I am sick and tired!!
I am literally sick and tired of seeing all these posts, article and videos describing the traits of good leaders, and how good leaders should act vs. bad leaders and so on. No matter if these are in the form of images, info-graphics or posts.
And with this amount of content, I started really to believe that we are lying to ourselves because all this content will not really solve the leadership problems that we have inside our companies.
People are not missing information. People are fully aware of how a great leader should act and what he should do. But they are still not executing. They are not behaving or acting as good leaders no matter if they have good intentions or not, and no matter how much knowledge they have regarding leadership.
Do you want a proof? Simple.
Stop 10 people on the street and ask them the golden question ‘’What are the characteristics of a great leader?’’ You will be surprisingly shocked that everyone knows the right answer. You will hear instantaneously answers such as integrity, honesty, fairness, team player and on. You will hear answers that can fill books.
Now let me ask you ‘’if almost everyone knows how a good leader should act, and on top of that, all of this educational content is available online and offline, then why do we have horrible leaders? Or why do leaders who know by heart the traits of great leaders act in contrast to what they know?’’
To apply a new behavior, we need mainly 2 things: 1) Education to build skills and knowledge regarding this behavior and 2) execution. Education is available. People already know how a true leader should act. And even if they do not know, there are thousands of courses and books about this topic. Now, let us move to the execution part.
Managers do not act as good leaders because they discovered that being a good leader will make them lose in today’s era and work environment.
Yes, maybe they will win the love and respect of their teams, but if they do not deliver, then they will be out of the game soon in this competitive world. The toxic environment and the pressure forced on them from the top management is destructive.
Let’s take an example. Let us say that you were newly appointed as a manager of a team. As a new manager, you start with good intentions, and you want to be a real leadership role model.
Step by step during the fiscal year you feel the pressure to deliver and hit the targets. Not only this, each year you hit the numbers, the management sets stretch targets, and you feel more and more under fire to deliver.
You start spending more time at work, your work life balance fades away, and you do not remember the last time that you saw your daughter or son at home while he or she was still awake. All of this for a bunch of few extra dollars or euros per year.
Ah by the way, do you know that after reaching a specific salary range, any additional salary increase will not make you feel happy and will be meaningless? Because every 1 dollar of salary increase will bring you 100 dollars’ worth of more pressure and tasks to do, and more time at work.
Under all this pressure to deliver, angry executives pushing you, and lack of your basic needs, you start to change. You start shooting randomly on anyone. You start doing this because your capacity and patience are over. You do not have enough capacity to handle your team problems and to grow them, because you are now focusing more and more on how not to get shot from the management during the next meeting, and you will do this under any cost.
Your perspective changed from ‘’I want to create a great team culture and change the performance of the team.’’ before being a manager to ‘’I want to survive and keep my position’’…. Welcome to the middle point of the rat race.
You know, Mike Tyson the legendary boxer summarized this situation in a quote that I adore. He said ‘’everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.’’ And now, you are punched in your face, and you have no plan except survival.
So, what is the solution? How can we really fix leadership problems within organizations?
The solution is divided into two parts; part 1 is about correcting the wrong beliefs, and part 2 is the action plan. And I will start now by correcting some wrong beliefs.
First, as a rule, you must know that the true measure of a leader is not during the calm times. Any person can do well and be a great leader during the calm times. The challenge is what type of actions and decisions this leader will take during the hard times? When he or she is under fire. This is the true measure of a leader.
Second, the true measure of leadership has nothing to do with results. I know a lot of horrible leaders that deliver because their teams are afraid of them or want to avoid them.
There are also companies that achieve great financial results not because they have a great culture or because they are a wonderful place to work for, but because they are industry leaders that built names from 30 or 50 or even 80 years ago.
And this repetition and what they accumulated financially in the past is why people and clients keep coming to them over and over, and that’s why they are still in business. And by the way, this is very dangerous because sometimes winning makes people blind and unable to see their real problems. They think if we are winning then everything should be ok.
Third, I saw a lot of companies hiring or promoting a good potential leader in the middle of a messy situation and expecting him to deliver. This will never happen.
Getting a potentially good leader and putting him in an organization which is suffering a lot of internal problems, with not enough resources and collaboration and most importantly openness to change from the people around him, will not change anything.
In fact, you will lose this good leader sooner or later. It is exactly as if you said ‘’Lionel Messi’’ is the best football player in the world, let us invest all our club money in buying him and do not bother about the other team members. Because Messi will do everything. He is the best player in the world.
And of course, this is a horrible approach, because no matter how Messi is talented, he is only flourishing and winning because he has a lot of super players around him in Barcelona.
It is the combination itself between talent and teamwork and culture that made Barcelona successful, not the talent of Messi alone. And if you doubt what I say, ask yourself, why is the performance of Messi differs when he plays in Barcelona than when he plays with his Country Argentina?
Now, let us move to part 2 which is the action plan.
1-If you want to know if a company is a good place to work for or not, and if you want to assess the leadership performance inside this company, then look on the sensitive positions such as the CEO, the president, and General Manager.
Focus carefully on their actions and Listen carefully to what is being said about them. Focus on their reputation regarding their character and behavior and what they care for and believe in. If they have the right attitude and behavior, then most probably the executives will have the right behavior also, and this will impact the organization.
Think about it for a moment, who will you choose to work on your team? Someone who is totally different than your character and behavior? Or someone who is aligned and supporting your vision, behavior, and culture?
And even if you filled an executive position, and you found one of your team members not aligned with you, then most probably sooner or later he or she will leave because you will not tolerate each other (unless you will keep him only because he is achieving results no matter what his behavior is and with this you are making a big mistake).
So, in short, you and your direct reports are reflections of each other’s characters, behaviors, and actions.
2-The right leadership starts by selecting the right CEO for the company. In big companies, this is the responsibility of the board of directors of course. If they will choose a CEO based on his previous results or if company politics got involved in the selection, then it is over. The selection should, of course, include his previous performance. But this is only one selection criteria and not everything.
3-If the board chooses the right CEO with the right attitude and behavior, he will choose the right executives. He will choose people who are similar in behavior like him and who can help him promote the company culture that he wants.
4-The CEO should give clear instructions that hiring and keeping employees should be based on their personal behavior and if they can fit the company culture or not. He should ask his top and middle managers and HR not to hire people only for results, or because of their CV’s. They should hire for character.
5-Choosing the right executives and heads of departments will ensure that the vision & culture of the CEO will be transmuted to the rest of the organization effectively with respect to the vision of the CEO of having the right company culture in place. This will ensure that they will always try to make the right selections when they are choosing the middle management.
And when this happens, a potentially good leader will not find himself under fire most of the time to deliver. There will be a balance between calm times and pressure times. And even during the pressure times, this will be healthy pressure. And when this happens potential leaders will have a real chance to flourish and to apply great concepts if they were trained and prepared correctly.
Is this going to really happen? Can really a big organization starts fixing their culture and leadership problems from up till down. I am sure that a lot of the people who will read this article will say it’s not possible because there are a lot of other factors involved inside organizations that makes it harder to make true changes or make a crucial decision.
Nevertheless, I shared my true opinion instead of just moving with the follow and writing more and more about beautiful leadership traits and wonderful rosy role models that we rarely see inside our organizations, or that we see, but only during the calm times.
Stop dreaming about beautiful leadership and idealistic traits. Let us move one practical step towards really fixing the workplace.