Six Mistakes Real Leaders Avoid

I recently had a reader ask: “Is there a simple test that can be used to quickly determine an executive’s leadership ability?” The short answer is yes. There are, in fact, a great number of tests that can quickly assess leadership ability. Something as simple as a 360 review, or as complex as a deep psychological profile (both with weighted emphasis on leadership aptitude) can point out an individuals’ leadership capabilities. Our firm (as do many other firms) offers a broad array of skill specific assessments and profiles which can be implemented, but for purposes of answering the specific question at hand, in today’s column I’ll give you six areas to peel back the layers on when evaluating potential leaders. First of all, it is important to realize that just because someone is in a leadership position doesn’t necessarily mean they should be. Put another way, not all leaders are created equal. Frequent readers of this blog can find a veritable plethora of tips on becoming a better and more effective leader. However in the text that follows I’ll address how to spot ineffective leaders by assessing six critical areas of leadership DNA. While there are certainly more than six areas that can be examined when discussing leadership ability and aptitude, there is no possible way for a person in a leadership role to experience sustainable success as a senior executive if they have issues in the following areas: 1. Poor Character: A leader a lacks character or integrity will not endure the test of time. It doesn’t matter how intelligent, affable, persuasive, or savvy a person is, if they are prone to rationalizing unethical behavior based upon current or future needs they will eventually fall prey to their own undoing.2. Little or No Track Record: While past performance is not always a certain indicator of future events, a long-term track record of success should not be taken lightly. Someone who has consistently experienced success in leadership roles has a much better chance of success than someone who has not. Bottom line: unproven leaders come with a high risk premium.3. Poor Communication Skills: Show me a leader with poor communication skills and I’ll show you someone who will be short-lived in their position. Great leaders can communicate effectively across mediums, constituencies, and environments. They are active listeners, fluid thinkers, and know when to press on when to back-off.4. Self-Serving Nature: If a leader doesn’t understand the concept of “service above self” they will not engender the trust, confidence, and loyalty of those they lead. Any leader is only as good as his or her team’s desire to be led by them. An over abundance of ego, pride, and arrogance are not positive leadership traits. Long story short; if a leader receives a vote of non-confidence from their subordinates…game over.5. One Size Fits All Leadership Style: Great leaders are fluid and flexible in their approach. They understand the power of, and necessity for contextual leadership. “My way or the highway” leadership styles don’t play well in today’s world and will result in a fractured culture and ultimately a non-productive organization. Only those leaders who can quickly recognize and adapt their methods to the situation at hand will be successful over the long haul.6. Lack of Focus and Follow-Through: Those leaders who lack the focus and attention to detail needed to apply leverage and resources in an aggressive and committed fashion will perish. Leaders who do not possess a bias toward action, or who cannot deliver on their obligations will not be successful. Leadership is about performance. Intentions must be aligned with results for leaders to be effective. The moral of this story is leaders need to be honest, have a demonstrated track record of success, be excellent communicators, place an emphasis on serving those they lead, be fluid in approach, and have laser focus and a bias toward action. If these traits are not possessed by your current leadership team you will be in for a rocky road ahead.