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Two Serious Failings of Really Useless Leaders

Jul 26, 2008
It's daunting for business leaders who aspire to improve their leadership to be told to follow the example of Gandhi or Martin Luther King. These people are certainly inspirational, but they're a tough act to follow in the real world.

I've therefore been looking at what we can learn from leaders who get it wrong. In researching 'The Seven Failings of Really Useless Leaders', I've discovered there are thousands of managers who continue to demotivate their colleagues and subordinates every day, and in doing so they destroy bottom-line value.

Here I'm going to look at a couple of the really key failings that good leaders should strive to avoid.

First, Really Useless Leaders kill emotion. They shut emotions out of the workplace. They say 'leave your personal life at home'. And they can't detect the real moods and concerns of their people.

We know that people work harder in a happy and productive workplace. So your ability to create a happy and productive workplace is an important lever, one that helps people to tap into that discretionary 49% of their effort that only they control. They'll work harder for you if there's less fear in the workplace, for instance, or if innovation is 'allowed' and not punished when it doesn't work out.

So if you want to inspire and motivate your people, one of the things you need to do is learn more about emotional intelligence.

Let me ask you then: how do people respond to you and to your leadership style? Do you truly know? If the answer is no, you need to become more aware of your own moods and the moods of the people around you. Then you must explore how you can regulate or manage your moods and influence the moods of the people around you.

Why is this important? Well, emotional intelligence is more significant for leaders today than ever before.

A research group I started in 2002, the tomorrow's leaders research group, found that 20 of the world's major companies were beginning to assess managers not just on their tangible performance, but also on their intangible performance - in other words, their emotional intelligence, their EQ. That being so, we all need to become more adept at dealing with emotion in the workplace.

Interestingly, I once overheard a manager in human resources discussing a possible promotion for a particular manager saying: 'But they're too emotional. To get on in this place you've got to be 100% logical and rational.' Let me tell you, the times they are a-changing.

For me the conclusion is obvious. If a Really Useless Leader kills emotion, an inspirational leader must manage emotion in the workplace. You must build a workplace where emotions are not buried but are tapped, where people are willing and able to invest their best effort.

And you have to set the scene; you have to lead the way. Leadership is about having the emotional maturity to lead people to higher levels of performance. If it's your job to deliver performance through others, then it's your job to create an emotionally mature workplace. How emotionally mature are you?

Another of the serious failings of Really Useless Leaders is that they kill explanation.
They never bother to explain themselves.

I have heard some managers using the words 'It's obvious', when patently it isn't. I heard someone else say: 'If you have to ask, then clearly you don't know.' The lowly subordinate, suitably chastened, left the room with their tail between their legs.

Really Useless Leaders don't understand that people see things differently. We all have different experience and knowledge. When we ask our people to undertake a particular task, they often don't understand why.

Why is this 'why' important? Well, it turns out that all of us need three things. First, we need to feel that what we're doing contributes to the overall goals of the unit or team. Sometimes managers or operators on the shop floor or in a remote unit can't make that connection.

Secondly, we need to know why, so that we can refine or even improve the process. Remember, our people need to have ownership of the how - if we spell out why we're doing something and our people can come up with a better faster cheaper way, we're all winners.

And finally, all of us need to feel from time to time that we're part of something bigger, a community of managers.

In conclusion, in the same way that children are always asking 'why' and won't accept 'because I say so' as an explanation, our people need to understand why they should do what they do. A good explanation is worth gold to you. A coherent business case motivates people.

For me the conclusion is obvious. If a Really Useless Leader kills explanation, an inspirational leader must explain their vision for the business. You must build a workplace where explanation and vision are not buried or skimmed over, but are open and clear.

This makes people willing and able to invest their best effort. You have to explain because you have to lead the way. Leadership is about having the clarity of vision to lead people to higher levels of performance.

If it's your job to deliver performance through others for the business, then it's your job to create a clear vision for us all. How good are you at explaining your vision for the business?
About the Author
If you want the leadership success you deserve, get the leadership training you deserve. Download more free articles and leadership training videos from Steven Sonsino, an international business school professor and author of the Amazon bestseller "The Seven Failings of Really Useless Leaders"
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