Sitting in the conference room, I watched a familiar scenario play out in front of me the way it had many times prior. One person talked for most of the time, while walking around the room with a sense of ownership and a raised voice like some kind of monarch. The people sitting around the conference table (his subjects) nodded their heads in agreement, giving eye rolls to one another privately, and speaking up only to confirm a point or to give a quick status update.
This particular event was a team leader with 6 direct reports. There were multiple moments in the meeting when team members began to speak up with an idea, only to be shut down before they had a chance to get started. I wanted to stand up and simply tell the team leader:
Unfortunately, when some individuals receive a leadership title it gives them a false sense of superiority over a team. This entitlement gravely affects his or her ability to lead, as it tends to make its owner devoid of any humility or awareness.
We have all had to deal with leaders that have big egos or bosses that don’t listen, but it doesn’t mean we are immune to becoming or acting this way at any given moment, ourselves. I would argue that it's actually more likely to fall into this trap in our careers than the opposite. So, how do you stay grounded and keep the mindset that “you aren’t that good"?
The more you focus on and love the craft of leadership, the more you will find ways to improve. The artist Marina Abrmovic said, “Your ego can become an obstacle to your work. If you start believing in your greatness, it’s the death of your creativity.” The second you think you have learned everything about leadership is when you will stop improving. It’s simple, the craft of leadership has to be above your own ego and you have to be dedicated to learning and improving every single day. I think 4 time US Olympic Medal winner Kerri Walsh said it best, "I don't want to be better than you or her or him - I want to be better than I am right now."
In order to know if you are focusing on the craft of leadership and as Walsh said, "be better than you are right now," evaluate yourself against these behaviors:
If the answer is “no”, you have either created a team of “yes people” that are past the point of voicing their opinions, or you just aren’t open to ideas from other people. Either way, you probably think you are the smartest person in the room, and we know through our interviews with great leaders on the Follow My Lead Podcast, this is a bad spot to be in. This doesn’t mean you have to go into full-on execution mode with every idea that hits the whiteboard. However, open yourself up to hearing your team and try to take action on some of their ideas; otherwise your people will learn to just be silent.
In your everyday life, you should constantly look for learning lessons. Whether it be from a TV show, a sports coach, or other professionals in your organization, you can find ideas for things you can implement or try and avoid. Sometimes all it takes is turning off your entertainment switch and turning on your learning switch. If you don't implement (put into action) this behavior on an ongoing basis chances are you think you are too good.
Books and online courses are a gift to the world. They are a way for an author to compile all of their best content for between $10-$100. Warren Buffet famously said, “The best investment you can make is in yourself...nobody can tax or take it away from you.” If you follow Buffet’s advice on an ongoing basis it is because you believe that if you’re not improving, you are getting worse. If you haven’t read a business book or taken an online course in the last 30 days...well you know the drill by now. Here are some of my favorite leadership books that I recommend to people:
If you are doing all of these things and know you are on a journey in developing your leadership craft, I absolutely applaud you. If you aren’t doing these things it’s time to take quick look in the mirror and ask yourself the simple question, “Am I really as good as I think I am, or is that my ego talking?
John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on Inc.com, LinkedIn Pulse, TrainingIndustry.com, eLearningIndustry.com, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College.