The Leadership Paradox: Show Your Strength by Leaning on Your Team

I was working with a senior leader of a technology company last week and he told me about a recent interaction he had with his boss during an executive team meeting. The leader I coach is pretty savvy. He’s thoughtful about how he leads, surrounding himself with people who fill in his knowledge, skills and temperament gaps so that as an entity, his team is robust and as near to complete as he can envision.

Likewise, his team describes him as someone who “wouldn’t ask us to do anything he wouldn’t do or hasn’t done himself. With the exception of something he doesn’t know how to do—then he either asks us to teach him or lets us run with it.” The story he told me about his own boss really got under his skin. Essentially, unlike his own practice of forming a team of complementary abilities, his boss flies solo. He ran a meeting that was intended to be inspirational, but it appears he lacks the knack for the emotional side of leadership.

Rather than soliciting support, input or expertise from those on his team who do have that knack, he simply forged ahead and failed to connect even a little bit with his team—his talk was information-heavy, connection vapid. This left my coachee scratching his head, and feeling let down—even somewhat de-motivated—by his boss.

While it may seem obvious, it never ceases to astound just how many senior leaders (men and women, by the way—this is not gendered at the executive level) don’t ask for help. And this covers the gamut—they don’t ask for input into communications which can result in a big miss with the intended audience. They fail to create conditions where their team feels comfortable enough to give them real feedback, so they live in a false reality or a bubble we refer to as CEO Disease. And finally, these leaders blithely carry on repeating old patterns, never asking for help with their own development.

While at first blush it may seem that asking for help equates to admitting to a weakness, it is overwhelmingly experienced by others as a demonstration of confidence to solicit input, advice and guidance—at any level of seniority. Further, lifelong learners are proven to be the most adaptable and successful leaders over time, changing and growing as the world changes around them.

While not wanting to be exposed may be one reason leaders stop reaching out, there are many other reasons why the social life of a leader becomes one way communication, including chronic stress from tremendous responsibility which, over time, takes a toll and causes the brain to literally become myopic. This myopia is a protective response to overstimulation—but it is a false security, as the input and support from others is paradoxically exactly what the leader needs to counter the effects of the wear and tear—and isolation—of leading.

Advice to leaders: Lean into your people—it’s not only the best leadership behavior to model, it is the best way for you to ensure you won’t go stale, trying to apply old solutions and thinking to new challenges. People bring diversity of thought, use it as the life blood for the future that is guaranteed to be more than any single mind can navigate with elegance and the full range of possibilities.

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