Many professionals in business, from startups to multi-nationals, assume that team leader or executive is an appointed position, and the skills come with the title. In reality, leadership is best demonstrated while not in a position of authority, and is a skill that must be sharpened every day of your life.
Most experts agree that leadership, as perceived by people around you, is more about behavior than it is about specific skills or knowledge. Darryl Rosen, in the classic book “Table for Three?” illustrates this with humor for each of fifty dumb mistakes that smart managers don’t make. The leadership one is setting a poor example by your own actions (“Do as I say, not as I do.”)
His rendition, including the following seven examples of poor leadership behavior, that I have seen all too often in startups, illustrate how your actions affect others around you:
Blame others for everything. An entrepreneur’s passion for an idea often prompts them to blame others or external events for setbacks, rather than themselves, so that they can maintain some semblance of self-esteem and control. This “attributional bias” may be understandable, but is perceived by associates as poor leadership.
Worry and fret about everything. Precious little of what we worry and fret about ever happens, so don’t share every concern with associates. At best, it comes across as lack of confidence, or more likely sounds likely trying to make excuses for possible later failures. Team members want leaders who calm their worries, not amplify them.
Criticize others and the company. Managers who speak critically of team members, customers, friends or family members, have something going on within them that needs to be examined. There is some aspect of self that they find unacceptable. Real leaders are recognized as willing to look in the mirror, and learn from what they see.
Complain about being overwhelmed. Overwhelm is a feeling that always precedes growth, and is a state in which your brain is developing new pathways and connections. Starting a business or a new organization will always cause self-doubt and insecurity. Real leaders embrace and manage these feelings, rather than complain to associates.
Do 10 things at a time in a mediocre fashion. Entrepreneurs or managers who claim to be able to do multiple things at a time must never use this as an excuse for poor quality. Associates will quickly conclude that mediocrity is good enough. Even one task done with mediocrity can be the kiss of death for any business, or any career.
Appear disorganized and manage things haphazardly. Doing things haphazardly is prone to mistakes. In business, when you are making mistakes, it’s costing you time and money. With associates, making mistakes will cost you in productivity and morale, and will kill their image of you as a leader. Worse yet, associates will follow your example.
Fail to see the positives in others. The key here is to maintain a positive mindset. Leadership is all about finding positives, for business growth, for competitive advantage, and people development in your organization. Managers and entrepreneurs need everyone in their organization accentuating the positive, not amplifying the negatives.
Leadership and improvement is about taking small steps forward, and evolving just a bit each day. Think evolution, not revolution. Anyone can change one behavior a month, or eliminate one mistake, and suddenly you too can be an “overnight success.”
Of course, correcting leadership mistakes is only the beginning. There are at least 49 other ways to go wrong in navigating workplace relationships, problem-solving approaches, time management, credibility, and business effectiveness. How many have you avoided recently in your startup?