“Everything rises and falls on leadership,” says Dr John C. Maxwell. “But knowing how to lead is only half the battle. Understanding leadership and actually leading are two different activities.”
The key to transforming yourself from someone who understands leadership to a person who successfully leads in the real world is character. Your character qualities activate and empower your leadership ability, or they can stand in the way of your success
Dr Ted Engstrom says that organisations succeed or fail for many different reasons. Even the mature organisation or nation is not without its hazards. In many ways, the dangers that it faces are more subtle. They are often the result of success rather than failure.
Certain signs indicate leadership in danger and we will attempt here to determine strategies for avoiding these pitfalls. It has been well said that an organisation begins with a person, becomes a movement that develops into a machine, and eventually becomes a monument. How do these things happen? Here are some signs of leadership in danger and the associated strategies to avoid them:
- Settling for the status quo
How easy it is for the leadership to be willing to settle for the status quo, to struggle to “keep things as they are.” But it is impossible for any organisation to stand still. It will either progress or regress. The only constant is change and it is necessary for organisations or nations to move forward.
This is also true in our personal life. Once we settle for maintaining things as they are now, we, at that moment, begin to slide toward ineffectiveness, a slide that becomes steeper the farther we go. One of the clues that we are settling for the status quo is that we have very little internal tension within the organisation. This naturally leads us to the next danger.
- Eliminating creative tension
Leaders of organisations that “have it made” tend to resist creative tensions. They like to settle for peace and calm. Creative leaders have new ideas. They want to change things, to make them better. But new ideas bring with them a conflict of interest, and conflict of interest brings internal tension.
When a new idea is offered, too often what we hear is, “You have done things wrong,” rather than “here’s a better way.” The result of eliminating creative tension is that we often fail to face up to the situation around us. An example of this might be how we handle the world economic scene with its increasing inflation. If we do not go through the struggle of creatively addressing ourselves to the tensions this is going to create in our nation, many organisations will find themselves in deep difficulty down the road.
- Not planning in-depth
Almost every organisation does some planning, but if leaders fail to plan in-depth and in-breadth, danger lies ahead. In other words, it is too easy for us to look for quality and quantity as a primary result of our planning, rather than quality and meaningfulness in the programme. These need to be placed in priority. Quality is far more important than quantity. Size or quantity must always be secondary to effectiveness.
Discriminating between breadth and depth is not easy. That is why there is a real danger here. Leaders may have a great desire to expand throughout and beyond our community or to the rest of the world, but if the quality of our products or services is not being continually strengthened, then we may discover that we have over-extended ourselves.
- Stopping to listen
A very subtle danger for experienced leaders is a failure to really hear and listen to other colleagues, to give them a role in participatory leadership. Younger staff members have a great deal to contribute. Often we are so certain that we have “been there” before that we do not hear them. This is even truer of our usual attitude toward younger women staff members.
Those who are older and who provide leadership need to have an open heart to what younger colleagues may say. After all, it is self evident that tomorrow’s leadership rests with them. If we want to ensure the continuation of a solid performance culture, then we need to invest ourselves in the developing leadership. Part of the investment is to have the will and time to listen.
- Depending on past successes
How easy it is to place our confidence in what the organisation has done in the past, or even what it is doing now. It is easy to bask in the accolades of others who tell us what a great job we have done. But our dependency is not on what we have accomplished in the past or what we are doing now. Rather, it should be on the work and the tasks to be accomplished tomorrow.
- Depending on personal experience
This is a corollary to depending upon the organisation’s experience. Too many of us are ready to depend upon our own brainpower, expertise, and experience rather, than to depend upon God Himself. Today’s activities are so much unrelated to the past that experience itself may not be a major predictor of success in the future.
- Neglecting the highest good
Here is a danger of which we are all aware but too often face. It is the danger of becoming so busy in what are genuinely good and fine works that we neglect the highest good, which is our devotion to our immediate family and God.
- Forgetting unity
Good organisations should have both the promise and the demand of a special kind of unity. We are related to one another as the different parts of the same organisation. This relationship is not an option—it is a given. The maintenance of this type of unity takes skill and perseverance.
Unity is not the absence of a healthy conflict caused by creativity and differences of opinion. Unity finds its first dimension in the allegiance we have to our organisation. It finds its expression in our recognition that each of us has gifts that help us to function as parts of the organisation. Part of our task is to affirm one another’s gifts and to respect one another’s roles. This is a primary task of good leaders.
- Losing the joy of service
How quickly those who are in the work, who are on the frontlines of service, can lose the real joy of that service. Paradoxically, the further we proceed in positions of leadership and authority, the greater servants we should become. The highest role of leadership is that of servant. Leaders need to be undergirded with authority and perquisites of office. However, if these are seen as being the just due of the individual, rather than the accoutrements of the office, we can become dangerously close to believing that we are the ones who should be served. The servant role ought to mark us. It is in this kind of service that there is the deepest joy, gratification, and satisfaction.
- Forgetting the bottom line
Accountants like to call our attention to the “bottom line,” the final statement of what is left over after outgo has been balanced off against income. Every organisation needs to know what its “bottom line” is. Everything must head towards the goal and objective.
- Being desperate to remain popular
Former Prime Minister of UK, Tony Blair, once said: “Leadership can be an unpopular business. The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.”
One of the greatest signs of leadership in danger is seeking for popularity at all cost, rather than face the key goals of the organisation. When leading, we must always put our followers first; we must always consider what is best for our team members; we must always be servant leaders. However, in the course of business, as leaders, we will occasionally find ourselves in a position where in order to do the best for our team members we must first make hard decisions that are not readily understood or agreed to by them. We must not allow our resolve to weaken because of pressure brought by those who would have us bend to their wishes! We are the leaders. We must lead; we must not follow. We must be strong.
- Relegating integrity
Wayne Kehl says that in order to lead, you must maintain the integrity of your team. Without the team, you will have no one to lead. However, you must also do everything you can to maintain the profitability of your division and your company. To that end you will invariably have to make unpopular decisions. In fact, if you are in a leadership position and never find yourself making unpopular decisions, you are probably not doing a very good job for your company or your team.
In order to lead, even when you have made an unpopular decision, you must be well trusted – that is, be of high impeccable integrity. “How can I do both?” you might ask. You must clearly and concisely communicate the reasons for your difficult or unpopular decisions to your team. Only through open, honest, timely communication can you gain the trust of your team that will carry you through a myriad of difficult decisions.
Never lie or mislead and always disseminate difficult information to the team as soon as you can. Because of your strong communication efforts, most will understand that you are doing the best thing for the team and they will shower you with trust in the moment and trust enduring.
“But, I am afraid they won’t like me and I will be unpopular!” you might say. Please accept that a leader who is indecisive, inconsistent, dishonest, misleading, or a pushover will be much more unpopular than one who is open, honest, decisive, and courageous. Team members need to know that they have a strong leader; a leader they can trust to fight for their best interests.
By the way, please don’t confuse strength with gruffness or rudeness. Difficult information must be shared cordially; not dictated brusquely. Don’t be afraid; powerful servant leadership will make you popular beyond your wildest dreams! Great leadership is hard work!
Which of these pitfalls is your organisation most prone to fall into? Now is a great time to take stock of what dangers might be ahead for you. Knowing the bumps on the road ahead can make all the difference in avoiding them.
Lere Baale is a Director of Business School Netherlands www.bsn.eu and Certified Strategy Consultant at Howes Consulting Group www.howesgroup.com