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In his book, “Elegant Leadership: Simple Strategies, Remarkable Results,” Andrew Neitlich shows how strong leaders are the ones who remain committed to learning what they don’t know. If it sounds simple, it’s not. Maybe that’s why Neitlich, founder and director of the Center for Executive Coaching, spends so much time helping today’s leaders perfect their craft. Over the years, he has trained more than 1,000 coaches around the world, with an impressive client list that includes the likes of FedEx, Aflac, Microsoft, Cisco Systems, the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Department of Defense, and Deloitte Consulting, among scores of others. Here, Neitlich dishes on what today’s leaders are made of and how they can get better:
What do today's leaders lack?
It depends on the individual leader. Everybody has strengths and areas where they can develop. What works is an approach that looks at your thinking and communication styles, behavioral traits, the impact you have on others, your alignment with your manager(s) and the organization’s strategy, and your requirements for success. By understanding these issues, you can find that one new attitude, behavior or skill that will have maximum impact and improve results. Sometimes, this one thing can be a strength upon which to build, a behavioral blind spot that might be derailing your career, or a new behavior to start or do more.
Where are those blind spots?
Some leaders who have technical skills – physicians, engineers, scientists and attorneys, among others – often lack some of the softer skills to engage their teams and communicate effectively. In non-profit organizations, for example, I often work with leaders who feel uncomfortable asserting themselves or having any kind of conflicts. In highly political organizations, some leaders would rather look good than do the right thing. One framework that helps shed light on this issue is the triangle between ego, results and relationships. These three areas must be in balance. If you focus too much on ego, then you care more about getting credit, having status and looking good than getting results. If you focus too much on getting results, you can hurt relationships and come across as coercive. And, if you focus too much on preserving relationships, you avoid tough conversations, don’t get results and end up hurting business relationships anyway.
What is the key to getting better?
Good leaders constantly ask themselves questions about how to keep improving. Five crucial questions are: How can I earn the right to lead with my people? How can I help others to succeed? How can I model the habits I want to see in the organization? Which behaviors and attitudes do I need to stop tolerating in myself and in others? How can I build a stronger organization that isn’t dependent on me?
What is the real key to successful leadership?
You have to care deeply about whatever it is you are doing and why you are doing it. That way, when you wake up and don’t feel like leading, you still see possibilities to create; you still do what needs to be done. True leaders lead even when they don’t feel like it. It’s about getting up after you’ve been knocked down repeatedly, being able to influence and engage others, being authentic without manipulating, and not caving in on values or quality.
How do you see leadership changing in today’s new business landscape?
This truly is a new world defined by a gut-wrenching pace of change and volatility, uncertainty, complexity and interdependence. It’s causing too many to believe that things are really under their direct control. Given that, many leaders have nearly impossible jobs. It is no wonder that some have cynically chosen to look out for their own interests over and above the needs of their constituents and organizations. But for those who want to be the “real thing,” there is an opportunity to engage others to develop a shared vision and purpose. There are opportunities to set a clear direction, and develop and unleash other leaders who can make great things happen. Today’s leaders can be authentic role models of the behaviors and habits they want to see in others. Only extraordinary people can or want to lead today, and still be able to maintain their health, work-life flow, values and perspective.