The One Trait I Have Seen Derail Leaders’ Careers

What makes one leader successful while another “crashes and burns”?

If there is a tipping point in a leader’s career, what would it be?

In my business life, I have seen individuals develop into remarkable leaders and I have seen their colleagues gradually disappear into mediocrity.

The remarkable ones “see” themselves differently. 

They don’t see themselves as an expression of leadership pedagogy.

Derailed leaders find themselves consumed by the “Leadership 101 Rulebook”, relying on theoretical concepts of leadership developed by the consulting and academic community.

They are derailed by applying what OTHERS believe leadership to be and not “making a good choice” about who THEY want to become as a leader.

Leadership isn’t about following the principles espoused by experts, it’s about discovering the path to follow that reflects the individual’s unique qualities and the special circumstances of the organization.

These proven tactics (they worked for me) are simple yet effective in breaking away from expected leadership norms and staying on the rails to become a successful leader.

  1. Throw out your leadership books. You don’t need them. You ARE a leader and the challenge is to discover your way forward on your own. You don’t need anymore schooling on the art – except from me ?
  2. As a substitute for pedagogues,find leader bloggers who have a practical track record of achieving interesting things; who bring a different and contemporary perspective to the challenges of leadership. I like Seth GodinSir Richard Branson  and Guy Kawasaki.
  3. Go ask people what they expect from their leader. Don’t assume what you should do because “they” say what is needed. Talk to the people who report to you and ask them what they need. Serve them and watch the magic.
  4. Lighten up. Relax. Shed the uptight image. Be more open to different ways of doing things. Dump the internal rules and policies in your organization you know are restrictive and make little sense. Your team will see what you are doing and will love you for it.
  5. Keep it honest and real. Don’t bullshit people. They know when you’re doing it and will tag you as a loser, phoney and not worthy of attention. They will check out and leave you a leader with no followers.
  6. Learn some names. It’s the easiest way to connect with people. You remember – they love it – and tell others. Word spreads. Your brand builds. Your “shield to irrelevance” gets stronger as employee loyalty to you grows.
  7. Tell someone to p*** off when someone is trying to undermine you and see you “go down”. Ignore the internal politics of the situation. Stand up and defend yourself. Earn the right to stand among the fearless.
  8. Regularly visit the most demanding customers you have; the ones that constantly whine and snivel about your products and how you treat them. Put yourself in the lions den; show courage, act on their issues and follow up to ensure they are satisfied with what you’ve done.
  9. Buy dinner for a competitor. The market you serve is a community; connect with EVERYONE in it. Accumulate as many perspectives as you can to utilize at an appropriate time.
  10. Talk to someone who has been fired– if they will talk to you. Try and learn the dynamics that eventually led to the person’s exit. This is not a judgement call; rather an opportunity to understand the dynamics at play. Deposit the learning in your employee loyalty file.

There you are: Ten ways to be “see” yourself differently than other leaders and avoid derailment.

Get going.

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Successful Leaders Go “Bump In The Night” 

I am amused when all I hear leaders talk about is their successes. The triumphs they achieved paint a blueprint of what it takes to achieve greatness.

The algorithm for leadership success is almost exclusively based on what worked for them.

True, events that went the right way for someone should be dissected and analyzed. It is important to understand the specific actions taken and behaviors exhibited that yielded a productive outcome.

But the reality is that very few stand-out leaders waltz through their career to command a winner’s platform.

Successful leaders suffer personal setbacks.

My career produced disappointments that foreshadowed future successes.

This is another “bump in the night” for me.

It was one of the most stressful and painful periods in my career; the telecom business was morphing rapidly and we had to choose our way at a breathtaking pace. Change and chaos were the conditions of the day.

I was president of the advanced communications business with a communications company in Canada at the time we merged with our neighboring provincial communications company to become a major national telecom player.

The chief executive officer of the newly merged company (who I had no relationship with), struck a task force to develop a new corporate strategy. I was asked if I had a data communications expert on my old team who could play a role in charting a growth course for the new company emphasizing Internet and data rather than traditional voice services.

I said yes, and assigned one of my direct reports who was an undeniable data expert and was perfect for the task. It was the right call on my part.

The board not only supported the task force’s strategic plan; my direct report was rewarded by being appointed president of the data and Internet organization in the new company.

Ouch! I was suddenly out of the executive leadership team and ended up reporting to a previous peer of mine who now reported to the CEO.

All those around me counseled me to leave the organization because I was overlooked. “To hell with them!” was the advice I received from almost everyone, including my closest friends.

I didn’t take their advice for I knew something about this individual that the CEO and others didn’t. Even though this individual had strong data expertise, he had limited leadership capabilities which meant that sooner or later he could run into problems – a gamble on my part, but I felt worth the chance.

I stayed, was a good lieutenant and waited for the meltdown.

It happened within a year. I was asked to replace this individual and re-assume my position as president and join the executive leadership team.

Lessons learned that made me a survivor leader:

– Always do what’s right for the organization even though it could place you at personal risk;

Shut up and suck it up when you get punched in the gut;

– Take a long-term view when making a decision in a emotionally charged situation;

– Going against popular advice is often the best;

– Keep working hard in the face of adversity and show ’em what you got;

– Be wary of advice from those close to you. Sometimes their judgement is more clouded by emotion than yours is.

Surviving in the leadership jungle usually means taking a hit at some point.

Make a thoughtful reasoned call because a knee-jerk emotional one could rob you of future opportunities.

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