Originally published in Inc.
By Scott Miller
A guaranteed way to repel high performers and emerging experts is to lure them under the guise that they will be empowered, valued and leveraged, and then imprison them in a culture of working for a “know it all” leader.
Nobody admits to being a know-it-all leader. In fact, it’s counter-intuitive to acknowledge it because often how we earned our current leadership position is through our own vast experience, countless reps, and trials of success and failure.
In fact, many leaders believe we’re paid to have the answers, to bring our expertise and wisdom to bear to ultimately solve any problems. But that’s the easiest way I know to get into two of the biggest leadership messes.
As a formal leader of people for over 20 years, I learned the hard lesson that superb leaders don’t need to be an expert on everything. In actuality, your key role is to find those who are, hire them and do everything possible to keep them highly engaged. Sadly, too few cultures understand and value this reality.
The first leadership mess is hiring people that are sycophants, kiss ups and often less talented than you to make the leader look like a genius in everything. The leader is always in a position to save the day, close the sale or “drop the mic” by offering the best idea.
Consciously or unconsciously, many leaders who operate in a broader culture of fear make hiring decisions to ensure their own longevity. How horrible for the overall organization, but totally understandable.
Been there, done that. A lot.
The second mess is acting boldly by recruiting smart, dedicated performers with the intention of allowing them to blossom. The leader gets credit for appearing confident in his own skills by surrounding himself with supreme go-getters.
But then, when their insights and experiences begin to eclipse yours, the leader starts suffocating them with micromanagement, or worse, always needing to be the smartest person in the room. The result: you never ignite their passion or fully deploy their capabilities and they are deflated and underleveraged.
Been there also. My sincerest apologies.
But fear not my fellow leaders. You won’t be mired in either mess for very long as both groups of employees will ultimately quit you and then quickly trash you on Glass Door. It’s an unsustainable situation.
If you find yourself in this cycle, break out of it as soon as possible. The worst leader is an insecure one who tries to project confidence.
Moving from leadership messes like these to leadership success requires self-reflection and full transparency. I knew about it for a long time but truly didn’t have the emotional maturity, self-confidence or humility to practice that until very recently. To be the leader your employees deserve, you have to put others before yourself. Done the right way, you win loyalty and respect.
Sadly, I was 50, and in my ninth leadership role before I realized the absolute necessity of intentionally stepping back from my own ego and career needs and directing my focus on others’ abilities to bring the best ideas and solutions to the table.
Most of my previous senior hires had been internal promotions, and consequently, I was safely ensconced above them. It wasn’t until I recruited and hired my first significant outside leader that I fully realized how important it was for me to check my own ego, demonstrate a new level of humility and not just allow them to shine, but encourage their higher-level knowledge and contribution to come to the foreground.
It takes a remarkably secure and even fearless leader to accomplish this. The transition was not easy for me, but I am getting there. And our organization is better for it.
We can all be better leaders if we put our people’s development first. Ask yourself, are you confident enough in your own value to take the leap and hire above you and beyond you?
Remember, you’re the conductor– not the virtuoso.