Are You a Leader or a Boss? Says Who?

Cynthia breathed a heavy sigh as she reviewed the results of the 360° assessment report that included feedback regarding her skills, effectiveness and influence as an executive. She’s just returned from a session with her coach, Renee, who debriefed the results with her.  As much as she wanted to blame the messenger for some of the pointed feedback given, she knew that it was time she stopped deflecting.  Donovan Rice, the Chairman of the Board had been supportive but painfully clear as he conveyed the Board’s concerns the previous week.  Cynthia had two choices:  either use this opportunity to engage with an executive coach who could help her identify and focus on her blind spots or the Board would have to make a leadership change.

The choice was hers.

Over the past eighteen months since she assumed the role of CEO, it had become increasingly difficult to rally her team and motivate them to get behind her vision.  As much as she wanted to be perceived as collaborative, open-minded and consider the opinions of her senior team, the truth is, she just wanted them to do what they were told.  Now, in looking at the assessment report, it was clear that her teams’ views about her leadership abilities were not very positive. She scored lowest in the leadership style category relative to her ability to develop, motivate and influence.  During one of her earlier coaching sessions, Renee asked her to share thoughts regarding her staff.  Cynthia was upfront in conveying that she couldn’t ask for a stronger team.  Each leader’s depth of expertise in their field was backed by several years of experience.  Frankly, most everyone on the senior team had more leadership experience than she did.  While each team member has strengths and opportunities, collectively they were highly capable.  It seems that Cynthia was in a state of cognitive dissonance.  At the end of her coaching session, Renee posed two questions that Cynthia needed time to think about.  In all honesty, both questions, ‘What do I want to be known for as a leader?’ and ‘Whatwould it look like for my intent to match my impact?’, really stumped her.

So where does a leader start when faced with this type of feedback?

Immediately shredding the report might be tempting, but it’s probably not the best solution.  I always encourage my clients to begin with the end in mind.

  • Who do you want to be as a leader?
  • What are your core values?

Values are important because they typically define our beliefs, which influences our attitudes and in turn drives our behavior. As it relates to how we operate as leaders, they are the beginning, the middle and the end.

While Cynthia quietly admitted that she simply wants her team to do what they are told, she will need to dig a little deeper to understand why.  For example, Cynthia would benefit from checking her core assumptions about how she views her team.  Leaders who presume that blaming, telling and controlling are the only approaches to lead people will never get the best out of their teams.

Leaders, like Cynthia, who operate or refer to themselves as ‘the boss’, are already behind the eight ball and their leadership style is likely command and control. Even when a leader tries to hide or cover this up, their direct reports can probably see right through it.  Simply put, controlling is not leading.  It’s much easier and more effective for leaders to share their foresight and invite others to consider how they can leverage their talents to realize a shared vision.   To create followership, leaders must engage people and build trust without creating dysfunction via fear, threats and intimidation.  Leadership is about leading well those within your sphere of influence.

If you are not certain whether your leadership style could be characterized as command and control, ask yourself, ‘What would my reaction be if any of my direct reports told me ‘No’ when I ask them to complete an assignment?’.  What’s your gut reaction?  If you immediately have visions of ripping the person’s face off, you might want to check yourself and look in the mirror.  It is probably not too early to identify the root cause of your need to control others.  Ask yourself, ‘What would it look like to cultivate meaningful relationships with my team members that’s grounded in trust?’.  Keep in mind that trust begets trust.

The good news is that it’s possible for leaders, who are motivated, to transition or transform their leadership style.

The most important starting point is understanding that being a good leader begins with knowing who you are.  Without question, this requires self-awareness.  Many dictionaries define this term slightly differently; however, the common theme is, to have conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires.  Most everyone reading this article likely desires this, yet we all aren’t self-aware.  So how do you know whether you are self-aware?  In many respects, this is a circular question that should lead you back to self.  Being self-aware is a skill that can be honed and is best achieved by actively reflecting on questions such as, ‘When am I at my best?’, or ‘What would it look like for me to act in a manner that I can be proud of?’.  Another proactive practice is to ask others how it feels to work with you or how it feels to be around you. Is it chaotic?  Are you creating a healthy climate where people want to give you their best and their extra effort?  Are you life-giving or sucking the life out of everyone?  Ask people who you know will be honest with you and could care less whether you like them or not.

Inquire about participating in a 360° assessment.  This is yet another forethoughtful step that signifies a leader’s desire to gain meaningful feedback.  These assessments are most effective when they are utilized as a developmental tool and administered appropriately.  A leader’s level of self-awareness can often be gauged by the degree of separation between the leader’s self-ratings and the average ratings provided by his/her direct reports, peers, and supervisor. It’s important to keep in mind that while demonstrating good leadership skills is all about knowing and understanding self, leadership is all about being others-focused and not self-absorbed.

Not everyone is great at leading right out of the gate.  Furthermore, experienced leaders can always improve their leadership style.  Leaders must first recognize their need to sharpen the saw.  When a leader makes a commitment to alter their center of attention and look beyond themselves only then will forward movement begin.

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