Common mistakes leaders make and how to avoid them
I love being an executive coach. It’s a little like being a part of a good mystery novel…getting to know the characters, understanding the plot, discovering the problems, and then coming up with a creative solution so the protagonist wins in the end, and the organization is happy. Well… ok, it doesn’t always work out that way…but often enough to keep it challenging and very satisfying.
Here is a peak behind the curtain, to see the kinds of situations that crop up often in my coaching work:
Too involved in the technical work, instead of leading.
Try telling a doctor not to deal with patients; or telling an engineer not to tinker with something—that’s how they’re wired and what they are trained to do. Now, make that even more challenging by telling them they are accountable for the outcome but they can’t do it themselves, and you see the dilemma faced by leaders who are experts in their field.
Technical experts, who have been promoted into leadership positions, must come to a point of balance: they have to lead the work without micromanaging the people who do the work. That can be tough enough on a good day, but if you throw in a tight deadline, or an inexperienced subordinate, the temptation can be too much to resist.
The successful leaders take pleasure in working through the successes of others. Not unlike the pleasure you take in your own children’s successes. They mentor, without smothering and give employees room to make decisions and become experts themselves. Sometimes, to feed the need to keep their fingers in touch with the technical work, they will identify a segment in their jobs where they can dig down and get their hands dirty, but that is a small segment of their total scope of responsibilities.
Don’t collaborate well with other departments.
Why don’t some leaders “work and play well with others”? There are many reasons, which may not be all that obvious. For example, senior management can play a role. If one leader is favored over another, a rivalry can brew, which can influence how they share resources and communicate with each other. Or, if the senior person is overly demanding and punishing when mistakes are made, leaders may finger-point at each other, rather than pull together to solve the problem. In other cases, a leader may just be myopic about his or her function and become so fixated on making his/her team successful, it’s at the expense of every other team. This is especially true when financial rewards are involved.
The global, competitive world we work in today leaves no room for isolated leaders. Leaders who move up the ranks must have a big-picture view of the total organization and how to contribute to it. They reach across department lines and work on problems together; sharing resources to solve the organization’s problems.
Can't deliver a professional presentation that informs and persuades.
It’s one thing to know your stuff, but presenting your stuff is quite a different matter. It’s tough enough to stand in front of your colleagues and senior management to speak, but then to convince them to spend money or take a specific course of action, can be excruciating. And what’s worse, how well you present is becoming more of a career builder or buster.
When I coach leaders on their presentation skills, the most common mistakes we work on are: too much material for the amount of time; too many slides (and too cluttered); not being clear about the purpose and what they want from the audience; and not enough examples, or engagement, to make the material interesting and understandable. The delivery itself is a whole different matter that can get in the way of an otherwise well-crafted presentation. That’s a lot to think about in the course of a presentation! So it’s no wonder so many people want to work with a coach to improve those skills.
Lacks “executive presence.”
What the heck is “executive presence”? It’s a word being used a lot these days in executive circles. It can cover a whole host of things: how someone dresses, speaks, acts… It can also refer to a lack of political savvy or business acumen. It can show up as intimidation among fellow executives, causing a reluctance to stand up for one’s ideas.
As a coach, I need to get down to the exact behaviors underlying this description. Without behaviors I don’t know how to help the person fix the root cause. For example, if a junior member of the executive team isn’t speaking up in staff meetings, that is relatively easy to remedy. But if he is making serious political mistakes –alienating peers, fumbling presentations, asking embarrassing questions, there’s a lot more work to be done.
Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs.
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