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06.10.2014 Sharon Spano, Ph.D.

Why Leaders Never Make the Other Guy Wrong

Whenever I ask an audience the question, what do leaders do, I get a host of responses. Leaders set vision, strategically plan, manage others, build organizations. The list goes on.

No one ever says, leaders brutalize and belittle their subordinates. Leaders don’t care if their people are successful or if they fail the company. Leaders are unapproachable, unkind, and uncaring.

People don’t say these things because we don’t typically link these negative behaviors with leadership. Yet, clearly we know that some very successful leaders behave this way. And, when they do, dare I say, they are missing out on one of the most important aspects of leadership: the opportunity to develop and influence people.

Are Leaders Born or Made?

After 100 plus years of research on what leaders do, there’s a lot to be said. Historical debates that used to focus on whether or not leaders are born or made, however, are no longer relevant. They are no longer relevant because in our rapidly changing world, leaders can rise up out of nowhere.

Think about it. We live in an era when a twenty-something tech genius can suddenly find himself leading a multi-million dollar organization whether he’s prepared to do so or not.

If this genius has an attitude of leadership, he will probably succeed. If he doesn’t develop an attitude of leadership, chances are, he will fail. He might be able to learn the skills of leadership in due course, but having an attitude of leadership is what will carry him through the many ups and downs of building and leading an organization.

What is an Attitude of Leadership?

Leadership has become one of those buzz words that means different things to different people. If we boil the construct down to the least common denominator, effective leaders have an attitude made up of beliefs and values that demonstrate a heart for people.

Effective leaders not only have a passion for the work they do, they have a passion for the people they serve. They are committed to developing and influencing people.

When all is said and done, a leader can’t really do much else if he doesn’t have the right people around him to implement his vision and strategic plan.

If we think of leadership as having the capacity to develop and influence people, there are two important distinctions that position a leader to do this at the highest level possible.

#1 Leaders Never Judge

This sounds simple, but it’s tougher than you might think. Most leaders are making judgments and decisions all day long.

However, a leader who is committed to developing and influencing people learns quickly that it’s not wise to jump to conclusions about the value and potential of his subordinates.

If I’m judging my people, I’m putting them in a box. I’m deciding that this is who they are and all they will ever be. The moment I step into judgment about another person’s potential, I’ve lost creativity. I’m no longer able to define ways to develop their unique skills and talents.

Leaders with a heart for people see not only what’s there, but what could be. Even so, they practice discernment by assessing the person within the context of the situation.

#2 Leaders Do Assess

There is an ever-so-slight semantic difference between judgment and assessment, but this distinction has a profound effect on your attitude and how you lead.

An assessment is different from a judgment in that it is not about making the other guy wrong. Rather, assessment comes from an attitude of caring and support. What this essentially means is that I’m making a determination about this person at this particular moment in time.

More importantly, it’s about your experience of the person. Your experience may be fact or fiction. What matters is that the focus shifts you to a greater sense of first person responsibility.

Assessment, this sense of being in the moment with another person, creates a free space for development and influence. Rather than feeling paralyzed by your own judgment of another, you are now free to creatively offer support, advice, or solutions as opposed to reprimand, punishment, or blame.

An attitude of leadership as I've described it is about a nuanced level of discernment. This takes practice, a commitment to people, and a heart that is willing to embrace what is possible in others.

I promise that if you incorporate these two distinctions into your leadership approach, you will find yourself surrounded by loyal followers. You will also find yourself less stressed by the day-to-day challenges of leading other people to higher levels of performance.

Q: What other distinctions do you think are important to leadership? [reminder]

Published by Sharon Spano, Ph.D. June 10, 2014