Four Wrongs Leaders Continually Commit

Knowing you DON"T know is the entrance to the pleasure-dome of leadership wisdom. 

By Brent Filson - 08/10

My English professor at Wake Forest told me, “You can spend your whole life reading the wrong books.”

There’s a corollary to this in the realm of leadership.  After working with many leaders of all ranks and functions in a variety of companies worldwide, the one thing I take away that I never knew I would discover when I started this 26 years ago is that most leaders are spending their careers doing the wrong things.  And in most cases, they don’t even know what they’re doing is wrong.  They’re afflicted with the worst kind of leadership disease: They don’t know they don’t know.  

Here are the Four Major Wrongs leaders commit.      

1) The Wrong View.  When leaders survey the terrain of their challenges, they often look through the wrong end of the telescope, as it were.  They look at what’s changing for them, not what is changing for the people they lead. This wrong view makes them easy prey for the Leader’s Fallacy — the mistaken conviction that people are automatically interested in, and want to act on, what you’re saying simply because you’re the leader.
2) The Wrong Talk. When leaders need to get people to move from A to B, the natural reaction is to say, “Go from A to B.”  But though that may get movement done quickly, the order is often the ultimately slow way of doing things, if not the absolute wrong way.  The fast way, in most cases the right way, is to have people want to go from A to B.  Having people “want to” — or more precisely, having them make the choice to “want to” — might entail a little extra work and time, but in the long run it is the fastest way to get people moving. People who “want to” will get things done faster and better than people simply responding to orders.  

3) The Wrong Walk. In most cases, leaders I’ve worked with had a habit of having people “do” tasks. When leaders challenge people to do tasks, they are operating on a lower level of achievement.  Move to a higher level of achievement by challenging people to take leadership of accomplishing those tasks.  There is a clear difference between doing a task and taking leadership of that task.  Leaders make a clear difference in their job performance and ultimately career advancement when they challenge others to be leaders in meeting objectives.  

4) The Wrong Motivation: The most effective motivation — i.e., the motivation that has people achieve the best results — is intrinsic, not extrinsic. Yet so many leaders try to force motivation on people outside-in rather than having people cultivate it themselves, inside-out.  The key is choice, their choice, not your choice.  Intrinsic motivation comes from people making free choice to be motivated, not from their being goaded to make that choice.

Check out your leadership activities and the activities of your clients. Are you and they committing these wrongs?  Don't just refrain from them, but turn these stumbling blocks into stepping stones by seeing the positive opportunities in their negative aspects and taking action to realize those opportunities. 

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Brent Filson
Brent Filson