Increasing Skills Doesn’t Make a Good Leader

by Ron Potter

The thought behind this blog was from an article on Entrepreneur.com.  Here is the list they developed as they talked about increasing leadership skills.  I agree with the list but the short paragraph after each one is based on my learning and experiences.

Trust is not automatic

Many leaders believe they are leaders because of their position or accomplishments.  Neither one makes you a good leader.  In fact, many people in the position of power on the corporate ladder are there because of their accomplishments.  For the most part, corporations aren’t very good at measuring leadership skills, but they’re very good at measuring accomplishments.  Accomplishments are seen and identified and can be checked off on a spreadsheet.  Leadership is a long-term game.  The rewards of great leadership may be seen in the short term, but will really happen over the long-term.

Kindness is underrated

The article identifies this as conscious kindness.  It shows or demonstrates how members of the team should treat each other.  I would also suggest that it goes beyond team members.  This can make a huge difference with customer-facing people.  Kindness sets a cultural standard that can be seen and experienced throughout the corporation.

I was playing golf with a group of friends and we were visiting a new course for the first time.  Our experience can be summed up as rudeness.  The clerk behind the counter was rude.  The starter was rude.  The rangers were rude.  We found out later that the course had been built by a wealthy person who considered it his private course and outside players were considered as intrusions.  The course is no longer in existence.

A word of caution.  Many people view kindness as never saying a “disparaging” word.  There is an old song titled Home on the Range recorded by many artists including John Denver, the muppets, and others.  Two lines of the lyrics are

Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day

Having uncloudy skies all day can be wonderful but will also create many long term problems.  Rain is often needed.  Seldom hearing a discouraging word can also be wonderful but will also create long-term problems.  Honest criticism is often needed.  The interesting part is that criticism can be done in a very kind way with some practice.

I once worked with a leader who was certainly the “non-discouraging” type.  He was one of the kindest people I had ever met.  But his team would say to me, “I just wish I knew where I stand!”  When I asked for an explanation, they would say, “Our leader is so nice that I never hear one word of criticism.  That can’t be realistic.  “I just wish I knew where I stand.”

Be kind in your honesty.

Words are meaningless

Over the last several years I’ve been asked what I think of one President or another.  After figuring how to answer that question with kind honesty, I settled on the following approach.

I always say:  Watch what he does rather than listen to what he says.  This is another way of stating the old adage, “Action speaks louder than words.”

Again, some personal experience with another leader.  She would always say what she thought the recipient wanted to hear, regardless of what actions she would later take.  She thought it was kindness.  The people who worked for her saw it as a reason not to trust what she said.

Status quo is safe

IBM has lost much of the luster that it once had.  But during the years when I was dealing with IT departments, there was a saying that “Purchasing IBM equipment is always safe.”  Meaning that they could tell their leader that they had purchased IBM and the leaders would assume the best decision had been made.  Or at the very minimum, they would not criticize or fire the IT person for making the IBM decision.  It was safe!  It just wasn’t very innovative.

Power trips happen

As a father, I never wanted to resort to the words “Because I said so!” with my children.  Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how many times I violated that goal.  Power trips do happen, but in my book “Trust Me” the number one trait of trusted leaders is humility.  People know if it was a momentary power trip or a built-in trait.  Avoid power trips if you can.  Honestly apologize if they do happen.

Not everyone stays

One CEO I worked with said, “So you’ll show me who to fire from my current team?”  My answer was NO.  If you turn into a trustworthy leader, change the team and culture to match, people will self-select out.  People who don’t want to make the effort to follow the guidelines identified above, won’t stay.  They will seek an environment that allows them to ignore the guidelines above.

Look at each of the guidelines above.  How are you doing?  Each one takes discipline, growth, and a true belief that these traits will make a wonderful leader.

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