8 Ways to Know if You Are a Great Leader

January 2, 2016

You may be a good leader, or possibly a great leader, or you may be an awful leader. One thing is clear: your own opinion of your worth as a leader is not to be trusted.

In my consulting work, I have met numerous people in leadership positions who believe they are way above average only to find out that they are not at all living up to people’s expectations or certainly to their own potential.

I have studied the traits of leaders for over 30 years and read enough books to put Rip Van Winkle to sleep. I have studied leadership from the inside out and the outside in.

This education has led me to conclude that there are signposts or primary indicators of people who are elite leaders.

It is fine to take the endless stream of leadership surveys, but you can be fooled. I became weary with taking 3-4 different surveys each year in the corporate world, because many of them had major flaws and often missed the true essence of leadership.

I got so fed up that I made up my own leadership survey that has been used by thousands of people. But any survey has the flaw of being either filled out by the person being measured, or some 360 degree sample of people within the leader’s circle.

While the surveys can sort out the worst of the worst or give adequate leaders a false sense of security, I think the eight indicators listed below are more useful and easier to decipher.

Do you want to know if you are a great leader? Answer these eight questions honestly.

1. Are you a magnet for high potential people?

Great leaders are so much fun to be around and to work for that the very best people are clamoring for a chance to work for them. If you are leading an organization where good people are looking to leave, then the signal is clear as a bell.

Do not read this wrong. Good leaders can be found in all kinds of situations, many of which are very stressful or unpleasant, but the smart people stay with them because they are learning and growing despite the ordeals. Great leaders are eternally passionate about developing people (including themselves).

2. Are you having the most fun of your life?

Poor leaders struggle against the demands of the job. They are constantly on guard because everything needs to be optimized to work perfectly. They sense that people are ready to pounce on any misstep, so they worry about exactly how to spin any piece of news.

Great leaders are relaxed and having a ball just being themselves and performing at a high rate without fretting about being perfect. They are more focused on growing other leaders and doing what they believe is right.

When they make a misstep, they learn from it and move on. Great leaders are happy people, while poor leaders are bundles of nerves!

3. Do you live the values at all times?

It is amazing how so many leaders have taken the time to document the values for their organization, but when asked point blank if they follow those values every day, end up stammering something like, “well, we always try to do that.”

If circumstances or short term urgencies cause leaders to waffle and rationalize behaviors that are not consistent with the values, people see the hypocrisy and know the lofty words are good for when conditions are right, but not for everyday pressures. Hogwash!

The cauldron of every crisis and urgency is precisely when it is most important to model the values. Great leaders know and do this.

4. Do you continually invest in higher trust?

Trust is the lubricant that allows organizations to work amid the cacophony of seemingly conflicting friction and priorities. Real trust is influenced by the behaviors of the top leader more than any other single factor in an organization.

You would be surprised at how few leaders are able to step up to this ultimate reality. They would rather blame the workers, supervisors, customers, economy, the government, or hundreds of other factors rather than themselves for the problems they face.

The great leaders know trust depends on them and invest in it every single moment without failure.

5. Do you readily admit mistakes?

This one is a kind of acid test. In all my seminars, I ask if admitting an honest mistake builds or reduces respect for a leader. Nearly 100% of people agree that admitting mistakes increases respect.

The only caveat is that the mistake cannot be something done for a sinister intent or for repeated mistakes.

Since the vast majority of mistakes occur because things did not work out as we had intended, then admitting mistakes should be a no brainer.

Unfortunately, when the chips are down, few leaders actually have the capability to admit the mistake and instead try to find ways to deflect culpability.

In other words, most leaders often do what they intellectually know is the action that lowers respect.

6. Do you listen deeply?

Most leaders consider themselves good listeners. Unfortunately, the majority of leaders do a very poor job of listening. They are leaders, and that means they need to lead conversations and actions.

The true test of this is to monitor your verbal output as a percentage of the amount of listening you do. If your words going out are around 30% of what is coming in, then you are probably in good shape.

If you observe most leaders, their verbal output is around 3-4 times their listening. Great leaders pause!

7. Do you build a truly genuine reinforcing culture?

All leaders know that they can encourage more of a particular behavior if it is reinforced. Unfortunately many leaders fail to achieve a culture at all levels where people praise the efforts and successes of others.

The rules of good reinforcement are well known, but many leaders exude a kind of plastic reinforcement that is manipulative in its intent, and people see through the ploy instantly.

Oh, they will bask in the glow while drinking the Kool-aid, but they sense the insincerity underneath, so the reinforcement often creates a negative tone inside.

8. Do you hold people accountable the right way?

In nearly all organizations, holding people accountable is a kind of “gotcha” activity where the person in charge reiterates the expectation followed by a scolding and how it is necessary to do better in the future.

The dilemma is that most people, on most days, are doing good or excellent work, yet they are held “accountable” only when they mess up.

If we changed the paradigm such that people were held accountable for the positive things as well as the shortcomings, it would change the entire equation. I call this skill “holding people procountable.”

There are literally thousands of leadership behaviors that make up the total performance characteristics for any leader.

I believe if you can honestly answer “YES!” to all eight of the above questions, you are one of the elite leaders of our time. Congratulations!

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Actions That Enable Higher Trust

October 10, 2015

My Leadergrow Trust Model has a set of what I call “Enabling Actions.” These behaviors are different from the “Table Stakes” I discussed last week.

If a leader does not possess one of the “Enabling Actions” it doesn’t disqualify him or her completely, but it does hinder the process of achieving maximum trust.

With the “Enabling Actions,” the more you can practice them the more trust you can build within your group.

There are an infinite number of enabling actions. Let me mention a few as examples to illustrate:

• do what you say you’re going to do,
• admit mistakes,
• coach people in private rather than berate them in public, and
• act in the interest of others.

The list of possible “Enabling Actions” is really endless, and the more you can practice these behaviors the more consistently you will build trust.

Since organizational trust is created mostly by the behavior of leaders, it is useful to have a list of the kinds of leadership behaviors that are most effective at building trust.

Once again, the specific “Enabling Actions” would be specific to a particular industry and workplace although the majority of them will apply everywhere.

If I’m working in a law office, the enabling actions might be different from a group of executives running a garbage collection company. The distinguishing factor for “Enabling Actions” is that their absence does not prevent any trust; it simply limits the level of trust that is achievable.

Exercise for today: Take out a sheet of paper and work with your team to develop a list of 12 to 20 trust enabling actions in your environment. You will find this brainstorming activity to be easy, and it may lead to some interesting discussions about trust in your organization.

The enabling actions are extremely important, because the more you can identify them and practice them the higher trust you can achieve in your group. Make sure to keep brainstorming ideas for how to add more enabling actions to your list.

The preceding was derived from an episode in “Building Trust,” a 30 part video series by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.” To view three short (3 minutes each) examples at no cost go to http://www.avanoo.com/first3/517


Engagement and Empowerment

November 25, 2012

Engagement and empowerment are two words that get tossed around organizations and OD circles. These words are often confused. I have heard the terms used interchangeably, which is a mistake. The best way to demonstrate the difference between these words is to contrast two scenarios. I will focus on a specific job (customer service representative) for the description, but you can easily extrapolate the concepts to any job once the distinction is clear.

Engaged but not Empowered

Here the customer service person is fully on board with the goals of the organization. She knows her job and wants to help the customer. Unfortunately, she is constrained by numerous rules that tie her hands from fully providing service. For example, she may not be able to issue a refund until the incorrect merchandise has been returned and verified to be in good shape. She may have to get “approval” from a superior to authorize a shipping waiver. There can be numerous administrative hurdles that keep this engaged customer service employee from having the power to execute her job to the satisfaction of her customer. If she is talking to a customer with a faulty chain saw, she might say, “That is a shame you are having a problem with your chain saw. I need you to take the saw in to one of our service centers in your area to verify this is not an operator type of problem before I can have you send it to me and get you a replacement saw.”

Empowered but not Engaged

In this case, the customer service rep has the power to do anything she thinks is useful, but this particular person is not connected well to the business goals. She really does not care if the organization does well; all she wants to do is make the customer feel great. In this case, when a customer complains about his chain saw not working properly, she might say, “Oh I am sorry you have had that problem. Let me send you a full replacement chain saw, and I will also include a carrying case (valued at $60) and some coupons for 6 free chains (valued at $80 total).”

It is obvious that neither of these conditions is the best situation for the employee and the organization. We need to have employees who are fully engaged in the business and fully empowered to accomplish their tasks.

Let us take a look at the impact of these two words on the viability of an organization.

Engagement

In “Smart Trust,” Stephen M.R. Covey reported on some research showing that in the average company there are only two engaged employees for every one disengaged employee. In this case, much of the inherent power of the individuals is leaking out and not available to the organization. Contrast that situation with world class organizations where there are nine engaged employees for every one disengaged employee. You can see the huge difference, and that difference goes quickly to the bottom line.

Having people engaged in the business means having them truly understand the vision for the organization and fully comprehend their role in making that happen. Beyond understanding, to be fully engaged, a worker needs to be fully committed to accomplishing her role, not just involved in the work. Someone once said that the difference between involvement and commitment is like the difference between eggs and bacon. In the case of the eggs, the chicken was involved; in the case of the bacon, the pig was committed!

Empowerment

Empowerment is more closely related to trust. Employees bring their own internal level of empowerment and confidence in their abilities to do their jobs. Managers can increase empowerment through clear communication and a trust-building management style. Unfortunately, managers can decrease an employee’s empowerment and confidence level through negative communication or too many restrictions.

The extent to which people engage their personal power for the benefit of the organization, and the level of freedom they are given to do things right, will determine the level of empowerment experienced by the organization. In OD circles, we use the term “maximum discretionary effort.” The goal of empowerment activities is to solicit maximum discretionary effort from all people. How can we accomplish that in the real world?

First, it is important to realize that what empowers me is probably somewhat different from what empowers you. For an organization to obtain the highest level of empowerment, there needs to be a matching effort between each individual and the conditions that will create a culture that extracts maximum discretionary effort for that person. It sounds complicated, but it is really a process of knowing the people who work for you.

The secret sauce to create a culture of higher empowerment is trust. As trust increases, people naturally feel more empowered because they are allowed to make decisions based on a firm understanding of the goals, but they can accomplish those goals in their own unique way.

Try to avoid mixing the concepts of empowerment and engagement. They are two very different concepts, although they sound almost the same. Seek to obtain both of them through the liberal application of trusting behaviors, and you will experience the best effort that people have to offer.