To break down one of the biggest myths of an effective leader, consider the night sky.
The myth would have us believe that the executive is a lone star on the horizon, guiding others to follow. The vision is fixed on that star.
Reality is quite different, however. While research for the Center for Creative Leadership shows executives are forward looking and insightful, studies also show that a good executive is far from that lone, isolated star guiding a company solo. Instead, CCL and “Unbalanced Leadership” author Pete Hammett find that the best strategies aren’t handed down from above by one person. They’re developed, discovered and enhanced by a team approach. To use our sky analogy, the successful executive would be the key star in a constellation, not an isolated body set in the distance and expecting others to follow from afar.
Hammett says a myth of an effective leader is that those chiefs should be the source for all strategy. They see their own opinions as coming from years of experience. They’re confident. They’re intelligent, therefore they build the idea in their own minds that their vision for an organization must be the best.
In fact, what Hammett says organizations should do is pull on their executives’ best traits: their experience, their intelligence, and their ability to inspire others to do their best work. Put all of those factors into a company, and sound strategies will develop.
Unlike strategies and visions created in an executive vacuum, those that bubble up organically from the operation will have more chance of succeeding. They’ll also increase the perception among team members that an executive is a leader who seeks input and values the contributions of others.
For instance, some of the best strategies come by assessing trial and error, Hammett says. It’s not a myth that we all learn from our mistakes. Senior executives must make it a point to talk to members at all levels of the organization. Just as a navigator would look at more than one star, a successful leader would do well to consider the ideas of employees with varying experience and backgrounds.
That synthesis of ideas is what leads to a good strategy. It doesn’t come from an executive sitting at a desk and dreaming up a vision that may be impossible to implement. It doesn’t come from one person setting a goal on the horizon that no other team member can see.
Hammett says leaders must be on guard against their own rationalizations for why the vision must come from them. And to dispel the myth of their own elegant reasoning, he recommends the following three guidelines:
No. 1. Perfect isn’t perfect. Get over the idea of perfection. Create strategies that will account for uncertainty and less-than-perfect outcomes. Assume that something won’t go according to plan.
No. 2. Resist pressure to dictate. Don’t give in to the idea that an executive must have the best idea, the wisest strategy or the most powerful vision. Build a confident team that feels comfortable suggesting ideas, then make a point to assess ideas and contributions on their own merit. Remember, the best strategies come from multiple sources.
No. 3: Manage risk; don’t avoid it. By having a wide base of input, executives can help predict what might go wrong. They can get help identifying possible setbacks and find strategies to counter those setbacks. Again, that can’t be done by one person in one office. Use the whole team to plan and predict. Gather that information and lead.