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5 Ways to Avoid Leadership Failure

By |September 20, 2021

Whereas the best leaders can help their teams unlock their full potential, those who fail at leadership doom their teams to suboptimal results, toxic cultures, and overall unpleasantness.

Keep these tips in mind to avoid leadership failure and create an environment that optimizes your team’s productivity.

5 Ways to Avoid Leadership Failure

1. Stay curious.

Leaders who believe they have learned all they need to learn are putting themselves at a disadvantage. By staying curious about the people you interact with, you can personally connect with them and inspire them to do their best work.

Suffice it to say leaders have their work cut out for them. They need to balance the needs of the organization with the needs of the people who drive the organization. Often, this requires them to share news that direct reports don’t want to hear.

During these interactions, failure to remain curious about what drives the behavior of direct reports is almost a cardinal sin. Such an approach makes those under your charge feel as though they are not being heard.

Curiosity keeps us in a positive state of mind. When you stop to think about it, it is essentially impossible to be curious and frustrated at the same time. By staying curious, leaders can prevent themselves from becoming triggered during difficult conversations. 

At the end of the day, listening is the cheapest concession you can make as a leader—and the first way you can demonstrate Tactical Empathy™. If your direct reports feel heard, they will be more receptive to what you have to say.

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2. Know that you are going to be attacked.

As a leader, you need to accept that your team might not always agree with your decisions and directions. Now and again, you will encounter difficult conversations, and you are likely to get attacked during them.

The attacks might not always make sense to you, but they do to them.  

After being attacked, many leaders might say: I’ve heard you. Decisions have been made. We’re moving forward anyway. End of discussion.

This is the wrong approach.

Instead, shut your mouth, and use the Negotiation 9 to find out what is driving the attack. For example, you might continue discussing and discover your team is under more pressure than you realize.

Remember, negative dynamics won’t go away by ignoring them. When you don’t deal with negatives, they will manifest in other ways.

By keeping your ears open and working to discover what is motivating attacks, you can work to resolve the underlying issues—and achieve better outcomes because of it.

3. Understand negotiator personality types.

Who on your team is an Analyst, an Accommodator, or an Assertive? Do you even know?

Just as negotiators need to identify the type of person they are sitting across from, leaders need to know what makes their teams tick. For example, if you have an Assertive and an Analyst on your team, they will likely butt heads. If you have two Accommodators working together, small talk might thwart productivity.

The bottom line? Understanding who you are and who the people on your team are can guide your efforts and generate success.

For more information on how to identify negotiator personality types, check out this guide.

4. Master tone and delivery.

Many leaders are insecure in their positions. So they adopt the my-way-or-the-highway mindset, and this comes across in their tone and delivery.

Leaders need to be cognizant of the fact that their voices impact everyone they speak with. One of the easiest ways to mitigate negatives is by paying attention to your tone of voice and the way you deliver a message.

For the best results, avoid using an assertive tone. An assertive tone is the easiest way to increase dissension. Instead, use two voices: an approachable, collaborative one that exudes Tactical Empathy and—when the situation warrants it—a late-night FM DJ voice that enables you to convey more serious topics.

Pro tip: Try not to have serious conversations over mediums such as email or Slack. You lose too much data when you engage this way. Only use these tools to drive the conversation to the phone or summarize a voice conversation that has already occurred.

5. Preempt the negatives.

As a leader, you are going to have to share bad news now and again. To this end, you need to know that anybody who receives more work than anticipated will have a negative reaction. Most people get defensive when facing proposed changes to the status quo.

In scenarios like this, you need to proactively defuse the negatives using an Accusation Audit™. To illustrate, imagine you decided to move the water cooler to the other side of the office. You might say something like this: I know you’re going to think we don’t seem able to make up our mind. Some of you will be upset that you now have to walk further to get your water. Others will take issue with the fact that the water cooler is now behind their desk, making it harder to get work done.

Preemptively communicating those negatives is of tremendous value to a leader because it makes teams feel understood.

Are you the best leader you can be?

No one ever said being a leader was easy. By keeping these five tips in mind, you can increase the chances of avoiding common pitfalls that lead to leadership failure.

Ready to continue learning more about what it takes to make a great leader? Check out our free guide, The Black Swan Group Leadership Guide.

Download the Black Swan Group Leadership Guide