The other side of “What Great Leaders Do” lists

There are a lot of lists on how to be a great leader and what they do. They drive me a bit crazy because if all those things were so easy we would all just do them naturally. Becoming all those things takes a lot of personal work which is why I have a business.

No one writes about how to recognize if you are a shitty leader. In my career as a products and marketing executive, there was always a mystery I couldn’t solve as to why half of the people who worked with me loved me and half really couldn’t stand me. There really wasn’t an in-between feeling about me when I was an executive. I’ve undertaken a deep study of the subject. To my surprise, I have discovered I used to be a shitty leader so I’m going to own it and share what it looked like. This was not a result of me not being good enough.

My shitty leadership was a result of me not understanding what true leadership was and not putting in the personal work to face my demons and figure out what was and wasn’t working for me.

All we can do in life is continue to learn. Here are my discoveries of things I did that created my shitty leader moments:

  • Being an expert isn’t leadership: This was a huge discovery to me. As the daughter of a world renowned, highly celebrated expert I thought being an expert was good. I thought my title and pay demanded that I be an expert too. The challenge with being an expert is that I didn’t let other people who had expertise play with me. I thought I knew best and didn’t listen the way I should. It made people not listen to me. Expertise is great — being THE expert hurts the team. I was thinking “but I know so much! Why aren’t they listening to me?” Everyone else in the room was thinking the same thing about me. I wasn’t respecting the fact that everyone is smart and everyone is good.
  • Working “triggered” produces bad results: How I wish in school they had taught me to understand when I was triggered! Triggered is when we go to a place of anger, worry, or feeling like we can’t win. When we are triggered all ability to really communicate with other people is shut down and we just keep repeating and fighting for our position. Its really just a waste of time and triggered people trigger other people. Approaching issues from a place of calm and finding a common cause is true leadership. Once that common cause is identified, the methods can be calmly and openly discussed. Can you imagine a government where people didn’t work triggered? What amazing results that would produce!
  • Being personally attached to the outcome: My objective always was to create from a place of passion and get to the real issues. However, the thing I did that hurt it the most was being personally attached to the outcome. That was me thinking I knew best and I was responsible. Was I right a lot of the time? Yes. But was I effective? No. When I felt that I was the one who had to solve the problem, I didn’t let anyone else play. Its like in kids soccer where the best shooter thinks that they are the one to win the game. The other players aren’t contributing and the games often don’t get won.
  • Putting on a mask of power isn’t the answer: I was never taught how to be an executive. The world works in a really weird way where I somehow got the impression that I had to be someone aside from who I was. What that did was make me eliminate my vulnerability, my authenticity and be someone that wasn’t a lot of fun to work with for some people. I identified with the title “executive” and tried to emulate what I thought that meant. Had I just been who I was and was willing to tell people what I was scared about, what I didn’t understand and why I was connected to what I was doing it would have been a very different conversation. The moments when I was authentic were the moments I created some of my biggest successes.
  • The more I needed, the less I got: This is really a cruel joke of the world. We are taught that if we work hard enough towards the things we want we will get them. In cases that aren’t driven by our ego this is true. My daughter wanted to get into the top film school in the nation and she worked at it for three years and got it. She was accepted last week! (relieved and proud momma sigh). It worked because it involved her effort — not her ego. In fact she needed to let go of her ego to put herself out there and risk being rejected. For ego driven objectives like success, respect, talent, acceptance and love, the more we need these things the less we get of them. I was constantly scanning to see if I was receiving these things and the scanning itself made me inauthentic and full of anxiety. Not great leadership qualities.

Great leaders, if we look at the lists, are authentic, genuine and vulnerable. They go “all in” not for themselves but for the cause.

I hope my recipe for my shitty leadership is helpful. No one teaches us this in school. I had the best of intentions, I had the best motives, but the methods were completely counter to getting what I really wanted which was to work with others to build success for the company and our customers.