How to solve the leadership problem
How to solve the leadership problem
Owning up to mistakes, judging yourself harshly, and recognising your weaknesses aren’t easy things to do.

Three tips from a failing leader.

As a leader, you’ll know that setting high standards is an important part of growth: if your team isn’t reaching, they’re not growing.

Progressive overload – constantly pushing to maximum capacity – is how we develop and improve. It’s an accepted part of exercise and fitness, especially in areas such as weight training, but it’s less recognised in workplace learning and development.

However, the problem leaders encounter is that setting a high bar for the team is only half the equation; you have to set a higher one for yourself. While we’re ever-striving to hit this upper limit, it’s human nature that we won’t always reach it. This is fine for your team, and as a manager of people you’ll accept that there will be troughs alongside the celebrated peaks. It’s when leaders are looking at themselves, that the issue becomes a lot more complex. How can you be an authentic leader, setting high standards, when you know you won’t hit them all of the time?

A great leader is required to set high standards for themselves, while accepting that they won’t always achieve them. Knowing that you are the most visible person in the practice, and that you are going to drop the ball, what should you do when you inevitably get it wrong?

1. Own your failings

It sounds simple, but one of the most important things you can do is to own up when you’ve made a mistake. After this, instead of making any excuses, focus on what you’re going to do to rectify the matter.

Within my own role, I’m a stickler for transparent internal communications. I choose to over-communicate with key parties, even when it comes to areas that are perceived as sensitive, such as profit and salaries. However, I can admit that there have been times, usually when I’m in a fast-paced environment, that I’ve dropped the ball. This is a problem because it can make me look hypocritical: if I’m stressing the importance of communication, I need to show that I’m practicing what I preach.

The only thing that I can do after this is confess and devise a solution to solve the problem; for instance, scheduling regular meetings to share information.

2. Play ‘straw man’ and ‘steel man’

‘Steel man’ and ‘straw man’ are phrases used to represent two opposing interpretations of the same situation: a straw man view is the least generous, whereas the steel man view is the most generous.

For instance, if you have a policy of replying to emails within 24 hours, and a team member repeatedly fails to do this, the straw man view might be that they simply don’t care. Instead, the more generous steel man view is that they don’t understand why this is important.

When it comes to your team, it’s helpful to adopt the steel man approach for them and the straw man for yourself. In this context, an alternative straw man view is that you simply haven’t made it clear enough why a prompt reply matters – making this your problem to solve.

3. Consider cause and effect

Setting a good example is a key part of being a leader. Your team is shaped and influenced by your behaviour, and your actions affect their perception of what is acceptable.

The Dunning-Kruger effect suggests that the less we know about a subject, the more we actually think we know, resulting in a false illusion of superiority. More simply, it’s human nature that we fail to see our own incompetence. As a leader, it’s your task to stop and take a hard look at what you don’t know and what you’re not doing. Only then can you see how your lack of knowledge or action has caused your team’s reaction.

Therefore, if one or more members of a team aren’t hitting the mark, ask yourself what you might have done to make that happen. How has your way of working had a negative effect? This could be something as simple as dressing smartly for in-person meetings, or establishing a neutral tone for difficult conversations.

In some circumstances, you might need to show how and why you’re setting a good example, and this circles back around to transparent over-communication. For instance, if my team sees me taking a break in the middle of the day, it could be interpreted that I’m not treating my job seriously. Here, it might be helpful for me to ensure that all late meetings are entered into a shared calendar, making it clear that I’m working extra hours in the evening instead. This way, there are distinct boundaries, with no fear of there being ‘one rule for me, and another for you’.

It’s a difficult truth that leaders are naturally required to take the most high-pressure position in a practice. Owning up to mistakes, judging yourself harshly, and recognising your weaknesses aren’t easy things to do. In order to grow, you need to set unachievable standards for yourself, but it’s how you view your shortcomings and adapt your approach that ultimately has a profound impact on your team.

If you’d like help with getting the best out of your business, ask to speak to one of our Management Consultants.

The information contained in this article is based on the opinion of Hive Business and does not constitute formal tax advice. Any tax outcomes will be based on individual circumstances, tax legislation and regulation, which are subject to change in the future. You should seek specific advice before embarking on any course of action. Hive Business does not provide regulated Financial Advice, including advice on investment, insurance or lending products or their suitability for you. This article is provided for information only and does not constitute, and should not be interpreted as, investment advice or a recommendation to buy, sell or otherwise transact, or not transact, in any investment including Bitcoin and other crypto. Any use you wish to make of any information contained within this article is, therefore, entirely at your own risk.

By Dan Fine Management Consultant
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