LEADERSHIP : The seven deadly sins

If you want to walk with the big dogs, you have to learn to aim high. So the saying goes. It is often expressed more crudely but that doesn’t alter the fact that it encapsulates basic truth: If you want to be at the top, you have to display behaviour to match.
People expect more of leaders – higher standards of insight, character and conduct. Behaviour we tolerate from equals is unacceptable if displayed by leader. What would be mere shortcoming in others becomes, in leader, deadly sin.
But what are the worst of these sins? And which are most common?
To find answers to these questions, we consulted range of people involved with leadership development, those who study it, as well as some who are themselves recognised for their leadership. This includes Leadership New Zealand, the Sir Peter Blake Trust, the New Zealand Leadership Institute and the New Zealand Institute of Management.
We also talked to people in the human resources field: Stewart Forsyth, director of FX Consultants; Mike Gourley, director of Human Synergistics; and Joan Mather, team leader organisational development, from Sheffield. To inject some fresh thinking, we sought comment from number of the young leaders featured in our July issue.
Though the responses differed widely, number of themes emerged. Arrogance was by far the most commonly listed sin, possibly an expression of our fierce egalitarianism in this country.
The most surprising aspect of the responses is that relatively little mention was made of the kinds of things leaders might do when they’re alone, such as their strategic insight and planning. It seems that human interaction rather than technical ability is where leaders have to tread most lightly. The most hated sins centre around lack of respect for others and too much reliance on one’s own abilities.
According to Lester Levy, chief executive of Excelerator (the New Zealand Leadership Institute), the responses reflect where we are in the ongoing evolution of thinking about leadership. At one stage, the leader’s left-brain analytical abilities were considered paramount, then their right brain, visionary ability, with the interpersonal, emotional aspects now gaining importance.
“What worries me is that we keep coming at this with only part of the brain – either analytical or vision or emotional,” he says. “We must bring all of it together.”
Until we reach that advanced stage, it will pay to heed the warnings and avoid today’s seven deadly sins of leadership.

1) NOT HAVING INTEGRITY
Before you can be half-decent leader, you have to be perfectly decent person – honest, open and upright.
“The team has to have enormous respect for and trust in the leader. If you lose that, that’s the end of leadership,” says Sheffield’s Joan Mather. “People will not follow someone they cannot respect.”
There is remarkable agreement that lack of integrity is the worst sin leader can commit. The moral and ethical requirements are so self-evident that they hardly require elaboration. Don’t lie. Don’t betray confidences. Don’t claim other people’s work as your own. When you make commitments, stick to them.

The wages of sin: Your team talks inspire Tui billboards.

The road to righteousness: Say what you do and do what you say.

2) NOT HAVING VISION
If you don’t have ambitious goals, you may be good manager, but you’re not much of leader. You sell yourself and your organisation short by compromising your objectives before you start.
“Dream great dreams and have the courage to pursue them,” says Mark Orams, executive director of the Sir Peter Blake Trust. There is little point in having goal that just anyone can achieve.
When objectives are set, cynicism is the enemy of the leader. Don’t find reasons why it can’t be done – find ways to do it.
You also need enthusiasm and passion to bring others along on the quest. Not to mention resilience to take the knocks and keep moving forward.

The wages of sin: Not heading anywhere is the shortcut to oblivion.

The road to righteousness: Dream the kind of dreams you can talk about without boring others.

3) NOT BEING CLEAR
You can only be an effective leader if your followers know what you’re on about. They have to know what you want to achieve as team. They have to know what part they’re to play in that. They need to know how well (or not) they’re playing that part. They need to know what you expect and what they can expect from you.
Be clear on principles, parameters and processes. These things need not be difficult. In fact, the simpler, the better.
A laissez-faire leadership style seems to be endemic to New Zealand, and it’s not good. Without clear communication and feedback, both loyalty and performance will suffer. And don’t wait until there’s crisis to give feedback.

The wages of sin: Confusion and frustration make the Tower of Babel look like an Amish roof raising.

The road to righteousness: Put in the extra effort to find and give the simple answer.

$) NOT DEVELOPING OTHERS
There is reason bands are more popular than the buskers who play drums, bagpipes and banjo at the same time. talented team will consistently outperform talented individual. So the best thing leader can do is to develop the people around themselves to be the best they can be… even if they turn out to be better than the leader.
Leaders who feel threatened by their team have no business leading it, because that means they value ego and self-aggrandisement above the interests of the organisation.
“Leadership is about helping others to achieve. As leader, you have to provide opportunities for others,” says Therese Walsh, general manager corporate services at the NZRU.
If you spend time upfront to guide the development of others, you’ll find yourself surrounded by more great leaders and the team will perform maximally.

The wages of sin: The world on your shoulders and nobody at your shoulder.

The road to righteousness: Look for opportunities for others to do great things in your organisation.

5) NOT LISTENING
If you’re not listening to the people around you, chances are you’ve crossed the line from confidence and optimism into excessive pride and belief in your own infallibility. This is the most obvious manifestation of fundamental problem that underlies whole raft of leadership sins – arrogance.
Arrogance is very real danger and even leaders who start their careers with perfect attitude can slide into hubris over time. “Sometimes when people get to power, the power gets to them,” says Jo Brosnahan, chairman of Leadership New Zealand. “Good leadership requires good deal of humility.”
Self-knowledge is key to avoiding arrogance. This should come both from private reflection and from gathering feedback on your leadership from others. The problem is, if you’re already not listening, you may not hear the feedback either.
It’s best to keep your feet firmly on the ground from day one. Remember that without followers there can be no leaders.
Don’t assume your organisation’s success is all due to you – or even to your team. There may be contributing factors such as market forces totally outside of the organisation that brought you success.
See things for what they are. And don’t believe your own media hype.

The wages of sin: Your team deserts you and you make poor decisions.

The road to righteousness: Sir Peter Blake said the ability to listen is the most important characteristic of good leader. Open thine ears.

6) NOT BEING DECISIVE
The difference between the person in the mailroom and the one in the boardroom is not the kind of decisions they make, but the impact of those decisions.
People who make quality decisions advance to positions of leadership, where making decisions is what they’re expected to do. If, as leader, you don’t make decisions, you’re failing in one of your key responsibilities.
This failure becomes especially pronounced in bad times. You have to h

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