What keeps leaders from being flexible and from having the ability to change a tactic that is not working? I imagine that there are cases when the difficulty comes down to intelligence, but that hasn’t been the number one problem that I see with our leadership.
The problem that haunts many leaders and holds them back from either accomplishing their vision, connecting on an authentic level or being able to learn from their mistakes is the rigidity of their ego.
When we over-identify with what we do, and we think that we are entitled to our own awesomeness, then we set ourselves up for a terrible kind of failure. Usually it takes on tragic proportions.
In the play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, the main character is given many opportunities to see that he is the cause of his city’s suffering (namely that he killed his father and is sleeping with his mother), but he refuses to accept this on the basis that he is awesome. (That’s paraphrased from the ancient Greek…)
Take away the patricide and the incest, and you have a pretty good description of the problem hounding many of the leaders of large organizations. One could argue that it was their huge egos that got them into the position in the first place, and they would most likely be correct. (In fact, Oedipus wouldn’t even have become king of Thebes and his mother’s husband had he not thought that he could escape his fate.)
What can be done?
1. Remember your big picture goal: It is hard to hold onto your ego when you are thinking of the big picture. If you think that you are the big picture, well, then that may be your problem. Leaders who are trying to do good things but are held up by their egos are usually in that position because they think they are the only ones who can do it. It helps if you surround yourself with people who are willing to tell you that you are going down the wrong path. Which leads us to number two…
2. Listen: This is probably the most important skill any leader can have, but it only counts if you are open to what you are hearing. Listening for the facts that you agree with and disregarding the rest is bad news for you and for your company.
3. Be authentic: If we live in an ego-filled world, then we are probably trying to control how everyone is seeing us in that moment. The more we let go of trying to control how people perceive us, the freer we are to be ourselves. Daniel Goleman writes a great deal about the power and resonance of authenticity as does Kerry Bunker from Center for Creative Leadership. If you want to have more influence and ability to persuade people to follow your vision, learn to let down your guard and be…
4. Vulnerable: The willingness of a leader to admit when he/she is wrong or to be open to a different idea is one powerful way to win over your team, company and consumers. It doesn’t have to be an episode of Oprah
(although she’s awesome)
but it does have to come from a genuine place.
Stop banging your head against the wall and start making a difference. Get a coach or a close friend to speak the truth to you and help you let go of the false belief that you have to know everything.
(Because that doesn’t always work out for the best…)