Is Your Leader Supporting Or Screwing You Up?
I feel that a lot of us tend to fall into the trap of assuming ourselves to be good leaders. In reality, we’re not. Good leaders are made, not born. It is similar to parenting. Everyone has the capacity to be a parent, but not everyone wants to be a parent, and it is definitely not the case that everyone should be a parent. On the same train of thought, everyone has the capacity to be a leader, but not everyone wants to be a leader and it is definitely not the case that everyone should be a leader. We can be a parent or a leader, by intention or not, but we need to learn how to be a good one. The difference is drastic. It goes 2 ways.
We either support the people around us, or we end up screwing them up.
One of the telltale signs of a bad leader is the narcissistic thinking that we can raise another being when we haven’t raised ourselves. Like almost everything else in the world, we need to practise a skillset to be good at it. It applies the same for leadership too. Often, we fall into the misconception that after a certain promotion or recognition, we immediately become a good leader. Without any form of exposure in practising leadership, we assume good leadership to be teaching people how to do it our way because we do know how to do it better than our peers or colleagues as what we did was what got us to where we are. So, we micro-manage.
The main implication that comes with micro-managing every little detail is that we grossly underestimate our teammates’ capability to grow.
The truth is none of us want to be shepherded into any area. We don’t want to be managed. We want to be led. We want to be given a little bit of leeway. We want to have some form of freedom to take risks. Yet at the same time, we are not trusted to do so. A good leader is someone who bridges that credibility gap by providing a margin of safety in having our backs. If our parents are constantly holding our hands while we clown around the playground, we will never learn to take a fall.
What makes this situation even more outrageous is that some parents are doing so to fulfil their egoic need to feel complete about themselves, that they’ve done an excellent job in keeping their kids perfectly fine.
This analogy replicates itself in the workforce too. From time to time, we see people in leadership roles spending more time protecting themselves than actually doing their own job. I argue that someone who is in a leadership role cannot simply keep their head under the radar, just want to get through the day and receive a paycheck. It is in conflict with their role in creating a trusting environment for their teammates to feel courageous enough to deliver results. Matters get worse if they need to keep a folder of all the good things they’ve done in a position of their leadership role just in case they need it to protect themselves from their own leaders. In a fast-paced algorithmic world, where success is often measured on such a short term basis, there is a huge tendency for these leaders to focus on metrics and measurables, as it is much easier to convey their value to the company this way. Then, we start to prioritise a number over a person.
The issue is, we can’t plot a graph and say that trust has increased from this specific moment to that specific day.
I believe we often think that as leaders, we are responsible for results. However, we may be mistaken. As leaders, we should be responsible for the people that are responsible for the results. When we put a good person in a bad environment, that particular person will do bad things. When you put a bad person in a good environment, that particular person will do good things. A good leader is responsible for setting up the support system that fosters trust, and it cannot be developed conditionally through control or fear. We don’t want our parents to constantly hold our hands when we play. We want to know that if we happen to fall, they will always be there to pick us up. Similarly, we don’t want our leaders to micro manage us.
We want to know that if we happen to run into any difficulties, they will be there to lead us on the proper path.
No doubt, it is an extremely difficult task to be a leader. Just think about how we were raised by our parents, and I’m sure we can easily pinpoint some of the things they’ve done wrong. On the other hand, I’m certain we can also identify some vague incidents that allowed us to say that we trust them overtime. The takeaway is that it is an accumulation of the daily little things our parents have done for us that made us feel this way towards them. It is not about intensity, it is about consistency. A two day off-site with a bunch of speakers and certificates does not promise good leaders.
Similarly, two individuals with a bunch of raging hormones and a birth certificate does not promise good parents.
What we can do in developing good leadership skills is to start looking after the person to the left and right of us. It can be a family member, a friend or a colleague. We have to begin somewhere. If we are able to take care of the people around us and practice it as a skillset, we will then be able to deploy it at a higher level with more empathy. How we can do so is to try and treat people exactly the way they’d want to be treated, exactly the way we would want to be treated. If we screwed up one of our examinations or a job task, we would want to be reprimanded one-on-one behind closed doors. If we did something good, we want to be praised and recognised in front of as many people as possible, even if it is just one person.
When we learn to care, and not pretend to care, we are taking a step closer to creating the environment that allows great things to happen.
It is only when such values and processes are set in place, then we can go about with that little mad scientist twinge in our eyes. It is in these moments when we feel safe by the assurance of good leadership, then we start to really deliver absolutely astonishing results. Instead of sliding down the conventional way in our favourite playground, we start to experiment leaping from higher heights off the platform. Instead of keeping out of trouble and delivering the bare minimum for our projects, we start to find out ways to make it better. This is the influence of good leadership, and all of us have the power to make such decisions that positively impact the lives of every other human being around us.