Four Counter-Intuitive Insights for Effective Leaders

I lead a leadership-development organization—for the next generation. One of the easiest traps to fall into is to make leadership a set of pithy, quotable concepts or behaviors. It is so much more than that. It is an organic and dynamic relationship between a point person and a group of people who’ve agreed to work together to accomplish a goal. It’s a “dance” between a leader and his/her followers. So, today, let’s look at some counter-intuitive ideas, ones that may not readily be embraced or understood by the average person. I’ll frame them as questions. Hope you enjoy.

1. Is it ever OK to be “boring” as a leader?

Yes. As a rule, leaders should work to be engaging to their followers, especially if you lead young team members. However, when leaders face a crisis or deal with a controversial situation, boring is not only OK, it may be preferred. In either of these two contexts I just listed, to be animated and showy is not what folks need. What they need is a person who steadily plods toward the target and stays on task. No distractions, no diversions, nothing to interfere with progress. Getting bogged down happens, but good leaders know how to get teams unstuck by staying focused. Research shows, when all is said and done, this is exactly what people need.

2. Is there a time leaders should focus on themselves?

Yes. So many qualities make for good leadership, first and foremost is serving their teams. But there is a fundamental trait (before adding any others) leaders must own: self-awareness; to be fully aware of myself. As a foundation, leaders must know how they come across to people. Experts tell us the best leaders tend to be moderately assertive. Not domineering or passive—but clear and ambitious. I must know if I am practicing this trait. Once I understand how I come across to others, then I must insure I can manage myself, my tasks and then the people I lead. This builds trust. Another time leaders must focus on themselves is when they are nearing burnout. At this point, leaders must care for themselves so they can care for others again later. We cannot be “Starving Bakers.”

3. Is there a time when a leader should be vague?

Yes. Although I fully embrace our Habitudes “Rivers and Floods” which teaches clarity and focus, there are a few times when good leaders purposefully remain a little vague. There’s plenty of research on the value of ambiguity. For instance, when the team is moving into a new direction but you’re still weighing out the specifics, remaining a bit vague allows you to keep your options open. If you’re not too specific it gives you more operating room. The trick is, you must still sound specific. Once again, the trick is to not remain fuzzy for a long time. Once you see the trend and what you should do—get specific. Be a river not a flood.

4. Can a leader be too decisive?

Yes. The times when this admirable quality, decisiveness, can be detrimental is when a leader acts on little or no information. I have to watch out for this. In my love of progress and action, I can sometimes react in a “knee- jerk” sort of way. I succumb to the temptation to do “ something” instead of wait on the right timing. It’s better to wait, think and plan for a year and produce one excellent program or product than to produce a hundred mediocre ones. If you do the latter, your reputation will be “mediocre.” Sometimes, patience is the toughest yet most necessary quality of a leader. No one ever told us that leadership was often about waiting, did they?

Can you jot me a note? Send me some other questions that you suspect might have some counter-intuitive answers and I will do my best to enter the conversation.


Four Counter-Intuitive Insights for Effective Leaders