By | Abhijit Bhaduri |Keynote speaker, Author and Columnist
The leader’s role is to be able to see what is unseen, listen to what is unsaid and speak what has been silently buried.
The things that are invisible
The caveman (or cavewoman or cave-kid) knew that they had to watch out for the hungry animals. They knew about nature’s fury. They could prepared to guard themselves against the enemy provided they could see and hear the warning signs. That kept them safe. What killed cave people were things that were invisible. They did not know what they were fighting against.
What kills most startups are things that are invisible. In my work as a Talent Management professional across organisations from startups to Fortune 500 companies, I find that we read the wrong signals when it comes to choosing leaders. By leaders I mean people who lead teams and those who lead organisations. Having the wrong leader is a recipe for failure whether it is a Dreamer organisation or a Unicorn or a globally present Market Shaper.
Articulate, Bold and Confident (ABC)
There is a story I read where the child is listening to the father describe his role in the war. When the story is over, he child asks, “If you did it all, what was the rest of the army doing?”
The ABC of poor leadership
Companies have swung from being Market Shapers to going bankrupt because they had the “wrong” leader. Too many movies have glamorised precisely what a leader should not be. In an interview when the candidate is articulate and confident, (men are more prone to do this) it is easy to view that as a sign of leadership.
Even when they have never done something, they will often convince you that they will learn it in no time. They set grandiose goals that will burnout the team. The leader remains blind to the misery of the team because the narcissist only thinks of himself. Such leaders love to be in the spotlight. So they always hire people who are so bad that the leader shines by comparison.
During succession planning discussions, they always say that their successor “will take a few more years before they are ready“! Sounds familiar?
Most people have a fairly inaccurate sense of their own talents, especially when the question is how good they are in comparison to other people. It is important to assess leaders because a standardised assessment can tell you where your best talent would stack up against other leaders.
We have transitioned from a world where academic expertise, hard skills, and formal qualifications were essential to predict whether someone would fit a given role, to a world where experience, soft skills, and broad talent traits have come to represent the cornerstone of human potential.
Three leadership indicators
“I don’t know, can you teach me?” Most situations in business have never existed before. When confronted with something they have never dealt with, do they have the humility to say, “I don’t know”. Or better still, “Let us explore it together.” Even better, “Can you teach me?” If the leader is going to do things they have done before, they will kill the organisation. When you are in a meeting, just track the amount of time the leader takes up. For example: If there are 5 people in a room for an hour, each person should speak for about 12 minutes. Compare it with the actual time taken.
Do people like being with this person: We may not know what the future jobs will look like, but it is safe to assume that people who are generally smarter, better able to deal with people, and more hard-working, will be able to perform them better than their less able, likeable, and driven counterparts. Emotionally intelligent people are good listeners. They can give the most truthful and authentic feedback when a person has fallen short. If the person who received that feedback goes back wanting to do better, that is a sign of likability. Employees will go above and beyond for a likeable leader and never complain. They feel psychologically safe to share their disagreements.
Coachability: The things that makes the organisation grow changes over time. The style that works with a team of ten people does not work when the team is spread across multiple cities and countries. At each stage of this transition, the leader must have a coach who can be the objective observer who can speak truth to power. The sign of a weak leader is that they find someone who will tell them what they like to hear and label them as their “coach”! Even Roger Federer, despite being the world’s best tennis player has a coach. A leader who invests in a coach builds a culture of mentoring in the organisation.
Here is a video that may summarise why we select the wrong person to be a leader
One of the challenges of leadership is to be able to be comfortable with diversity. When we work with a diverse talent pool, it really tests the leader’s capability. They need to be able to understand divergent (and often sharply opposing) views and reconcile it. Emotions do matter at the workplace – especially when the team is diverse in every way.
Updated on 18 May 2021: Last evening I joined some of the readers on the Mentza App (download it for iOS or Android) for a 20 minute discussion about this article. Any listener can create an clip of the past 40 seconds any time. This is a “Mentza”. Listen (Isn’t it cool)?