If you are a successful leader who has moved up the organizational ladder quickly, you may have accomplished this while still having multiple behaviors, habits, and blind spots that limit your performance and your leadership. How is this possible? Well, success not only happens because of your behavior, success can also happen despite your behavior!
At some junction along any leader’s successful climb, an executive coach may be hired to partner with you to level up your performance. What surprises many people is, all of us – even extraordinarily successful leaders – have gaps and blind spots that stand in the way of reaching new levels of success.
Free Throw Dilemma
A sports analogy that comes to mind is Shaquille (Shaq) O’Neill, former professional basketball player with the LA Lakers/Miami Heat and currently, TV sports analyst.
While Shaq was one of the greatest basketball players of all time – he had one glaring “opportunity for development” that limited his potential – free throws. He could not shoot free throws to save his life. Now I think everyone would agree, regardless of whether Shaq was ever going to become proficient in free throw shooting – he was still going to be inducted into the basketball hall of fame. He was that good.
Many seasons went by, and Shaq never improved his gap area. But one season, NBA teams across the league began to take advantage of Shaq’s weakness by implementing a strategy called “Hack- a -Shaq” – a defensive strategy that involved committing intentional fouls for the purpose of lowering opponents’ scoring. Suddenly, Shaq’s gap became a much bigger team liability. Realizing his gap was now significantly impacting his team, Shaq spent his off-season time focused solely on honing his free throw skills. The following season, his improvement was evident. Shaq had become an even more complete player who his rivals could not so easily exploit.
In the Game of Leadership
Now, back to you. What are the behaviors that impede your performance? What habits have you not addressed that keep you from performing at your best?
Here is a list of ten issues that may be impeding your performance and interpersonal relationships in ways that you either are blind to, are minimizing, or simply have succumbed to – “this is just the way I am.”
- You withhold information. You know your excuses: “You’re too busy” to get back to someone with valuable information or you lack the thoughtfulness and empathy of thinking “Who else needs to know about this discussion?” as you walk out of a meeting. Or, you delegate to a direct report without making an effective request, failing to offer critical context or political landmines that would set them up for success. This bad habit is laced with thoughtlessness, but systemically, it can also be about control and power. Regardless, it is a habit that does not serve your leadership or others.
- You fail to have gratitude. Start today saying “Thank you.” Look for opportunities to show appreciation for an act of service, a job well done, for extra effort exerted, etc. People are often shocked and moved to receive it. Just earlier today, an employee at Neiman Marcus delighted me with her customer service and tenacity. When she texted me that she had successfully accomplished what I had requested, which was no small feat, I thanked her. Then I asked her, “What can I do for you? Write a review? Talk to your boss?” She was taken aback. Service providers, salespeople, and employees are often taken for granted. That is their job, so even when they do exemplary work – it is expected. Start pausing to say thank you. Take the time to offer feedback to their supervisor. Small, thoughtful gestures of appreciation mean a lot.
- You make destructive comments. It is easy to be reactive and let a snide comment roll off your tongue, but it takes far more effort to control the impulse and allow the moment to pass. Loose lips, and the impact of one destructive comment can cause serious relational damage and professional brand repercussions that end up being exceptionally long lasting. It is worth the constraint. It is worth training yourself to pause. It is worth asking yourself, “Is it worth the downside?”
- You evangelize process to a fault. You bring a process lens to everything. Process becomes the solution for everything. It is process on top of process. Process itself becomes the process. People are then buried in process. If that is your lens, it is time to adopt a new one – one that makes sure that process is driving important business outcomes. Otherwise, process becomes the problem and process itself becomes the process. This can be very inefficient as well as very costly.
- You make excuses. Without a pause, you have an excuse to prove it is not your fault. It explains and justifies why you did not do what you said you would. This habit is so automatic, so deep, that you are completely unaware it is your tried-and-true move. You reflexively blurt “The traffic was horrible” when you arrive late. You retort “I was traveling all week” or “My admin was out sick” to avoid taking responsibility for your lack of performance. It is always some outside force instead of you. Or perhaps your move is more subtle. You make self-deprecating comments about your inherent tendency to procrastinate, or to react inappropriately that sends the message, “that’s just the way I am.” Stop looking for ways to prove it’s “not you” and start looking in the mirror. Making excuses is the anthesis of leadership.
- You have an excessive need to be “you.” If one of your favorite lines sounds like, “This is just who I am.” Or “I’ve always been this way.” Or “This is me.” What you are really doing is making a virtue of your habits and flaws. When you hold this belief – no change is possible. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- You fail to give recognition. Who does not like to be recognized for work well done, or for jumping in to save a project? When leaders fail to champion effort and excellent performance, over time it can lead to disengagement. Giving positive, in the moment, timely feedback is as important as offering constructive feedback. Share it generously. Some leaders take it to an extreme. They are quick to take credit for the wins, and quick to point fingers for the losses. This is a leadership habit that needs to work in reverse. Be quick to recognize your team for the wins and quick to point to yourself for your team’s failures. That is leadership.
- You over index on results. When your focus is solely on driving results at all costs, and you forget about the people who are driving the results; you will decrease performance, increase exhaustion, and bankrupt morale. Back-to-back sprint marathons are unsustainable. Over time, you will lose your best performers. This goal obsession may also be very costly to you. You can get so caught up in your drive you can lose track of why you are working so hard and what really matters in life. Prioritizing self-care gets lost.
- You start with “no.” It might surprise you to know that decision making is often an emotional process, not an intellectual one. Some people default to saying no reflexively simply because it takes time to process the implications of what saying yes might mean. It is just easier to say no and keep the status quo. But the implications of this habit are many and costly. Try adding in your repertoire, “Let me think about it” and do exactly that – really question your “no.”
- You do not deeply listen. Yes, you listen, but with the objective of constructing a response to be right, to “win” a point, to defend your position, etc. Essentially, you are actively engaged, but not deeply listening. This behavior is telegraphing:
- “I don’t care about you.”
- “I’m smarter than you.”
- “You’re wrong.”
- “You’re stupid.”
- “You’re wasting my time.”
- “I don’t understand you.”
All of us have a deep desire to be seen, heard, and understood. Be generous and give that gift to others. Be curious and continue to learn every day.
All these behaviors will stand in the way of your own success. Sometimes we need a coach to point out our flaws that are impeding our progress. If you are ready to dissect your current strategy to make more of an impact, an executive coach could be what you need to become a hall of famer in the game of leadership.