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Most of us have been there at some point in our career and if you haven’t, then you have not been working long enough.  It is only after the interview, beyond the ‘get to know you’ and way past the team introductions that we discover we are working for an ineffective leader or possibly the world’s worst leader.  Or at least it feels like we are working for the world’s worst leader at the time. 

You know the one I’m talking about…… the one that assigns the same task to 4 people “to see which one will get it done first” or asks you complete a 40 page deck on a Friday at 2:00 p.m. for an urgent meeting on Monday morning at 9:00 a.m. only to send you an email on Sunday night that reads “I don’t need the presentation any more the executive can no longer meet on Monday” and then NEVER asks for it again!  Resulting in wasted work! Or the ones that suffer from ‘corporate amnesia’ which you may not find in any medical journals but, I can assure you it does exist.  Corporate amnesia effects managers when they do not remember any decisions they have made in the past and therefore send their teams into a tailspin by changing decisions sending the team in totally different directions.   

I feel pretty lucky to have only worked for 2 nightmare leaders in my almost 20 years in corporate America.  I have friends that are up to 6 or 7 nightmare managers!   In both cases, they were eventually fired but, not before doing real damage to the people in their charge. 

When I reflect on what made these people terrible leaders, it was not because they were terrible people.  Though, I would not hang out with them or be “friends” they were not terrible human beings. Simply put, they lacked an ability to look within themselves to recognize THEY may in fact be part of the problem, they had little to no empathy for their teams and could not paint a picture of the direction we were headed. 

I recently listened to the book “Disrupted. My misadventure in the start-up bubble” by Dan Lyons. Lyons put a spotlight on a topic that has not been discussed near enough, lack of effective leadership within start-ups and age discrimination.  The recount of his time at Hubspot was not only funny on many accounts but, deeply disturbing and unfortunately a real reflection of what bad leadership looks like and feels like.  

Introspective Leader
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Introspective Leader

There are many characteristics that create an effective leader but, the three most important are:

  1. Introspective
  2. High emotional intelligence
  3. Visionary

These traits are at the foundation of many of the other characteristics of an effective leader.   Introspection looks inward to understand one’s self, high emotional intelligence is outward to understand and have empathy for others and visionary is the ability to paint the picture of a best-envisioned future.  In this article, I share insight into why introspection could be the biggest factor in developing an effective leader.

As John Maxwell writes “as a leader, the first person I need to lead is me.  The first person that I should try to change is me” and introspection enables leaders to do this.  Introspection allows people to observe and examine their own mental and emotional state.  Being introspective drives many of the characteristics of an effective leader like; integrity, honesty, confidence, transparency, and humility. 

Taking time to reflect, leaders can question themselves and hold themselves accountable to being honest, operating with integrity, being transparent, and so on.  It’s by being introspective leaders can ask themselves tough questions like; “what am I doing to contribute to this problem?”

“As a leader, the first person I need to lead is me.  The first person that I should try to change is me”  

John Maxwell

Leading isn’t about the leader, it is about the people in the leader’s charge and this is where having high emotional intelligence is key.  Daniel Goleman’s work in the mid-1990’s shined the light on the importance of having high emotional intelligence, stating it’s just as important if not more important than having a high IQ.  Leaders with high emotional intelligence are self-aware and self-managed but, they also are aware of other’s feelings, thoughts, and emotions.   They can read the room and take time to feel the energy of others, then respond accordingly.   With high emotional intelligence leaders can live into the many other characteristics associated with an effective leader like; respecting others, compassion, empathy, empowering, and supportive. 

Knowing one’s self is important and the ability to know and understand others is key but, without a clear vision of the future, leaders and their teams will not get very far.   Effective leaders can see the future state and can help other’s see it too.  When leaders know and can see the best-envisioned future it brings their team clarity, informs the goals of the team, and will motivate them to reach this future state. 

There are hundreds of traits or characteristics associated with being an effective leader, there are thousands of books and blogs on these characteristics but, they all boil down to three buckets; introspection, high emotional intelligence and visionary.  These characteristics are the foundation for all the others.

What do you think I missed?  Do you think there is a more important characteristic of an effective leader?

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