“Insight 14. Great leaders are not perceived as having major weaknesses. One of the common bits of folk wisdom about leaders is that great leaders have great strengths, but strengths taken too far become weaknesses. Furthermore, no one is perfect, so great leaders must have highly visible flaws. We were fully expecting to find that notion confirmed by our data.
To our surprise, there is no hint of that. Instead, our data describe the leaders who are seen as highly effective by their subordinates as not having flaws. Their scores across all competency categories were remarkably on the high side. Frankly, we wondered if there was not a pervasive halo effect that caused people who are really effective at a few skills to be perceived as being good at everything. We fear the converse may also be true: that leaders who are not seen as standing out on several dimensions are perceived as not standing out on any dimension.
Insight 15. Fatal flaws must be fixed. While our focus will be on developing strengths, there are some circumstances when a focus on weaknesses is warranted. This often happens when the nature of the weakness jeopardizes the center pole of the ‘leadership tent’; character. If a person is not honorable, does not keep promises, does not tell the truth, or if this person places personal gain above the needs of the organization, then that flaw will cause that person to be ineffective.
There are other ‘fatal flaws.’ These begin with the inability to learn from mistakes, and include poor interpersonal skills, unwillingness to accept new ideas, lack of accountability, and a lack of initiative.
Personal experience, having met with hundreds of employees in my career (one-on-one), make the authors’ comment, “leaders who are seen as highly effective by subordinates as not having flaws”, inaccurate. Two things may be in play here to make that statement; one, employees “kissing up”, or two, they were fearful of being identified in follow-up communication. Great leaders do not establish fear, but they do behave in a way that gives employees the ability, and willingness, to speak their minds. It can create pitfalls, but not having the ability to speak openly can create greater vulnerability. My personal experience was an employee of mine, who overheard a conversation with two renters in my office rental business. She was very unhappy with what they were saying about me, and she interrupted their meeting to express her dissatisfaction. The next day she told me what had happened. I also received a letter from one of the renters in the infamous conversation demanding an apology from both of us. I wrote across the face of the letter, “no apology needed, no apology given.” The support was appreciated, but more importantly her courage.
Fatal flaws (Insight 15), are definitely problematic, but rarely corrected by bosses. Why is that? Consider lack of courage, bosses “pet”, and indifference. Two that were typically corrected were stealing and/or verbally abusing co-workers.
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Turning Good Managers Into Great Leaders
AN OVERVIEW OF IMPORTANT IDEAS IN THIS BOOK