How To Be An Effective Leader Without Getting In Your Own Way

When I was a freshman in high school a very attractive female senior said to me in art class that I was a stick in the mud. When I proudly rushed home to tell this “good news” to my younger sister she used words to describe my shall we say, immaturity that weren’t nuanced. I had assumed a “stick in the mud” was a lone warrior. Similar to King Richard of the Great Crusades. I know that was a long shot. But I was after all a freshman. Where the only other girl I had spoken to was my sister.

fear of leading

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What does this have to do with leadership and management? Because assumptions about our own prowess can and do undermine the organization.

An all to common mistake of leaders and managers is the distraction of the public persona. They have worked diligently for years to hone this well crafted image where the script is constantly crafted to redefine  the inner self with what they believe others want.

In the business world the problem with crafting such an image from the out side in is one is locked into a position where effectiveness quickly wanes.

There are more-nuanced costs as well. Once you’ve crafted your persona and determined not to veer from it, your effectiveness often suffers. The need to be seen as intelligent can inhibit learning and risk taking, for instance. The need to be seen as likable can keep you from asking tough questions or challenging existing norms. The need to be seen as decisive can cause you to shut down critical feedback loops.

Being analytical with a tough decisive edge sounds very leader-like. In fact, one would presume shareholders would adore this style as it is results oriented.

Problem is the soft skills required of leaders are under developed.

Here is an example:

Anita thought that using intuition was intellectually lazy; she was known for the phrase “Show me the data.” When in-store analytics suggested that the company gained little advantage from long-term employees, Anita ordered some store managers to replace experienced salespeople with lower-paid part-timers. The experiment reduced payroll costs, but it wreaked havoc on the culture and service experience in those stores—an outcome the data didn’t immediately reveal.

Store managers tried to communicate their frustration to Anita, but the interactions invariably went badly. She pushed back on any concerns that weren’t supported by numbers and recklessly concluded that her managers simply feared change. Their resignations started to roll in. Like many leaders, Anita had decided she could be tough or empathetic—but not both. She was unable to hear feedback, particularly from people below her, or to risk looking bad by making a high-profile course correction. And so she lost some of the company’s best managers.

Not until turnover reached 50% did Anita take action. Yes, that is the arrogance of leadership.

How were the series of cascading problems resolved?

Anita humbly admitted she had to take a different route.  She recalled the adage: People don;t care about what you know until they know how much you care.”

She approached a manager with enormous experience who had resigned. Her next step was courageous. She asked the manager to assist her in repairing the damage by coming back. This act of humility became an important turning point. Leaders may have courage however, they are seldom the smartest ones in the room. If they are however, there are countless people with ideas and observations to solve complex issues.

As  Anne MorrissRobin J. Ely, and Frances X. Frei wrote: “This type of journey is not uncommon. At some point in their leadership trajectory, ambitious people must choose between image and impact, between looking powerful and empowering others. They must choose, in effect, between impersonating a leader and being one.”

Adapted from


Jim Woods, Leadership speaker, Human Resources Consultant, Business Coach

Jim Woods is a leadership development and training consultant deploying his unique abilities in character based training and strategy.

See a partial list of Jim’s clients. Hire Jim Woods to Speak  | Follow us: Facebook | Follow us: Twitter | Skype ID – jim.woods79   Click here to schedule an appointment.

Jim is president of InnoThink Group a human resources and leadership management consulting firm | Skype ID – jim.woods79   Click here to schedule an appointment.m. He has an absolute passion for people development and are constantly refining and adapting his programs in order to ensure that they have the maximum impact on those we serve.




Jim Woods is president of The Jim Woods Group. A management consulting firm. Go here to see his work He advises and speaks to organizations large and small on how to increase top line growth in times of uncertainty and complexity. Some of his speaking and consulting clients include: U.S. Army, MITRE Corporation, Pitney Bowes, Whirlpool, and 3M. See more at his website

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Posted in Authentic Leadership, Small Business

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