Leaders can inspire, champion change, and engage followers who will stop at nothing to watch the vision become a reality. Being in a leadership position enhances your own personal and professional image, as well. But there are risks involved in leadership. Let’s discuss five common leadership risks and how you can avoid them.
History will tell you that leaders can become isolated. In an organizational environment, this is sometimes caused by growth. For example, leaders who start out in a small organization that grows in leaps and bounds can suddenly find themselves alone, without a proper support system and sounding boards. Perhaps the other leaders he or she relied on have their own groups to lead. There is also the possibility that the leader got lost in the shuffle – inspiration can cause people to charge ahead without stopping until the vision is complete. How can you avoid becoming isolated? One of the key ways is to maintain constant communication with other leaders and with the organization as a whole. Leaders who conduct “town hall” style meetings, even in bad times, will be able to keep in touch with the organization’s “pulse”. Leaders who continually communicate will always hear and be heard. In addition, leaders should not give in to the temptation to surround themselves with people who say only what they want to hear. As a leader, you must be constantly challenged, and one of the best ways to do that is to surround yourself with people who will tell say that you might be wrong.
Another leadership risk is a loss of focus on management and operations. Any organization has certain managerial and operational functions at all times. If you’ve led the group effectively, you may not be in touch with these functions on a day-to-day basis, which is fine. But don’t lose touch with those functions. Understand what’s going on, what has changed, and how the organization fits into those changes. Be sure to maintain your grip on when to step out of the leader’s role and step into the manager’s role – and ensure that your leadership team maintains this focus, as well. In simple terms, don’t lose focus with the day-to-day “how” of your organization. If you feel it slipping, get out there and re-acquaint yourself.
We’ve all heard the rule to “under promise and over deliver”. Popular sentiment can sometimes carry leaders away by popular sentiment and the exaltation brought on by winning battle after battle. When that happens, the leader may begin to “over promise and under deliver”. To avoid falling prey to this risk, you should always stay rooted in reality. The temptation to over promise is great, especially when the organization is inspired and things are moving along smoothly. If things start to take a turn for the worse, examine the situation and adjust your reality. There’s no shame in telling the group that you’re proud of their inspiration but that things may get a little rough. The key here, aside from truth and honesty, is to let the organization know that you are there with them at all times, even when things are tough.
Leaders can also become too visible and too approachable. This is a fine line but it can happen. For example, the leader that is carried away on the tide of good feeling may let his or her guard down in order to keep the good feeling. Or he or she may forget to manage even though the situation calls for it. Having an “open door” is a great idea, as long as there is an invisible wall that others cannot get through. Being a populist leader is a great way to get things done, but don’t go too far. Lead when it’s necessary and manage when you have to. Make unpopular choices and explain that the decision was made on behalf of the organization and not certain people. This is a way that leaders can maintain respect while still being populists.
One of the final risks of leadership comes from selecting team members around you. Some leaders, again as they become comfortable, may start making decisions based on a feeling or a sense of leadership from the candidate. These are good places to start when selecting a team, but don’t allow that leadership focus to be the sole focus in hiring. Remember to look at the position you’re trying to fill and how the person’s knowledge and skills fit it. Simply being a good leader is not enough when there is also a job to do and a division or group to manage. Look for leadership and job related skills when you’re selecting a team, and you’ll end up with a person who knows how to lead and manage. And you won’t have to explain what could be a “sticky” situation when that person just doesn’t work out.
Leadership is not without its risks. As long as you strive to avoid the risks, your leadership will continue to be effective, even in good or bad times.
Copyright 2011 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.