In the last blog post (How to Avoid the Most Common Error Leaders Make When Setting Goals) I recommended you set a goal that you were absolutely passionate about achieving, one that you most likely do not know how to achieve. I am also going to challenge you to write it down and post it somewhere where you will see it multiple times each day. If you do this, you will find that you will have one of three experiences as you review your goal:
You will find yourself thinking about how to make it happen.
You will ignore the goal because you cannot figure out how to make it happen.
You will start hiding the goal because people keep asking you what it’s all about – and you are embarrassed because of #2.
Most people would not say they are ‘ignoring’ the goal. We just get very busy with all the urgent matters that we already DO know how to do. The end result is the same though – we lose focus on the important because we are preoccupied with the here and now.
What about hiding your goal from others because you’re embarrassed? It is natural for human beings to only want to focus on goals they know how to achieve. In fact, most of us don’t like having questions that we do not have the answer to. We certainly do not want to bring attention to the fact that we do not know how to achieve our goals! However, it is been our experience that success in life is has more to do with asking the right questions than having all the right answers. In fact, you can almost always find the right answer once you have asked the right question!
The key is to know what questions to ask – and who to ask those questions to. And that brings us to Leadership Deadly Sin #2.
Deadly Sin #2: Solicit feedback from people just like you.
One of the consistent challenges we find with leaders is that when they set a goal, or experience a challenge that they are not sure how to resolve, they either do not ask for advice or they ask for advice from the wrong people.
You may ask: Why would a successful leader have a tendency not to want to ask for advice? Most people will go to great lengths to give the impression that they know what they are doing. In addition to this, there is the socially accepted vision of a leader being a strong individual who always seems to have all the answers. So the idea of admitting you don’t have all the answers flies in the face of all socially accepted norms of leadership. It is been our experience (and the research bears this out) that the most exceptional leaders are humble individuals that admit when they don’t have all the answers. (At the very least those are the types of leaders almost everyone would prefer to work with.)
Who should you seek advice from?
When leaders do seek out advice, they tend to seek it out from people who are just like them. Now, I do not mean that they only seek advice from other leaders. What I mean is that they tend to seek the advice from leaders who approach challenges much the way they do.
Lets consider the example of an “accountability” or “task” focused leader. Let’s also assume that this leader is struggling with the ‘engagement level’ of his employees. In many cases, the root cause of this challenge is that the leader is highly focused on holding employees accountable to reach their goals. What the leader may need to do is support her employees in the learning associated with the very behavior changes that would eventually drive results. It has been our experience thatan “accountability” focused leader will tend to seek advice from another leader who is also more accountability focused. Now, these two leaders will have a great conversation and will empathize with each other as to their people’s lack of engagement, but it is unlikely that either one will learn a lot from that conversation. In fact, what they will find is that their perspective has been validated by the other leader.
Conversely, consider the example of a leader has a more “supportive” or “people-oriented” view. This type of leader has a tendency to empathize with the people they are seeking to lead. The most common complaint from this type of leader is that his employees seem to ignore his ‘requests’ for increases in performance, In many cases, the root cause of this challenge is that the leader is so busy ‘empathizing’ with his people that he is not holding them accountable for the required behavior change. It has been our experience thata “supportive” leader will tend to seek advice from another leader who is also supportive. Now, these two leaders will have a great conversation and will empathize with each other as to their people’s lack of accountability, but it is unlikely that either one will learn a lot from a conversation. In fact, what they will find is that their perspective has been validated by the other leader.
Now, it does not take a rocket scientist to realize that the insight we require often resides with the people who have a different perspective than us. So why don’t we do it more often? Because when we ask someone for advice and they turn the ‘mirror of responsibility’ back on us, it makes us very uncomfortable. And so, we ignore them and seek the soft comfort of those who ‘understand’ the problem the way we see it.
As a leader, you need to seek out advice and input from people who are very different from you andyour leadership style. And these won’t be comfortable conversations. But they will drive you to look at things differently, change your perspective and you’ll learn from thedialogue.
So how about you?
Do you have a tendency to seek advice from people who are just like you? Or do you actively pursue dialogue with people whochallenge your perspective of the situation?
Here’s your next assignment:
Keep your goal posted where you’ll see it multiple times each day.
As you interact with other leaders in your organization, start asking them what you could do differently to move your group in the direction of that goal.
And, if you ask for advice from the right people – get ready for some pain.
Next we will look at how to make sure the team we seek to lead is focused on the right things.