Do you have Leadership Illusions?

Q&A Monday turned upside down today – as I have a question for YOU: Do you have Leadership Illusions?
The following is based on a fascinating article by Prof. Warrick from the University of Colorado, which you can read in full length here.
Just like a genie in a bottle can’t read the label, you as a leader have blind spots. And yes, also any other human has blind spots, but yours as a leader have quite some implications. Not even talking about decreased trust, engagement and performance… if you’re one of the worst leaders, you actually might be shorten the lives of your employees.

Three Degrees of Leadership Illusions

These blind spots cause leadership illusions, which means you might see things differently than they really are. On one end of the spectrum Warrick say you’ll find the “Narcissistic Leaders“:
“Narcissistic leaders are leaders who tend to be know-it-all, egotistical, overly-confident leaders who have an inflated and unrealistic view of their capabilities and how they are perceived.”
They think they’re the best and don’t care much about the rest. They don’t invite ideas and opinions from others, because of course they have the best ideas and they’re always right. Feedback is sought out very selectively. 
On the other end of the spectrum you’ll have the “Mostly Aware Leaders“. 
“Mostly aware leaders are leaders who have a high level of self-awareness as well as an awareness of what is going on that impacts their effectiveness.”
In contrast to the Narcissistic Leaders they invite feedback and ideas from others and take an interest in what’s going on around them. They genuinely care about others and work to create a safe space for open and honest communication.
In between you have the “Moderately Aware Leaders“.
“Moderately aware leaders are well intended leaders who have a good but not great sense of self-awareness and awareness of what is going on.”
They could benefit from seeking feedback more actively and creating more opportunities for others to share their perspectives and ideas. Sometimes they may come across at not interested or unknowingly discourage open communication.

Assess Yourself

Warrick suggests that there are ten main patterns that lead to Leadership Illusions. Use the questions below to honestly reflect on whether you might have fallen into one of these patterns:
  1. Do you have a leadership style that discourages openness and feedback? Do you sometimes act before fully understanding an issue? Are you inviting others to share their ideas enough? Are you making it (explicitly or implicitly) clear that your employees better not be open and honest in their feedback towards you?
  2. Do you assume that you know more than you actually do? Are you checking your assumptions frequently? Do you sometimes tend to be overly confident and strongly opinionated? Do you express your thoughts before you listen to others? 
  3. Are your personal blind spots going unchecked? Going back to question number one here… the best way to not know about our blind spots is to ignore or prevent feedback from others.
  4. Are your knowledge, thinking and beliefs flawed? Are you focused on knowing more than learning? Do you shy away from admitting to and correcting gaps?
  5. Are you out-of-touch with reality? Or are you up-to-date with the latest topics in your team, best practices in your field and future trends? Are you busy being busy or do you take time to check yourself and your surroundings?
  6. Do you understand how important it is to seek out trusted advisers? Seeking wise counsel before making decisions is valuable to think these decisions and their implications through.
  7. Do you understand the value of good listening skills? This is more than not dominating the conversation, but truly listening and asking more questions before making a statement.
  8. Might you be listening to the wrong people? Do you seek information and counsel from people with ulterior motives?
  9. Do you have someone who challenges your convictions and personal agenda? Are you listening? 
  10. Are you behaving just as badly as your peers? Is someone helping your organisation’s leaders to develop? Have your surrendered to a dysfunctional culture?

How to Avoid Leadership Illusions

To counter the negative effects of Leadership Illusions, Warrick recommends ten strategies:
1.   Develop a leadership style that encourages open and candid communications. 
2.   Encourage and solicit helpful and accurate feedback.
3.   Seek involvement, collaboration, and wise counsel before making important  decisions.
4.   Listen more than you talk, use speech that encourages open dialogue, and learn to  be discerning about who can be trusted to give candid and objective information.
5.   Check out assumptions before assuming they are accurate. 
6.   Develop and continuously improve an effective communication system. 
7.   Plan ways to stay in-touch, engaged, and involved, and do regular reality checks. 
8.   Develop an organized way to stay up-to-date and skilled at what you do.
9.   Involve the appropriate people in building a healthy, high performance organization  and culture.
10.   [Seek] training, consulting, or coaching.
Putting effort into these ideas can increase your awareness and so decrease Leadership Illusions. The result is a healthy, high-performing team and organisation that thrives even in times of change.
Have a great, illusion-free week,
PS: Got a question you’d like me to answer? Email me!