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Yang for the Ying — The (F)Earless Leader

How mediocre leaders teach us just as much as those we respect.

My gratitude blog enters its sixth week and I’m conscious that those of you who don’t know me, may read these posts and think I’ve had the great fortune of happening across great leaders and mentors throughout my life. And I have — with many more to mention in the weeks ahead. But that’s not say that I’ve had a fair share of doozies as well. It’s time to share a bit of the yang with the ying. In some ways, the more formative and explicit lessons have been taught, by those that the text books (and the accompanying article) would call ‘mediocre leaders’.

They shall of course remain nameless but the lessons of what they taught me are worth sharing and I remain grateful for their resonance in my memory — so to ensure I hold myself to loftier standards. I appreciate them for teaching me my own style of leadership; in trying to be the exact opposite.

The Self Serving Leader

This particular leader was one whom was a very relationship oriented leader and knowledgeable about their discipline however they were more about their own achievements than that of their people. If there was a win to be had, it was their win. If there was a failure, it was someone’s else fault and blame was applied — often on the quiet. It served them well however. They got to the top and rode some pretty good waves but there were many that were left behind with a sour taste of the true impact of their contributions and how they tried to help others rise up with them.

My own mantra and style:

The wins are the teams to enjoy and a chance to champion the individuals that made it happen. The failures are embraced (as long as not repeated) and upon the leader’s shoulders to explain that those failures are part of the process towards the wins yet to come.

The Two Faced Leader

Sometimes a leader is judged by how many other leaders were developed under their tutelage. I think it was Jack Welch that said the job of a leader is to develop other leaders. This particular experience taught me that those that don’t have a great track record in this regard probably have another agenda in mind. In this case, the fear or threat to themselves was probably a core reason behind their decision to subversively affect opinions about me. A two faced, unsupportive leader makes for a very lonely environment. It makes for an untrustworthy relationship doomed for failure.

My own mantra and style:

Authenticity and servant leadership are two commonly used (and probably too commonly used) phrases today. When a leader truly can exhibit a transparency and an empathetic touch to their leadership, their team will follow them, believe them and want to be like them. That leader will help them achieve their potential — and be championed by their own leadership for doing so.

The Bully

When you identify bullying — much like in the playground, it’s all too easy to turn a blind eye. When you see it happen in the workplace, it’s unfortunately all too common too. I think the #metoo movement has exemplified the commonality of this in recent years across many industries. As a young, junior member of a team that saw office place bullying happen to a male friend of a similar level of seniority, I took a stand. I reported it. To this day, it didn’t serve me well for the future in that particular department but it stopped the bullying from happening and that was what mattered.

My own mantra and style:

Talking up, not walking by is far more important than turning a blind eye. Doing the right thing is the simple way of summarizing this but it astounded me that many others were all too comfortable with ignoring it. The importance of providing channels for every employee to have a voice without fear of retribution is critically important.

The (F)Ear-less Leader

Some leaders have a confident brash demeanor but utilize it for the purposes of salesmanship or just influencing. Then there are others who are purely egotistical or even narcissistic. My own experience of the latter was someone who quietly believed they had all the answers, thought everyone else’s approach was ’stupid’ and perhaps most importantly, failed to listen or remember the direction they had provided to their team. These are perhaps the most dangerous of leaders and ones that could take a following of people towards a lake of proverbial (poisonous) cool-aid and brush aside anyone that dare to step in their way.

My own mantra and style:

Knowing what you don’t know and where you need to listen is a critical part of self awareness. It’s probably reason why both my degrees started with self awareness and leadership of yourself before others. In some ways I wish I had the bravado of the leader I reference above because it can be incredibly compelling but being disingenuous to yourself is not a building block of great leadership .

It all comes back to authenticity, developing other leaders, not being aggressively disrespectful or rude while being able to listen empathetically. I feel my own leadership, while not perfect, has become better in the way I practice it. This has been perhaps through careful observation of, not just the great leaders that have taught me by example, but by seeing the failings of mediocre leadership — something I’m sure many of us also get to experience and witness. I invite you to share with me your thoughts of the leaders both good and mediocre that have shaped your own journey. I wonder how many will have similar traits to the ones I reference above.

You can learn more about the tell-tale signs of mediocre leadership here in this great visual graphic around the same subject.

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