I’ve never met an executive who thought they were a poor leader. Most will say there is always room for improvement, but that they generally do a good job. And yet… we all know people who are poor leaders!
These leaders often feel that they know what should be done and how it should be done. So they adopt a “command and control” style of leadership, “guiding” the people around them. If they aren’t successful at getting their way they “pound” on them – basically ordering them to do what they say. I call it “using the hammer”.
This approach is appropriate for urgent situations or emergencies, but is rarely effective in most other circumstances. At best, when a leader takes this approach, they simply get compliance from their people. At worst, they elicit passive-aggressive behavior. And to compound matters, the results gained form compliance are weak compared to those gained by a committed workforce.
In essence, they’re treating adults like children. This style of leadership demonstrates that they don’t trust or respect those around them. It shows that they don’t value them as professionals and it generally causes disengagement. Micromanaging is a common variation of this style of leadership.
If a leader really wants to bring out the best in people, he or she needs to treats adults like adults and professionals like professionals. Effective leaders learn how to influence and persuade people to buy into their ideas and suggestions. Effective leaders give people autonomy, allowing them to do their work in their own way.
That’s not to say that these leaders accept mediocrity. Far from it. In fact, this approach – when done correctly – allows a leader to hold people more accountable and it allows them to hold people to a higher standard of performance.
Besides, taking this approach doesn’t take away any power from the leader. A leader always reserves the right to use “the hammer” and tell someone exactly what he or she wants done. It should only be used when a leader’s powers of influence fall short and/or when someone’s judgment is flawed. A leader always has the prerogative of dictating what should be done and how it should be done. But using the hammer is a last resort when nothing else works.
Everyone feels they have something to contribute and want to be heard. The key to bringing out the best in people is to value and respect them. Eliciting excellence is the essence of exceptional leadership.
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