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Leadership Thought #468 – The Biggest Mistake Leaders Make

The biggest mistake leaders make is to think it is all about them.   They believe that success or failure is a direct result of their own personal behavior rather than a team effort.  Show me a successful leader and I will show you a person surrounded by good people who each do their own jobs exceedingly well.  While it is common practice in this country to celebrate the individual, no one builds a high performing organization by themselves.  This doesn’t mean that the leader isn’t an essential ingredient; however, he/she needs other ingredients to complete the recipe.

We all have strengths and weaknesses.  There are situations in which we will naturally thrive and others where we will inevitably struggle.  A leader’s job is to maximize the organizational benefits of their talents while minimizing the impact of their weaknesses.  The best way to mitigate individual limitations is to seek out other people who supplement our own deficiencies. Visionary leaders often need colleagues who excel at focus and implementation.  Detail-oriented people often require team members who push them to be more decisive and think outside of the box.  Someone who has great people skills may lose sight of harsh business realities.  If you’ve worked for any considerable amount of time, you will notice that your favorite leaders often knew where they were lacking and made sure they dealt with this reality rather than ignored or overcompensated for it.

In addition, there are limits to what any one person can physically accomplish.  You can only personally sell so much or manage a finite number of clients.   No one person has the market cornered on good ideas.  As smart as you may be, you won’t have the requisite knowledge to effectively address every issue that pops up.  Moreover, there are only so many hours in a day. Anyone who pushes too hard for too long will burnout and start making bad decisions.   The first growth roadblock for most businesses is when they’ve exhausted the professional capability of the leader.  Sadly, many companies don’t get too far beyond this point due to ego issues and/or short-sightedness.

A leader’s job is not to be a superman or superwoman, who can personally overcome any obstacle strewn in their path.  Their job is to build organizational resilience through teamwork, shared commitment and sacrifice, building and leveraging the talent base available to the company, establishing critical operational redundancies, and maintaining the ongoing pursuit of common objectives (despite obstacles).  If you take a prolonged vacation, the business shouldn’t fall apart. Employees shouldn’t panic at the first sign of a crisis and look to your strong leadership to solve all the tough problems.  The biggest mistake is to place yourself at the center of the organizational universe and view others as simply inhabiting your orbit.  Instead see yourself as part of a constellation of stars serving a more important purpose.



Leadership Thought #350 – Cultivate Meaningful Friendships

I was in a meeting with a group of leaders the other day and after being prompted by a question most of them said that they had many acquaintances but very few friends.  It was clear they weren’t particularly happy by this fact, but felt their busy life didn’t leave them much of a choice.  I find it paradoxical that in a day and age where we have so many more ways to stay connected with other people, every study I read says that people feel lonelier and more disconnected than ever before.  This is especially troubling for people in leadership positions because they feel naturally isolated to begin with.

My own anecdotal experience is that women are better at starting and maintaining close relationships than men.  It is just how they are hardwired.  However, even women are now struggling to stay connected with each other under the pressures of busy work weeks, long commutes and family commitments.   Sometimes it can feel like there is just too much to get done and not enough hours in the day.  When you find yourself in this space it’s hard to reach out and make friendships a priority.  However, cultivating meaningful relationship outside of your spouse/significant other and family is a critical part of a happy life

There need to be people in your life who don’t primarily see you as husband or wife or parent or grandparent or son or sibling or extended family or colleague or boss.  You need to be able to step out from behind a given role and just be you.  Good friends actually allow you to be an individual without any predetermined agenda besides enjoying each other’s company and finding common bonds.  You can relax and let “let your hair down” and just offer each other support or have fun.  You can be “real” without worrying about the consequences of how that might affect the formal relationship.  Friendship is almost always a matter of choice rather than obligation.

If we continually narrow our relationship circles as we get older we run the risk of smothering the remaining people who are left.   We also increase our probability of ending up feeling lonely and ultimately alone.  There is nothing sadder to me when I attend a funeral and hardly anyone attends or when someone in a hospital or nursing home gets minimal visitors.   In the end, our happiness is directly correlated with the quality of relationships we form with other people.  Acquaintances come and go and are usually insignificant in the big picture of life.  However, going through life building and maintaining good friendships will make the journey less arduous and more meaningful.  Don’t get me wrong. Family should always be a priority and is the most important thing, but it isn’t everything.

Leadership Thought #319 – Strive To Operate at Your “Highest and Best” Use

There is a term commonly used in real estate when describing the value of an individual property called its “highest and best use.”  The highest and best use is always that use that would produce the highest value for a property, regardless of its actual current use.   I want to encourage leaders to think the same way about their own role.  As the lead person in your organization, it is your responsibility to vigorously protect your time and activity.  Any number of distractions will pop up in a given day, but they cannot be allowed to dilute your energy, talent and focus from what’s most important. 

My contention is that every leader should be focused on one of the following six responsibilities at least 80% of their time:

1) Defining and implementing a strategic direction for the organization;

2) Actively growing/pushing top line results;

3) Ensuring financial sustainability through proactive and wise economic decision making;

4) Establishing a high performance culture throughout the organization;

5) Growing/upgrading talent in critical roles in the company;

6) Connecting with key customers/stakeholders on a regular basis to solicit feedback and identify new opportunities.

Of course, things do happen and troubleshooting is sometimes required, however this should be the exception not the rule.   High performing leaders know the value of their role and guard their time zealously.  As a result, they are rarely in a crisis mode because they are consistently doing what they should be doing to grow a successful organization.  Their positive business results ultimately compound over time and further separate them from their competition.

I encourage you to rethink how you are spending your time.  What does a typical day look like?   How much thought are you putting into operating at your “highest and best use?”  Are you being proactive about adding value in your leadership role or are you simply reacting to circumstances as they unfold?  What would need to change for you to have more of an impact as a leader?   Ultimately, an organization thrives, simply survives or fails based on its ability to leverage its top assets.  There is no bigger personnel asset than the leader of the company.

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