Leslie Ungar, The Inner Brilliance of Electric Impulse, Inc.

Sweat the Right Small Stuff

Leslie’s Articles

10 Steps to Avoid the Achilles Heels of Leadership

I disagree with the well-known book title, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. Sweat the Small Stuff: just make sure it is the Right Small Stuff. This is the second installment of the series, 7 Achilles Heels of Today’s Leaders. The first article outlined behaviors leaders unknowingly demonstrate that hurt their own value and hurt their organization:

  • The need to be the sole point person
  • Public flogging/private apology
  • Demonstrate inconsistent leadership
  • Stop envisioning a newer future
  • Don’t engage team members on frequent basis from all levels of organizational chart
  • You stop believing the rules of communication to apply to you
  • Have no honest mirror who can be honest

“It is not enough to merely know, one must know and do”, said Napoleon Hill. Now that you know the 7 Achilles heels, what do you do with this knowledge? The real question is how to use communication and leadership to “do”.

The following are 10 steps that you as a 21st century leader can take to prevent your Achilles heel from showing.

1. Become diligent in being strategic. The value of 21st century leaders lives in their ability to be strategic. You can’t afford to be pulled into the tactical, “the how”. Your value lives in identifying “the what”: what the future will look like. If Detroit’s leaders had concentrated on the “what” 50 years ago, would the car industry be hurting? Were they focused on the “how”, how to make cars rather than the “what”, the vision of the future?

2. Look at your organizational chart in two ways: who is above and below you. Use your communication skills to build relationships with those you identify as possessing value. Leaders build relationships with both those above and below them for different reasons, but build relationships just the same.

3. Understand and implement this principle about your team members: it’s about the “fit”. It is less about competency and more about how a person fits into your company and team culture. If you lead with this approach it will eliminate later behavior that may expose your Achilles heel.

4. Identify, mentor, and promote next generation leadership. Leaders need to be proactive in this area. Gen X and Gen Y are impatient to move forward in their careers. Address this issue so you can retain the star power you will need in a few years.

5. Have and exert the ability to identify and embrace your own strengths as a leader. Your value now may be different than what got you there.

6. Establish and stick to a personal and professional policy for feedback to be given in private. This policy needs to apply to you and your team. You can’t follow this policy 50% or 75% of the time; it has to be 100%. As in all communication, whether or not content is considered flogging is decided by the audience not by the speaker.

7. Your job as leader is to give negative feedback and keep the person moving forward not sliding backward or spinning. Ignoring bad behavior is not the answer. Sometimes companies just move people rather than confront their problematic behavior. Use communication to address issues before the issues or the person become too big.

8. You need more than your own perception. You need the “honest mirror”. In fact, you need multiple honest mirrors. Ask. Ask those below, your peers, and those above for feedback. Feedback is verbal gold. Even better than gold because it benefits you over and over again. Negative feedback is still verbal gold. Once you hear the feedback you adjust and move forward.

9. Embrace the mindset that your #1 job is to communicate with clarity. Clarity is decided by the audience not by the speaker, even if you are a CEO. Wield “the scalpel of clarity” mercilessly to protect your message and your value.

10.  Be consistent. Like the invisible fence your job is to be consistent. You can’t over-shock your people, nor let them through the fence with no consequence.

How do you know if your Achilles heel is showing? How do you know that you are strategic rather than tactical, that you are not guilty of public flogging, that you are taking feedback as verbal gold, you are using the scalpel of clarity?

Not even the President of the United States can be his own honest mirror. That’s why he has a First Lady.