Confidence is an attribute that every leader needs to embrace and to foster in others. But when confidence goes too far, it can become hubris.
Overdosing on confidence is easy to do. Jim Collins writes about the organizational side of hubris in his latest book, How the Mighty Fall. Stage 1 of organizational failure is “hubris born of success.” It “sets in when people become arrogant, regarding success virtually as an entitlement, and they lose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place.”
Many leaders veer into hubristic behavior without realizing their shortcomings. We may be well intentioned, but we all suffer from a blind spots.So how can leaders know when their own confidence is verging on hubris? Here are some warning signs:
You make many decisions independently. No, dithering isn’t good. But bosses who make all of their own decisions without speaking to others are asking for trouble. How much do you ask for others’ input?
You can’t remember the last time you spoke to a customer. Failure to discover what people think about what you offer is not only foolhardy, it’s a recipe for failure in the future. If you think you’re “too busy” to connect with customers, that’s a warning sign.
What do you do if you’re a middle manager who sees the big picture but you work for a boss who only focuses on the here and now?
That was the heart of question I received at recent workshop I conducted on leading from the middle for a national conference of training and development professionals. It was clear that the questioner had had first-hand experience with a boss who wanted his direct reports to know their place and not be thinking or acting big. And therein lies the challenge for eager, upwardly mobile self-starting managers: you want to put your ideas into play and see their results, but your boss only wants you to do what you’re told.
Once upon a time, organizations functioned just fine when orders flowed down from on high. But as the global business environment has evolved, the need for decentralized rapid decision-making has become critical. We need creative men and women to step up and lead from the middle. So what do you do if your boss wants you to keep your place?
First and foremost, do your job: make certain that you do everything you are asked to do. (It is your job, after all.) Once you have established yourself as a credible performer, there are three things you can to do give your big idea a better chance of success:
There is something about a big snowstorm that brings out the best, or more often the worst, in big city mayors. If, as former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local,” then you would think that the first hint of snow in the forecast would prompt mayors to relocate their offices temporarily to where the snowplows are dispatched.
But across the Hudson, Newark Mayor Cory Booker has received acclaim for his response to the nor’easter snowfall, despite taking flak on a host of other matters. Not content with supervising removal, he plunged in with a shovel, helping to extricate cars, clear walkways, and in one instance deliver diapers to a housebound mother. He also tweeted his first-hand observations of the snow to his more than one million Twitter followers.
We like to see our elected officials in action. The contrast between Bloomberg’s reception and Booker’s can serve as a lesson for anyone in a position of authority. Here are some tips for the next big storm that hits your office:
I have long admired teachers. The ability to share knowledge and turn it into learning is a gift that I find rich and rewarding. Let me add another accolade to good teachers — great management skills. I learned this first-hand because I failed at teaching.
For years I have taught in executive and corporate education programs. My work has been judged on the merit of insight and engagement; participants are my evaluators. In fall 2009, however, I had the opportunity to teach in an undergraduate program for a local university. I would be responsible for exams, papers, projects and of course grades. I would also be responsible for taking attendance.
Since my students were adults (“non-traditional” in the collegiate jargon), I let them come and go as they pleased. I didn’t bother too much with sign-up sheets for attendance nor did I squawk when students left class early. As a workshop instructor, I am accustomed to participants being called away from class to handle things back at the office. It was annoying when students left without warning, but my attitude was, “It’s their nickel and they must have somewhere else important to be.”
Wrong! This was brought home to me by a student who told me that she found it very rude that students got up and left and that such things were not tolerated by the university, only by certain instructors like me. Since I like to draw leadership lessons from what I observe, let me share a few things about teaching that apply as well to managers.
re you overlooking the talents and skills of someone on your team?
Some star performers may lack the confidence to challenge conventional thinking about themselves and therefore they stay in their given roles.
Those who manage the talent pipeline would be wise to heed the words of composer Ludwig von Beethoven, who wrote, “The barriers are not erected which can say to aspiring talents and industry, ‘Thus far and no farther.’”
Sometimes when you’re wondering what to do next in life, good advice can come when you least expect it — like when you’re getting your hair cut.
Joan*, the hairstylist giving me a trim, mused aloud about what she was planning to do with her career. Cutting hair was just one part of her livelihood; she was also a professional caregiver as well as the owner of a rig that her husband operated. But her husband was about to retire from the road, and now they were wondering, “What next?”
Over the course of our brief conversation, in no more than the time it took Joan to cut my hair, I picked up on three attributes of her success that are helpful for any entrepreneur:
Practical. Listening to her brainstorm reminded me that successful entrepreneurs know how to keep their feet on the ground. First, they get inspired through personal observation, developing ideas from needs they see in the world around them. Second, they develop a concrete plan. They may work the plan, changing it as they go, but always with an eye towards getting a good return.
Purposeful. People with a practical outlook seek opportunities that add value, as opposed to opportunities that just seem “cool.” (It’s easy to forget this distinction, especially in well-established organizations.) Their focus is offering products and services that customers need and will pay for. For instance, Joan’s second job as a caregiver: that’s a service for which there is always a need.
Impatient. Sure, patience is a virtue in some cases. But for an entrepreneur, so is impatience. Joan is eager to make things happen so that she can continue to earn a good living. When it comes time for her husband to leave the trucking business, she will be ready with another venture. Her gumption and ambition make her impatient for success, and that drive increases her chances of getting there.
No reorganization is ever easy. Especially when you are hired from the outside.
When this occurs, the newly appointed leaders must do what Alan Mulally of Ford and Sergio Marchionne of Fiat Chrysler did when they transformed their organizations. Their example works also works for leaders who have been in their jobs for a while.
One, respect tradition.
Two, make change urgent.
Three, treat employees with respect.
Four, insist upon personal accountability.
Managing change is never easy, but when you respect the work and the people who do it you have the opportunity to make change work for the organization.
Some of the most engaged employees in your organization are your worst performers. And some of the least engaged are your highest performers.
This conclusion comes from new research by the consulting firm, Leadership IQ. The study “matched engagement survey and performance appraisal data for 207 organizations.” According to CEO Mark Murphy (who I interviewed via email), “We had long suspected that high performers might not be as engaged as has traditionally been assumed. But seeing that, in 42% of cases, high performers were even less engaged than low performers was a bit of a shock.”
This conclusion runs contrary to conventional wisdom as well as many studies (including this one from Gallup) that show high engagement — that is, how much employees are committed to their work — correlates with better bottom line results, including productivity and profitability.
You could think of these low performers as hamsters on a wheel, spinning fast but actually going nowhere. Conversely, high performers may be coasting like swans on a pond, just gliding by. You don’t see their effort because it’s below the water. As Murphy says, “in our study, high performers gave very low marks when asked if employees all live up to the same standards.”
Research by Hay Group, culled from its 17,000-person behavioral competency database in 2012, finds that when it comes to empathy, influence, and the ability to manage conflicts in the executive level, women show more skill than men. Specifically, women are more likely to show empathy as a strength, demonstrate strong ability in conflict management, show skills in influence, and have a sense of self-awareness.
“Women often face barriers throughout their careers that require them to develop these skills to excel and advance in their organizations,” says Ruth Malloy, global managing director for leadership and talent at Hay Group. Malloy adds that the shift from hierarchy where individual achievement matters to matrix organizations where teamwork counts put a premium on the skills that women have mastered.
If you are, you may suffer a drop off in engagement, innovation and productivity. At the same time if you don’t spend enough time with the boss, the same can occur.
So what’s the optimal time spent with a boss? Well, according to a study by Leadership IQ, a leadership and training firm, six hours per week is optimum. More hours can hinder an employee’s productivity and engagement just as too few hours can.
By contrast if you spend too much time with an employee, then you likely have not hired the right person.
Or you don’t trust them. It’s OK to keep a new hire close, but if you never let go that person will not develop his or her skills. And if that individual does have talent, he or she will migrate somewhere else. No one likes to be micromanaged.
Spending six hours per week with the boss is a good idea, sure, but more important is time invested by the leader — together with employees — in building an enterprise where people can work with intention and purpose that deliver results that are mutually beneficial.