Being a leader can be challenging. You have choices to make every day in how you lead and learn. These choices create either a culture of denial and exclusion or an environment of opportunity and inclusion—for you, your team, and your colleagues.
The danger is that you can lull yourself into a false sense of security, thinking you have this leadership thing nailed. Yet the best leaders know they are fallible and that there is always more to learn about themselves, others, and their working context. They continually strive to elevate their awareness, adjust, and adapt.
So what are the warning signs that your leadership may be going off the rails?
YOU STRIVE FOR POPULARITY OVER EFFECTIVENESS
Leadership isn’t a popularity contest. When you play favorites, make the easy decision, and step away from conversations you need to have, you are letting yourself and your team down.
Someone will always be ready to criticize and judge you, but part of being a leader is taking a stand on things that matter and behaving ethically and consistently.
YOU IGNORE BAD BEHAVIOR
The leaders in your team will want to impress you and might shield you from their poor behavior. A strong bond or the fact that you see them as the star performer may mean you are reluctant to see (or act) when their leadership isn’t hitting the mark.
A study by researchers from the University of Central Florida’s College of Business found that when a person is considered a top performer, they are much more likely to have bullying behavior overlooked by their manager. The victims of that behavior are often unfairly seen as the bullies themselves and receive lower job performance evaluations due to being victimized.
The study’s coauthor, associate professor of management Shannon Taylor, attributes this flawed decision-making to cognitive bias, explaining it as “the halo effect, in which positive attributes mask negative traits, or the horn effect, in which one negative attribute casts a person in a completely negative light.” When you are a leader of leaders, you must keep your eyes open and ears tuned to the right frequency to know what’s happening.
YOU ARE DRUNK ON POWER
You want to be alert to the warning signs that the power that comes with your leadership position is impacting how you feel, think, and behave. For example, it’s a huge red flag when you think your needs and rights outweigh those of others and start striving for outcomes that center on you and your needs. Similarly, be mindful when you fail to acknowledge your team’s effort and instead focus on self-promotion and ensuring you look good.
YOU SEE YOURSELF AS THE SMARTEST PERSON IN THE ROOM
The downfall of many great companies can be traced to the hubris and arrogance of their leaders. Ineffective leaders hold a narrow view of the world. They view the world in black and white, right and wrong, and believe themselves morally superior. Having a fixed mindset, these types of leaders close themselves off from feedback, believing they have nothing more to learn.
Notice if you are unwilling or find it hard to change your mind or compromise. Consider if your efforts focus on getting what you want, whether it’s resources, rewards, or approval of ideas. Effective leaders know they don’t have all the answers. They constantly seek to push the boundaries, question, inquire, and learn more.
YOU’RE THE 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 happening, it’s a sign they don’t trust how you will react to bad news.
Similarly, while surrounding yourself with yes-people may make life easier in the short term, it doesn’t create long-term, sustainable organizational outcomes. Seeking out differences of opinion is critical because the diversity of thought or the probing question aids the adaptive thinking leaders need when facing complex challenges.
It’s important to welcome all types of news—even news that is difficult to hear. Your reaction is not only a test of your character but it also sets the standard for what happens in the future.
So, where would you place your leadership? On or off the rails?
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