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Five Guaranteed Ways To Get An ‘F’ As A Leader

by | Apr 7, 2021

Think back a few years to when you were sitting in a classroom as the teacher returned the “big test.” This was the day of reckoning. The results of your preparation, or lack of it, would be unveiled in a grade scribbled in red ink at the top of the paper. As you reached to take your test, thoughts ran through your mind, such as “Did I prepare enough?” or “Did I forget important information?”

Although most of us no longer take written tests, the realities of leadership force us to ask the same questions. Unfortunately, in our rush to be successful as leaders, we often overlook foundational building blocks for leadership success. The result? We fail miserably.

Below are five guaranteed ways to fail as a leader and how to avoid them.

1. Demand people follow you because of your position. Don’t be fooled. Simply because you have a title or the office with a view doesn’t make you the leader. The right to lead has to be earned and can’t be mandated. Can you force some decisions simply because of your title? Yes, but the effectiveness of positional leadership is short-lived. Leaders who continually function at this level will fail.

2. Execute “to-do” lists disconnected from a larger vision. Too often our daily activities are defined by the urgent rather than the important. In the rush to meet deadlines and handle unexpected demands, wasted minutes turn into wasted hours. Before we realize it, we are aggressively managing minutiae. As leaders, it is critical we aggressively align our daily tasks with our driving vision. Block out part of each day to ensure your daily tasks are moving your organization to accomplish its larger goals. Remember, busyness is not synonymous with effectiveness.

3. Talk more than you listen. Great leaders develop the ability to listen. This means making a conscious decision to stop talking and focus on what others are saying. When listening becomes part of our leadership DNA, it allows us to design collaborative solutions to problems, deepen respect among team members and protect blind spots. Try this the next time someone is talking to you. Close your laptop, lay down your pen, look directly in their eyes and focus on what they are saying. You may be surprised at what you hear.

4. Avoid addressing conflict in your team. Conflict is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be unhealthy. Effective leaders know how to leverage differing positions to benefit the team. This requires developing a culture where honest and respectful feedback is encouraged at all levels. Most important, teams have to feel it is safe to disagree. When people know their opinions are valued, a collaborative process emerges that leads to a shared vision and broad team buy-in.

5. Focus on the plan instead of people. Great leaders are in the people business regardless of the industry. Unfortunately, too many times the focus shifts to results at the expense of others. Take time to get to know your team. Learn about their families, send notes of appreciation and celebrate wins together. Leaders can learn an important lesson from a plaque Ronald Reagan kept on his desk: “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he does not mind who gets the credit.” If we help others achieve their goals, then our leadership success is a natural result.

No one wants to fail, but often our actions and attitudes make success elusive. Avoid these common mistakes, and when you get the test back, you just may find you scored an A+!

L. Lavon Gray is a certified leadership coach and popular speaker and trainer in educational and corporate institutions across the U.S.