Leaders are regularly tested. Whether pursuing great goals or simply responding to the unexpected each day, leaders encounter challenges. How they respond and prevail tells much about the leader’s abilities.
Mark Sanborn – Leadership Speaker
There are, however, three primary test of leadership. Watch how a leader responds and you’ll learn much. And if you’re a leader, these are three things that will quickly reveal your character and competence.
Pressure. Effective leaders learn to handle pressure with aplomb. Many, however, had a point at which the pressure becomes too much and they blow.
Many years ago I was flying a small commuter flight out of Newark. The plane was so small there were 10 or 12 rows with two seats each. Two young pilots stood to the side of the rear entry way (a swing down door with steps) and greeted all as they boarded. There was a small group that obviously knew each other and who had been drinking heavily. I was seated toward the front when this group started piling on top of each other in the back two rows (I’m not making this up). The pilots became more emphatic in asking everyone to move forward to their seats. The drunken passengers didn’t and with so much weight in the back, the plane tipped over backwards damaging the under fuselage stabilizer. This was the pressure point where both pilots blew, yelling expletives at the passengers and berating them for being idiots (which they actually were). The once pilot crew had become pit vipers.
The most effective leaders handle pressure with grace and aplomb. That doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes get emotional–team members take important cues from the emotions of the leader–but they don’t lose control, complain or become defeated.
Success. When a leader becomes successful, he or she can make several mistakes: 1. thinking they did it alone and not giving credit to those who supported them, 2. thinking they are all powerful and that success in one aspect of their lives will always make them successful in other areas, 3. hubris which is defined as excessive pride or self confidence or 4. all of the above.
A healthy perspective is the old adage, “If you done it, it ain’t bragging.” But add a dose of good fortune and three doses of appreciation for those who helped. It helps to remember that sometimes a leader succeeds when he or she shouldn’t have, just as times when they did everything right and things still turned out wrong.
It take conscious effort to keep success in perspective and neither over-value nor under-value it.
Failure. I believe a leader doesn’t get full credit unless she or he takes full responsibility, and that includes taking blame. It is human nature to take credit for success and place blame for failure. One of the least considered aspects of leadership is this: leaders create results through others, so if those others succeed or fail, the leader shares ownership in the outcome.
There can even be good news in failure. The best leaders know that 1. we usually learn more from failure than we do success, 2. it keeps us appropriately humber and 3. it proves we are trying new things (those only walk the known path aren’t innovators).
Everyone experiences failure, how a leader responds is telling. Tantrums, blaming, complaining and other outbursts or prolonged bouts of moodiness are a major sign of an immature leader.
Successful leaders aren’t happy about failure, but they don’t wallow in it. They analyze what happened, what could have been done differently and extract lessons for themselves and their team going forward.
The next time you are dealing with significant pressure, success or failure recognize them as tests that can increase or decrease your standing as a leader.
Mark Sanborn is an acclaimed speaker, bestselling author and award winning blogger who inspires leaders at every level to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.