One of the most common sources of information on how to be a leader comes from observation of previous leaders. For many this is often the only source and it is very natural to emulate what we see. An exercise we use in our leadership development workshops is creating a Good Leader and Bad Leader list. Participants create a list of good and bad leadership traits, based on their own observations and experience. The list helps them begin to develop their own definition of what a good leader really is.
The exercise also gives them a list of traits and behaviors they don’t want to emulate. As we analyze the list, participants often realize they sometimes fall into some of the behaviors on that second list. None of us are perfect and sometimes, usually unintentially, we’ll find ourselves doing something that’s on that Bad Leader list. Perhaps we didn’t listen well to what the team was telling us, or maybe we were micromanaging a project. This is not unusual and often we don’t even realize we’re doing it.
Years ago I asked one of my team members, Sam, to work on a project that involved a major reorganization of the way our emergency equipment was stored. The project’s goal was to allow easier and more logical access to the equipment. I set a deadline for the project that was several weeks in the future. I kept a close eye on Sam, asking a lot of questions and offering suggestions, getting even more involved as the deadline approached. Finally, Sam asked me if the deadline to complete the project had changed or if I was unhappy with what he was doing. I said no to both questions at which point he asked me to leave him alone and let him finish. I didn’t realize I was sending a message that I didn’t trust him.
The day before the deadline for the project, Sam presented the new arrangement. He had far exceeded my expectations and actually created an entirely new system that made management of the equipment easier. He hadn’t needed my help and, in fact, my interference had slowed him down.
Micromanagement is very high on my Bad Leader list, but there I was, micromanaging. I was doing the same thing that drives me crazy when others do it. Unfortunately, even though it was obvious to Sam, I didn’t realize what I was doing. Ever since then I strive to be more aware of how I interact with my teams. I regularly check to ensure that not only have I relayed all the information I have available about the project, but that I’m also allowing the team the freedom to do the job. I strive to check in with them only to stay informed of the project’s status. This allows them the autonomy to perform at peak levels and gives me the peace of mind that the job is getting done.
What’s on your list of good and bad leadership traits? Are you doing something to your team that would drive you crazy if someone did it to you?