October 23, 2012
5 Barriers To Becoming A Better Leader

You want to be a great leader. You need to be a great leader.

But unless you overcome these five barriers, you never will be.

1. You value your work more than the work of others.

Most of all us are guilty of this (I am). Salespeople think marketing is easy because the marketing team just creates materials and gathers leads. Marketing staffs think the sales team has it made because they have to do is close the leads marketing worked so hard to find. Operations thinks accounting has it made since all they do is count the beans someone else actually made.

Just like sticking with what you know, valuing your own work more is a natural tendency: We know every decision, every detail, every step, and every ounce of effort that goes into our roles. So we know it’s hard.

But we forget it’s just as hard for everyone else.

No one has it better. They just have it different.

2. You only stick to what you know.

It’s natural. If you’re a programmer at heart you’ll spend most of your time on product development and technical issues… and very little on sales. If you’re into numbers you’ll spend tons of time assessing cash flow and very little improving service.

When that happens, though, you only view your business through the lens of what you know – which means you’ll over-manage your area of expertise and ignore other areas critical to success.

No matter how great your product it still must be sold; no matter how much strategic sense an expansion into new territories makes it still must be financed.

We all have a primary skill or interest. Indulge yours, but when you find yourself having too much fun that probably means some other aspect of your business is left wanting.

3. You don’t know what you don’t know.

You also can’t know what you don’t know. But you can accept that you don’t know everything.

All that stands in your way is a little (or a lot of) pride.

When you’re unsure, don’t get defensive. Model the behavior you want your employees to display. Admit you don’t have all the answers. Ask questions. Say you were wrong.

Actively seek experiences that humble you – that’s the best way to learn.

Your employees will love you for it… and they’ll start to stretch themselves, too.

4. You only act on what you observe.

Of course you don’t see what you can’t see. But you can make choices that ensure you don’t see what you could see – like if you stick too closely to only what you know.

Stretch yourself. Peek into uncomfortable places. Focus on areas where you have less experience or less natural aptitude.

Go on sales calls. Work in the shipping department for a few hours. Take calls from complaining customers. Sit with your accountant and (painful as it might be) ask for a thorough analysis of your financial situation.

You’ll see a lot more than you normally see… and you’ll be able to act on what you now see.

5. You nod when you don’t understand.

Do you admit when you don’t understand something? It’s not easy. Sometime it’s even embarrassing, especially if everyone else appears to be in the know.

Plus you’re supposed to know everything.

Asking questions because you don’t understand may be embarrassing for you… but it’s even more embarrassing for your employees when they’re afraid to look bad in front of you (“If I ask a question the boss will think I don’t know my job…”).

Never try to save face; you lose a lot more than you save. If you don’t understand, admit it.

You’ll get the answers you need – and you’ll signal to your employees that asking questions so you can make great decisions based on great information is all that matters.

  • Andy Johnson

    You have described someone who is too often promoted to supervise others or manage a department. Lazy or unqualified upper management does this and sows the seeds of the enterprise’ destruction..

    Poor supervisors and managers bring labor union actions and/or high employee turnover. Both waste company time and resources that could be better deployed elsewhere.

    The role of all managers from CEO on is to “achieve through others”. Poor training, poor supervising, poor guidance leads to poor results. The problems from founders/owners is that they never learned the importance of good qualified management skills and no-one within the organization will correct them. This places the burden to the Board of Directors. Yes, usually friends. But if friends cannot speak the truth to one another, why are they on the Board-? Why are they “friends”-? someone has to kick the CEO in the bottom and wake them up. Who else-? With large and public companies substantial penalties accrue to those who breach their fiduciary duty to shareholders… Again, Who disciplines the CEO-?

    Lazy and/or careless promotions and little/no training are failures in performance. Why is that decision maker still drawing a paycheck-?

    • Tanya

      You, Andy, are so correct. This article is correct what they say, but unfortunately all too often it really does happen that these same characteristics are promoted in to management……then you have a demoralized staff population……it happens way too often.

  • Srini

    I enjoyed reading your article. Simple and well articulated. Also, these are common barriers people do on a day to day basis, but don’t admit.


  • Alan Gray

    I’ve seen a lot of people nod, when they really don’t understand, but sometimes the nod is because they recognize something that they think helps them understand. The big problem is not remembering what they didn’t understand and asking for clarification or a different explanation.

    None of us are perfect, it has probably happened to all of us at some time.