand our leadership capabilities, which in turn, raises the quality of our effectiveness and the probability of success.

Step #1: Awareness

Observe yourself and watch how you think, feel, speak and behave under pressure and assess results. Do you immediately take control away from others for the sake of “saving the day”? Do you speak and react quickly to problems or challenges, without taking time to respond with a balance of thought and intuition? Do you feel angry when you’ve empowered others to do things and feel disappointed when they haven’t done what you expected? Do you think that you are smarter than most and therefore, have to step up and unilaterally decide what to do?

Step #2: Identify exactly which reactions need to be changed to increase your effectiveness

Have you found that when in a stressed state, your behavior becomes: inflexible, aggressive, “right,” emotional, critical, blaming and the like? Does your focus tend to look outward to people and the environment and away from you? Do your behaviors bring you the results you seek? How do you feel about those? How do your bosses, peers, teams and the other people around you feel about your behavior under pressure and the outcomes they bring?

Step #3: Decide which frameworks and behaviors will bring about the results you desire

What type of leaders do you admire and why? How do they think and act? What type of leader are you under pressure? What type do you want to become: transformative (vision, charisma),
transactional/bureaucratic, situational, participative, autocratic or laissez-faire? What do you need to do to get there?

Step #4: Replace your current instincts and reactions with new ones

This requires a decision about the habits you want to develop, as well as practice and persistence. You can train yourself to stop reacting when under pressure: practice a “stop” before you behave in the old way and “go to the balcony,” which means take a few minutes away from the situation (either mentally, in your head or physically, going to the wash room or for a short walk) to break the habit and find the optimal response to the issue at hand. If you don’t manage to “stop” before your next reaction, do so as soon as you can and modify your behavior to train yourself to think and behave in a more effective way under pressure. If you find it difficult or want to change as quickly as possible, work with a coach to dislodge the thoughts and behaviors that no longer suit you and replace them with those that do.

Step #5: Practice, practice, practice

As adults, we sometimes forget that repetition is the mother of learning and we demand from ourselves and others that we learn a new skill the first time we use it. If we really want to bring about sustainable change, we need to practice repeatedly and watch for the skills bring the outcomes we’re after. Over time, if we’re disciplined with the process, we see positive results and get excited about the prospects of change, which reinforces our efforts to continually develop our leadership skills.

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1 Comment

  1. I think the problem of getting leadership wrong is far more simplistic – lack of study of the subject.

    The only way you can adjust your behaviors is if you have certainty on the best practices in the field. This comes from studying the subject.

    In my career as a consultant I have found that most people do not study their craft with any enthusiasm — even those who call themselves experts.

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