Why Don't We Lead Better? (It's Not Your Fault!)

Good Intentions

Janet sipped her coffee, gathered herself, then looked up.

"I wanted to be a good leader…you know - influenced based, focused on people, serving my team…"

She took a breath and continued, "But then, we didn't meet our sales goals and I…I turned into a monster."

She set down her mug, looked at her feet, and muttered, "What happened?"

After All This Time

Despite the huge amount of information available to aspiring leaders, we continue to see a regular stream of statistics that suggest we have a long way to go.

Why, with all the training and information available, do employee motivation, customer service, and other key metrics continue to indicate serious leadership deficits?

In your own leadership journey, you can find some of the answer in Janet's story…as well as keys to improve your leadership and your employees' motivation and productivity.

It's Not Your Fault (Really)

I believe there are three main reasons people do not lead as effectively as they could…even when they know better.

1. Biology

You cannot ignore the way your brain and body operate.

Your brain first makes decisions from basic emotions, tries to protect you before doing anything else, and turns to fight or flight when threatened.

Take all these hard-wired tendencies into a leadership situation and, if you do nothing else, your leadership will be very reactive and focused on managing by fear, power, and control.

Janet's reaction is easy to understand - her brain saw "THREAT" in the sales figures and triggered defense mechanisms…anger, aggression, and speed.

2. Sociology

Your family, culture, and upbringing also had a huge impact on how you lead.

Your parents may have relied on fear, power, or control…or they may have been absent and uncaring. Even the best parents don't always get it right and those patterns tend to linger.

I've coached many leaders who, decades later, are still fighting battles with their teams that started with their families.

Your culture also informs your leadership. It may be direct and confrontational or it may be collaborative and prize the group over individual opinions. It may be loud or quiet.

Regardless, you learned certain ways of conducting yourself and they probably served you well. These ways of interacting will impact your leadership and help you be successful with specific individuals…but not with others.

3. Pharmacology

What do drugs have to do with leadership?

To answer that, think about why addictive drugs can be so dangerous.

It's because they work…at least a little.

They give the body concentrated doses of something that feels good - whether it gives you energy, bliss, escape, relaxation, or euphoria, you want more.

Some of the most common, but least effective leadership tactics have a lot in common with addictive drugs.

If you bark orders, threaten, and use fear to motivate your team, it may work...at least a little.

And all of the sudden, you feel good - your stress is gone, the goals were met, and your brain may even get a shot of blissful neurotransmitter.

The next time you're in a tough situation, you'll probably tend to fall back on the behavior that apparently worked and felt good last time.

Many leaders carry on this way for years or even decades, never realizing that they could be ten times more effective, experience far less stress, and better health.

It's Not Your Fault, But…

You didn't choose the way your brain works, how your were raised, or how your body reinforces those natural tendencies.

So they're not your fault.

But…you do have a choice.

You have a choice to learn how your brain works and use it to your advantage.

You have a choice to examine your own upbringing and see where it serves you well and where it is limiting your influence.

And you have a choice whether or not to continue in unhealthy, addictive leadership patterns that give false highs.

As with most of the rewarding things in life, real leadership is real work.

It begins with learning all you can - and you've started on that journey. Continue reading Lead Change, subscribe to my blog, or one of the many, many others available.

But don't stop with learning - take action on what you learn. Don't allow SASRNT to sabotage your leadership.

At some point in your journey, you will likely want a mentor or a coach. Many of us, or someone in your own organization, stand ready to help and support you.

Be patient and take one step at a time.

Janet made these choices. She was not content with how she was leading and took steps to improve her influence.

Your Turn

Leave a comment below: What advice would you give a growing leader who is frustrated with their own leadership?

What next step will you take to learn more, do what you've learned, or get help to be a more effective leader?

Take care,

David M. Dye

Creative Commons photo credit: Sign by @Doug88888, Addiction by epSos.de, Lighthouse by SantiMB

Twitter feed is not available at the moment.