Boggs: Leadership Refresh
A friend of mine recently shared an article with me, titled 7 Things Which Weaken My Leadership, by Ron Edmondson. It made me realize that being a good leader is not something we become and just stay that way. Our proficiency as leaders often fluctuates, and we need to be aware of the pitfalls that can weaken us as leaders. In most cases, people aren’t going to directly let the leader know he or she has slipped, so it’s our job to self-evaluate and correct things before we get too far off course.
As I read through the article, I realized how often I’ve let those pitfalls weaken my leadership at certain times. I fell into the trap of thinking that once you are a good leader, you will always be a good leader, which brings me to the one I struggle with the most:
Resting on Past (or current) Success.
I remember the first year we hit $2 million in sales. It was a goal of mine to grow our company to that level and it felt great to get there. We had changed many of our processes and it finally paid off. Rolling into that next year, I thought we’d easily grow by 10 percent, due to our current trajectory. Well, the school of hard knocks taught me that was a mistake. I had forgotten how hard we worked to get there and I learned that we needed to work just as hard to stay there. My focus wasn’t as sharp as it needed to be, and it took me longer than it should have to see the warning signs that we weren’t operating at our best. This leads right into the next item on the list.
Leadership Involves a Sense of Urgency.
I think it is natural to take your foot off the gas pedal when things are going well. If we’ve worked hard to get to the top of the hill, who could blame us for taking a moment to enjoy the view? There is no emergency brake in leadership where you can just sit back and relax. When we do, it’s inevitable to start sliding back down the hill. Regardless of where our team is, there is always another challenge lurking around the corner.
Allowing Negative Influences to Rule.
It doesn’t take long for a negative comment or event to gain hold of your thoughts or conversations. I recently heard a stat that the average person complains 70 times per day. That’s more than four complaints per waking hour. In our industry there’s no shortage of things to complain about. Yet we all know that complaining about things doesn’t change them. I was recently complaining to friends about the lack of work we had. The very next day I was overwhelmed with so many estimates that I started complaining that I was too busy. I stopped and laughed, realizing it wasn’t my situation that needed to change, it was my attitude. It was a wakeup call, that I had let COVID influence my mood and it was time to get back to seeing the glass as half full, again.
Ceasing to Learn Something New.
Looking back over my last 20-plus years in the industry, I can easily see that the times when I was leading the company well were the times I was learning something new. Whether I was studying lean principles, learning new software, or diving into the calibration world, those times provided the excitement and motivation required to lead a team well. We are an industry of problem solvers, and when our minds are engaged in learning new things we are feeding the tool that helps us solve problems. I’ve created a new habit of always having a list of things I need to or want to learn, so that when I’m done with my current project, I can dive into the next one.
We all suffer from this more than we realize. It is human nature to be prideful. Fortunately, when we are full of pride, something is always hiding around the corner to humble us. Edmondson wrote in his article, “No one truly follows a prideful leader. They may obey, may even be infatuated for a season, but they don’t follow.” Most people choose to leave their boss, not their company. If people are unhappy at your shop, you could complain about it (see above if that is your choice), or you could look in the mirror and see if pride has caused the team to sour on its leader.
The other two on the list aren’t principles that I personally struggle with, but are extremely important nonetheless: Living in Fear and Needless Distractions/Lack of Personal Discipline. There’s a lot of unknown when it comes to being the leader; there’s risk in nearly every decision we make and we don’t always know if that risk will pay off. We have to be comfortable with that fear and not let ourselves get distracted, or lose motivation because of it.
Reviewing the list taught me a lot and I hope you will learn from my mistakes to avoid making them yourself.