January 30

We Have Never Needed Outstanding Leaders More Than Today

I feel this pain in my heart. I have lived it. Suffering created by poor leadership is not just an idea but a truth to me, and I imagine it also resonates in your heart. The world desperately needs better leaders. It’s universal and more extensive than politics, affecting government agencies, school systems, nonprofit organizations, and businesses. I estimate that 10% of our leaders are excellent, 50% are good, 30% are poor, and 10% are terrible. Let’s start at the bottom.

There are two types of bad leaders: those who don’t try and those who do try, but don’t have the skills. The ones I have worked for in the past didn’t attempt to be a better leader. Their ‘style’ was their style, and they expected others to ‘deal with it.’ My experience with four horrible bosses suggests that they often have hubris (excessive pride or self-confidence).

Just because their leadership is poor doesn’t mean they don’t get results. They use positional power and control to obtain results. When their team has good results, they exert more power, control, and manipulation (carrot and stick theory). However, over time, bad leaders have poor results. Zenger Folkman’s research shows that leaders in the bottom percentile of the 125,000 leaders in their database produce the poorest results.

I wrestle with the question: “Do they know how much their leadership affects others?” I imagine there exists a range of awareness. Some might have an inclination, but others don’t know. I think most don’t fully understand the negative impact they have until they receive meaningful feedback, perhaps from a 360-degree assessment.

If you want to help a poor leader who lacks awareness become a better leader, give me their name so I can reach out to them to support them. The only thing worse than working for a poor leader is tolerating their ineptitude. Help them get some professional help. I only ask that you determine if they want to be better. I will keep your referral anonymous and do everything possible to help them.

So why is this topic relevant today? The post-pandemic workplace and the workforce have changed dramatically.Employee’s mental and emotional needs are pre-eminent. Flexibility and work/life balance trump everything else. Engagement and accountability are more challenging to create. Work ethic is less about effort and more about time. Employee retention has become overly critical because recruiting new talent is a huge challenge. All of this demands outstanding leadership – good leadership is not good enough.

The difference between good and great leaders can often be 2X. As Zenger Folkman researched, extraordinary leaders and their teams create 2X the profit, and they do it through higher levels of employee effort, customer satisfaction, sales, and employee engagement.

Most leaders who are good at leading others seem satisfied with being good. Creating incremental improvement takes energy and focus. Improvement in leadership effectiveness often takes months. Most managers don’t believe they have the time to improve their leadership skills. I get it; it’s hard for an individual to do it independently.

Additionally, the job of being a leader has never been more challenging. It is hugely complex; a great leader must be able to modify their style for every one of their team members, peers, and bosses. Leadership requires focused concentration and effort. It is no longer something you can just ‘wing.’

Every great leader has a unique style – the best blend is their authentic style with excellent leadership skills. Extraordinary leadership happens when your best skills are so good that others choose to follow you. People love great leaders. Today, more than ever, employees desire to work for a woman or man who can lead well. They want a “Best Boss Ever,” and when they find one, they rarely consider leaving that job.

Extraordinary leaders are not perfect; they have weaknesses, but their strengths are so incredible that their team gives them a lot of grace. Their strengths are so great that they bring value to their team every day. Your goal should be to know and share your strengths with your team. If your 3-5 biggest leadership strengths are profound and the organization needs you to use them, you will have low turnover and high employee engagement. Often, this drives the business results you want.

Creating product or service differentiation is challenging in today’s hyper-competitive environment. It is hard to develop a competitive advantage. Imagine a company’s competitive advantage if the majority of its managers had extraordinary leadership ability. The culture would be phenomenal. Employee engagement and retention would be off the charts. Imagine your organization – what if most of your leaders were exceptional – what impact would that have? It would be amazing!

“There is no reason why half the leaders in an organization could not be great if they were developed properly. Better still, why not all? Great leadership is not a competitive activity in which one person’s success detracts from another’s success.” Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman

A Deloitte survey found that leadership is the top talent issue facing organizations worldwide. 86% of respondents ranked developing leaders as urgent and essential. Only 5% of businesses said they were excellent at developing millennial leaders.

The workplace and workforce have changed. Extraordinary leaders are desperately needed. We have the ability to assess and improve leadership skills. The big question is, will your company be the front-runner in your industry, or will you wait for someone else to do it?

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