30/08/2011

What Is Your Greatest Weakness?

By Peter Davey, T2 Senior Trainer

Anyone who has ever stuttered their way through a typical job interview will be familiar with the question ‘What is your greatest weakness?’

It has become a cross-industry standard to dress your weaknesses up as positives, and often it is the CEOs themselves who are the worst culprits. In fact, the extreme personality traits which make a great leader are generally seen as negative outside of the business world. In a recent article BBC writer Lucy Kelley discusses the implications of this and lists the seven most common leadership ‘sins’. Here, I will offer my take on the seven deadly sins of leadership.

The one question I had after reading this article was ‘what makes some leaders commit these ‘leadership sins’?’ For me, it comes down to just one thing; a distinct lack of leadership development.

In ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ Steven Covey states that top business leaders rarely take time out to focus on ‘sharpening their knowledge saws’. As a result, some leaders can become non-receptive to learning and complacent about their leadership style, believing that a ‘one size fits all’ approach will suffice. This can be catastrophic. As a business grows, leaders have to expand their own knowledge or risk becoming obsolete, but all too often running a business takes priority over crucial self-development.

So let’s take a closer look at these 7 deadly sins of leadership and investigate the potential consequences of each one.

They are control freaks. This form of leadership is one of the least desirable when it comes to building trusting relationships! In a system of autocratic leadership one person has control over all of the workers. The leader is in complete control and no one is permitted to offer suggestions or opinions, no matter the benefits. Some of the characteristics of autocratic leadership include:

• Little or no input from group members;

• Leaders make the decisions;

• Leaders dictate all the work methods and processes;

• Employees are rarely trusted with decisions or important tasks.

Because autocratic leaders make decisions without consulting the group, employees may become resentful that their opinions are not considered. Researchers have found that autocratic leadership leads to a lack of creative solutions to problems, which can seriously affect the performance of the business.

They are vain. It might take a well-developed ego to get to the top, but a self-absorbed boss can be hard to handle. An egotistic boss is rarely interested in obtaining feedback from others about their own performance. This kind of leader is best described as selfish, self-obsessed, inadequate, insecure and insensitive. They exaggerate their own contributions and downplay the contributions of others. These leaders expect their own needs to be met at all costs and constantly demand respect and consideration while denying similar treatment to workers.

They are ditherers. Smart decision-making is an essential quality for any leader at any level to possess. Good leadership can be crippled by ‘decide-o-phobia’ which can negatively affect almost every area of the business. As a leader you have to be able to analyse a situation, think quickly, and make a decision. If a leader is indecisive they will soon lose respect of others. Procrastination can cause lower team productivity, low morale and missed opportunities. A dithering leader can place their whole organisation at a competitive disadvantage.

They don't listen. Leaders who don’t listen can end up stifling their organisation’s growth. Their aura of power can stop team members contributing key information for good decision making. One of the biggest reasons leaders lack listening skills is because of their ego. Many leaders, often in CEO positions, are very firm in their ideas; and it is very difficult to change their mind. If such a leader’s view is challenged, it makes them feel insecure.

They are bullies. At what point does strong leadership turn into bullying? And when do passion, energy and determination become dangerous and damaging a business’s reputation? Do the best leaders have some bullying tendencies or is this just a myth that excuses leaders who are excessively aggressive and impatient? My own view is that bullying is unacceptable. Bullies are frightening, destructive and a drain on resources. Such "leaders" demean people, lower morale, and create fear. We are all under pressure and occasionally events conspire to make us lose our temper, but allowing emotions to overcome us and disrespecting others is an abuse of power — a bullying leader is a leader in name alone.

They are afraid of conflict. This is one of the most common leadership issues. Effective leadership occasionally requires leaders to confront conflict head on; however, some will be lulled into thinking that the situation will get better by avoiding it. The situation never improves, but instead it deteriorates significantly and quickly. That's when bitterness can set in.

The longer a leader waits to address a conflict over behaviour, the harder it will be to resolve. Conflict avoidance can suggest to staff that poor behaviour or low productivity is acceptable. By confronting the conflict leaders set a good example, showing others that they believe in resolving conflict constructively and treating people with dignity and respect.

They can't do small talk. Leadership is all about building trusting relationships, and one of the key ways to do this is through effective communication. Many leaders avoid engaging in small talk because they find it too daunting or too pointless. However, the ability to engage in small talk is a vital part of every leader’s toolkit. An effective leader needs to be able to engage with the people they meet, whether they are employees, suppliers, clients, or in other fields altogether. This will help to expand or strengthen their professional network, and to increase their ability to better understand and run their working environment. Avoiding small talk can cause missed opportunities and impair the trust and respect of others.

To summarize, in leadership there is no room for complacency; in fact it is a leader’s job to challenge it. Keeping your ‘knowledge saw’ regularly sharpened is essential if you are going to be successful leader. Effective leaders will dedicate quality time to expanding their knowledge and developing their existing skills; those who don’t could be in serious danger of committing one of the ‘The Seven Deadly Sins CEOS Won’t Admit’.

What are your views / experiences on the seven deadly sins CEOs won’t admit?

Peter Davey is a Senior Trainer for t2 Management training, a leadership and management training consultancy: www.t2managementtraining.co.uk

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