During former CEO Jack Welch’s tenure at General Electric, the company’s value rose 4,000%. I guess you could say he knew a lot about leadership. This is what he said: “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” He understood that a leader is nothing without a devoted band of followers. Leaders need to know how to inspire their workers to great effort, keep them focused on the goal, and steer them through rough seas.
But sometimes leaders themselves lose focus and forget how to work with and influence those they need most to succeed…their “others.” In our work with leaders in programs that feature action learning for leadership development, we have seen three ways that leaders sacrifice their influence:
1. They shift styles and positions.
Perhaps because they want to be all things to all people, some leaders don’t stay the course. They are inconsistent in the way they behave and in the decisions they make. The hard lesson is that leadership is not a popularity contest. The best leaders inspire great loyalty among their troops but they are not always liked for the positions they take. The message is that you should not waver. Flexibility can be a strength when it’s warranted by changes out of your control. Otherwise, if you are not on a steady course, you make your team uneasy.
2. They undermine the confidence of their employees.
The best leaders know when to step aside. They show trust in the ability of their workers to execute against the plan. Too much interference from leaders makes workers feel mistrusted and incapable. There may even be a better way to handle things than what you envisioned. Give your employees a chance to make the small mistakes, reflect and do better next time. Isn’t that the way you learned?
3. They establish a kind of “in” group.
Certainly you will have favorite advisers, those people upon whom you rely to give you their opinions and share their expertise. But it is risky to shut out others who might have different perspectives and insights. You want thinkers who come at each problem from a diverse perspective. If you surround yourself with like-minded folks, so-called “yes” men, you lose out on innovative solutions and, through your favoritism, can alienate a whole segment of your work force.
Leadership is not for the faint-hearted. Stay true to yourself, trust in your employees, and welcome honest debate.