Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Courageous Leader, Cautious Team Paradox Part I


Mary is a strong leader.  She approaches everything with confidence and determination.  She makes a point to lead by example by modeling a positive attitude and a zero tolerance for failure.  Mary's team sees that she has a high degree of self-esteem, enjoys being involved and thrives on taking risks and tackling challenges head on.

But Mary has a puzzling problem.  She is a courageous leader with a cautious team.  She struggles to make sense of their lack of enthusiasm and initiative.  How can she do anything more than what she is already doing by putting on display the kind of go-getter, confident achiever she expects them to be?

Mary is certainly not alone in this frustrating scenario.  An inability to rally their troops is a common complaint we hear from leaders.  They are dismayed at the amount of work they take on because their team appears to be asleep at the wheel, or rarely taking it out of first gear.

Mary wonders if the only solution is to lower her expectations and continue to rely only on herself to drive the team.  She is beginning to believe that stepping up when no one else will is what defines leadership. 

This line of self-questioning is a crucial crossroad for leaders.  The breakneck pace of business seems to imply that the path of quickest gain is the road best taken.  This flawed belief explains the widespread yet ineffective "done right, do it myself" leadership mentality.
These leaders are making a crucial mistake.

By merely expecting their own enthusiasm, initiative, and creativity to catch on via modeling, they've unwittingly done one of three things:

1) Enabled their team to become lazy and dependent by a lack of accountability.

2) Failed to get to the bottom of why their team lacks energy and purpose.  Often, we see talented employees languishing because they are assigned tasks within their skill level but outside their interests.  Just because we do something well doesn't mean we want to be doing it.

3) Sent an unspoken message to the team that they are a one man show and the rest of them are non-essential.  Team members begin to disengage simply because they cannot keep pace with their driving style or continually fail to measure up to unrealistic expectations. 

In their book, Primal Leadership, Goleman, McKee and Boyatzis defined this third leadership mistake as part of the downside of a "Pacesetting" leadership style.  "The phrase that best describes the operating mode of the pacesetting leader is "Do as I do, now."  One of the perks of the Pacesetting style is they are quick to get results.  On the other hand, they are just as quick to burn through people.

Employees are often overwhelmed by the speed and demands placed upon them, resulting in rapidly eroding morale.  "The pace under this leadership style is so quick that instructions may not even be clear. And to make matters worse, the leader has no patience for those that need to learn or are not picking up new work fast enough," says Goleman, McKee and Boyatzis.

While leading by example is indeed a crucial component of successful leadership, this method alone is not sufficient to ignite engagement or build the catalyst ingredients of star performance - CONFIDENCE, ACCOUNTABILITY, and MOTIVATION MATCHING.  We're going to focus on the confidence component.

Leaders often overlook the significant influence a sense of confidence has on the performance, or lack thereof, of their team members.  This cause and effect, confidence to performance relationship has been largely misunderstood.  Thought to be something yielded primarily from in born personality, observation or inspiration, leaders are often puzzled why their high drive and fearless attitude doesn't catch on. 

Paradoxically, some of the most hard-hitting, self-assured leaders produce the weakest teams.  They cast long shadows, a tempting place for their team to hide.  Certainly, confidence can be air-borne contagious, but merely being in the presence of a strong spirited leader produces only temporary esteem building effects.  Because at its core, self-assurance is a belief system, true confidence must be infused and internalized to have real, long lasting effects.  One cannot merely feel it, they must BELIEVE it. 

So what exactly is confidence?  Confidence is defined as self-assurance or a belief in one's ability to succeed.  A confident person is made, not born.  Our level of self-confidence is impacted daily by our actions and the response from those around us.  As such, it requires development and nourishment to realize its full potential.

Employees with a high degree of confidence demonstrate APPROACH instead of avoidance behavior with new tasks, consistently produce high quality work, and resist the urge to let failure define or restrict them.


Through a series of targeted, ongoing developmental exercises, leaders can build individual as well as team confidence.  You might just find yourself with a "new" team, without the hassle of costly staffing changes.

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