The Only Way to Identify Leadership Greatness

Most leaders, despite the myths they tell themselves, are not great. In fact leadership research shows that CEO’s are more optimistic than the average person. This often applies to their self assessment. They cannot see their limitations or how they are undermining their team. Additionally, people around them wont give them honest feedback on their leadership skills for fear of retribution. They can live in an inflated bubble, believing their own spin. There is only one way for a leader to know the truth of their leadership greatness: look at what your team is doing.

My brother-in-law, a corporate leader, told me the other day that his team got him a gift marking his one-year anniversary as leader. It was a bobble head of him in company branded clothes. This took thought, was personalized, and was funny. These are all indicators that the team really likes him. “How cool is that?” I said. He then told me of other nice things the team has done for him and each other over the past year. This alone tells you that they have high espirit de corps. And it tells us that he might be a great leader.

Here are other places to look at your leadership skills to see if you are a great leader:

Great leaders create a positive feeling of a team bound together, on fire, and driving for success. They intrinsically know the relationship between positivity and performance. We’ve asked over a thousand professionals around the world: “Do you get enough positivity at work?” Only about 5% say that they do. That makes sense, since most leaders are not great. In this case, 95% of the leaders are average or less. They don’t create a positive atmosphere. Look at the positivity of the interactions on your team. Not interactions with you. They will be extra nice and positive with you. You are feeding their families. Rather look at how the team interacts with each other. How much do they enjoy fulfilling the mission of the team? How much fun are they having as they work? This will be clear feedback to you about whether your leadership is creating enough positive team spirit.

Great leaders have team members that organically interact with each other. Instead of managing everyone individually (have lots of one-on-ones), they get the team to connect with each other. The CEO of a leading chemical company we are executive coaching wanted to create more innovation. He realized his team needed to collaborate more to achieve this. Together, we all came up with the idea of a simple weekly “Connect” email where everyone sends one 2–5 sentences about key things they are working on. This has educated the team, sparked spontaneous discussions, and increased collaboration significantly. The CEO still has one-on-ones, but that doesn’t drive collaboration. Connecting drives collaboration and is great for team building .

Great leaders have team members who solve cross-functional differences on their own. Several executive teams with whom I am doing team building now have a common problem: they escalate tough issues to the executive in charge. This is not the sign of great leadership or a great team. It is a sign of a leader who needs to be involved in everything OR a team that doesn’t want to be in conflict. One CEO told her team quite directly in a team breakthrough session, “I don’t want you to come to me with issues with your peers. Nor should people two levels below you come to me. You need to know the issues. Then you should pick up the phone and call the other people in this room and resolve the issues.” Set the expectation.

Great leaders have team members hold them accountable, not the reverse. In average teams, the leader is the source of accountability. The executive in charge tells individuals when they are not meeting expectations. In great teams, the team members are as much part of the leadership as the leader – they embody the mission, aspirations and values of the team, and tell each other when they are missing the mark. Even tell the leader when they dropped the ball. This is not seen as a personal attack, rather a personal commitment to team success. We are sometimes called in to do executive coaching when an executive is disappointed with results. Nine times out of 10 we discover that the team is not holding the leader accountable. You read that right. The team is not pushing back on the leader and asking for what they need (changes in their behavior or resources). They are not speaking up when the leader drops the ball. They are not asserting their points of view. And this is the creation of the leader. They are not creating an environment to allow 2-way direct communication. Accountability and leadership is always a 2-way street. Great leaders and great teams live it.

The leader’s job is to get the team to be great. An influential mentor in my career, Wilson Tilley, used to say “It takes 2 to see 1.” If you want to really see yourself, really get a true perspective on who you are as a person, you need someone else to give you honest feedback about your behavior. The feedback is what helps you grow, change, and become a better person. In your pursuit of great leadership, the best executive coaching you can do for yourself, is to look to your team’s behavior for this feedback. Look at how well your team is doing as a direct reflection of how well you are doing.

Here is a quick assessment of your team and your leadership, to know if you are a great leader: http://teamsofdistinction.com/assessyourteam/.

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