Much is written about leadership, recently more than ever. Leadership books are filling shelves and we get daily posts on what great leaders do, what bad bosses should stop doing and what aspiring leaders are supposed to do.
While we appreciate all these advises, they come rather often than not from people who have never led big organizations nor did they hold profit & loss responsibility themselves. While it is always easy to criticize, let us also try to sympathize. In line with our belief at ATvisor™ that people generally want to do good, we also believe that no leader wants to purposely do bad. This article is no excuse for bad leadership; it is a reflection on the challenges that leaders face – and which partly obstruct them in being the person they could be. Interestingly, the challenges added up to be 5 S’s, namely: Selection, Self-confidence, Self-awareness, Stakeholders and Sacrifices. Let’s look at these 5 S’s one by one:
Challenge 1: Selection
Most leaders are selected or promoted based on their past achievements as well as their technical skills, while social skills are often neglected. What adds to the challenge is the fact that technical skills, aka hard skills, stand in competition, or better in negative correlation, to social skills, aka soft skills. By nature, people who are brilliant in the technically domain struggle more in the social sphere. Keeping this in mind, may help us to look with more empathy at some leaders.
Challenge 2: Self-confidence
Leaders are expected to be self-confident. In line with challenge 1, self-confident people are more likely to be promoted. However, an overdose of self-confidence blinds us from seeing our areas for improvement and limits us to open for feedback. While leaders create cultures, it is the corporate environment that forms leaders to a certain extend. We reap what we sow. Therefore, we would need a corporate world which is less power driven and more empathic, allowing leaders to show vulnerability and humility as well as assuring leaders that they do not have to have all silver bullets. Understanding the corporate environment and its impact on leaders, may give us more insights on certain behaviors of leaders.
Challenge 3: Self-awareness
As desirable as it might be, a high level of self-confidence may also lead to less self-awareness. The more confidence we have in our abilities and knowledge, the less likely we will find ourselves doing regular self-checks. When talking to C-suite leaders, I often hear statements like “it is getting lonely up here”. In other words, the higher you climb, the less likely you receive an open and honest feedback. Recognizing the absence of such feedback, may trigger us to question which role we could play to improve the corporate world. When was the last time you have provided valuable feedback to a person who is more senior than you?
Challenge 4: Stakeholders
Besides the lack of honest feedback, the constant need to be aware of multiple stakeholders could be another reason why leaders may struggle with self-awareness. The so-called “stakeholder engagement” can be very time-consuming, eating up precious time which should be invested elsewhere. Many leaders claim rightfully, and I believe wholeheartedly, that employees are their most important assets and customers are king, or queen. Besides employees and customers however, there are many other stakeholders a leader must please. There are government bodies, unions, headquarters and, most significantly, shareholders. As long as announcements on job cuts are applauded by stock markets with increasing share prices, any talk on employee-centric leadership is merely an echo to the drums of the shareholders. In other words, as soon as a company is publicly listed, shareholders become the most thought after stakeholder. At times, leaders are forced to do things because their freedom in deciding and acting is rather limited. Since it is impossible to please everyone, you please the ones who make the most noise, the shareholders and customers – at the expense of the employees. This negligence may happen partly unconsciously and often unintentionally. Being aware of conflicting stakeholders, may put more efforts on creating a meaningful, engaging work environment since happy employees generate happy customers and shareholders – not vice-versa.
Challenge 5: Sacrifices
When talking about stakeholder engagement, one very important stakeholder is always missed out: the leader’s family. Too many leaders sacrifice their family for the company – a trade-off everyone has to consider and evaluate individually and personally: Does the generous compensation compensate for a minimum of 60 work hours per week, frequent business trips, time-loss due to travel and jetlag, hardly any uninterrupted family gathering or vacation, little time for the loved ones and so forth? While we leave the answer to you, we leave you with the invite to appreciate that there are people willing to do it.
The Solution: The 6th S – Serenity
Having said this, it is quite saddening when coaching clients tell us about the leadership cultures in their companies. So yes, there is a lot of need to improve the leadership styles, which becomes even more evident during times of crisis. However, we also see a lot of leaders actively asking for help, realizing that they are at their limits. I would like to invite you for a challenge by paraphrasing the famous quote of J.F. Kennedy, “ask not what your leader can do for you, ask what you can do for your leader”. Are you up for it? You may be surprised about the powerful impact of this mindset shift.
Ethical leadership emerges through Serene Leaders© who understand employees as the most important stakeholders – in words and by actions. Make Serenity the True Source of Life Energy and become a Serene Leader©.
More about this in our online course “Unfold the Serene Leader in You“.
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