The answer to this question will indicate the possible personality flaws that are likely having a disproportionately negative impact on the quality and execution of strategic choices and general management in the business organisation you are leading. Research clearly indicates that leaders can really get in their own way. It might be excitement or fear that reduces your ability to self-regulate your reactions. Instead of thinking clearly, many leaders default to habits influenced by deeper and well-reinforced “personality flaws”. These are far more than just annoyances, as they cast a large shadow across the organisations they should be leading, contributing to failures in the design and execution of strategy.
Research has shown a number of leadership types and the specific personality flaws of each leadership type. I will outline some of these below.
The Overconfident, Chronically Certain Leader
An overconfident, chronically certain leader has a tendency to over promise and develop unrealistic strategies. This creates unnecessary anxiety for the people charged with their execution. These leaders also suffer from myopia and over-determinism, oblivious to the impact of longer-term trends, complex dynamics and various ongoing disruptions. By the time they realise what’s happening, it’s often too late to respond. If you lean toward excessive confidence in your views, here are some ways to mitigate chronic certainty:
- Encourage debate and dissent. Explicitly ask for different views
- Surround yourself with people that have the courage to challenge you. Guard against the temptation of working with “yes” people. Find people who are confident in their abilities and comfortable in their skin and encourage them to speak out when they disagree with you. Reassure them that their views will be heard and respected.
- Immerse yourself in external developments. Invest the time to identify weak signals, particularly about consumer behavior and technology innovation; observe competitor moves; and talk to key stakeholders to fully understand their interests.
- Invite outside voices. Make sure to have trusted business advisors who have the experience and detachment to call out limiting or false assumptions and challenge unwise moves.
The Impulsive Leader
I call this the “top of the pops” leader. Such leaders just cannot resist the titillation of a new idea or the latest fad. They crave the adrenaline rush of pioneering what’s not been done. In the process, they exhaust their organisations and overcommit resources. They tend to speak in flashy, hyperbolic declarations that whip people into frenzies of excitement. This soon dies down once they catch on to the pattern of abandoning last week’s big idea to pursue the next one.
If, as a Leader, you struggle to resist the “next new thing,” here are some approaches to consider:
- Insert time and data into strategic decisions. Create factors in your process — things that force you to pause. In particular, require others to bring competing fact bases to the table and allow sufficient time in the strategic decision-making process for proper debate. This will help test your ideas before you act on them.
- Build extra discipline into the strategy process and allow others to run it. Like giving the car keys to a designated driver at a party, it’s important to recognise that while your instincts may generate lots of creative ideas, you aren’t the person best suited to own the strategy process. Surround yourself with disciplined leaders who can develop, interrogate, and pilot strategic opportunities in ways you would naturally avoid. This will allow your views to be tested in the open, building trust along the way.
- Focus on risk factors and resource requirements. Be especially vigilant about the risks inherent in your ideas. Invest the time to identify the true scale of capabilities and resources required to execute them. Listen a bit more closely to the pessimists in order to understand risks fully.
- Get to the heart of your adrenaline binges. There’s something addictive about the rush of a new idea and the dopamine hangover that results. Dig into your motivations to find out what deeper need you are trying to fill.
The Rigidly Controlling Leader
Some leaders create a highly controlled environment. Everything — and everyone — works in a prescribed way. They struggle to accommodate novel or nontraditional views. This silences the voices of employees, who in turn produce low-risk, barely incremental strategies in order to avoid their leader’s exacting critique. They retreat from coming forward with creative ideas. When it comes time to execute, the fearful organisation cowers from trying anything new, making change much slower, if not impossible. You can mitigate your tendency to over-control by learning to:
- Increase transparency. Share more information and insight about the performance of the business and the progress of activities. This engenders trust,and with time participation from others, which can reduce feelings of uncertainty and fear of other’s motives.
- Take calculated risks. Identify situations that are not sensitive or material to experiment with new ways of sharing responsibility and empowering others.
- Test ideas with trusted persons. Learn to communicate your thinking and ideas with people you respect. Open this circle to others as you find that this dialogue both improves the quality of ideas and increases buy-in.
- Examine your inner self. Take the time to reflect on episodes in your career — and life — that may explain your controlling behavior. Were you mirroring the style of any previous boss? Was control your response to feeling that you are really the leader? Ask yourself how much all this hinders you from performing at your best. Most of all, work out what you want to leave behind.
The Insecure Leader
While every leader faces a crisis of confidence at some point, some leaders live with a paralysing sense of self-doubt. They worry about what others think of them and anxiously expect to fall short. Many find ways of masking these deeper feelings with a confident game face and measured demeanor. Some are overly accommodating and nice. By purchasing the regard of others with benevolence, they reduce their deeper fears of failure and rejection.These leaders have a particularly noxious effect on strategy. They’re often taken advantage of by more aggressive leaders or colleagues who cajole them into saying yes to every idea they’re offered. In addition, many are so fearful of failure that they end up with “analysis paralysis” and endless mitigation efforts for risks only they can see. They often refer to past failures as the basis of their risk concerns, no matter how long ago they took place or how much has been learned since.
If you suffer from an anxious sense of self-doubt, here are some ways to reduce their impact on your organisation:
- Get to the heart of your fears. Whether with the help of a coach or therapist, recognise that pervasive insecurity is a sign of deeper unresolved issues.
- Do worst-case and best-case scenarios. Rather than catastrophizing over impending failure, insecure leaders should employ the use of reliable data to build realistic scenarios about the numerous potential outcomes of a strategy under consideration.
- Reframe the conversation to opportunities. Rather than remaining fixated on what might go wrong or how others might see you in a negative light, force yourself to look at the upside of opportunities you’re exploring. What’s the best possible outcome? How could the organisation benefit? How might this be put in a positive light?
- Relive past successes. Sometimes the best way to contradict insecurity is to look honestly at your past successes. Where have you faced similar choices that turned out well? What lessons from that experience could apply now? Invite a trusted third party to give you a dispassionate view of your past, too.
I believe it is important that all leaders identify what type of leader they are, to arrive at identfying their weaknesses in their personalities. When these weaknesses extend too far, they can be particularly destructive to the visions being cast and the strategies being executed. Businesses already face plenty of obstacles to bringing those aspirations to life in the competitive landscape they operate in. Please make sure that one of these obstacles isn’t you.