Can a need to lead hinder your ability to do so?
A version of this article first appeared at Inc.com.
We all do what we do because of deep-seated needs. Most founder-owners, for example, start businesses because of a need for freedom and autonomy. Most leaders arrive in leadership positions driven by a need to make a difference.
Some needs sour, however, taking the edge off otherwise great leaders and dragging them down to the level of the merely mediocre. Here are the three most common good-needs-gone-bad that I see otherwise excellent leaders succumb to:
The need to be liked
There isn’t a darn thing wrong with being liked by the people you work with. And in the early stages of leading any group, be it a business, division, department, project or team, it makes sense to work with people you like, and who in turn like you. Affection, regard, mutual respect – even love – are powerful contributors to a healthy, vibrant culture.
Where things go wrong is when a leader becomes addicted to receiving the affection and/or respect of others. At that point, information processing become less than clinical, decisions become infected with bias, and communications lose their clarity and precision.
How do you know when you’ve stepped over the line between providing a healthy environment of acceptance and respect, and craving the affection of others? You’ll see it in how you treat those who are less outgoing – those in your team who are more clinical, less likely to give of themselves emotionally. If you find yourself either freezing such people out of your circle, or going to the other extreme – twisting yourself like a pretzel to gain their attention and affection – then you have a problem.
The need to be the smartest person in the room
Leaders lead. Leaders get things right more often that they get things wrong. Leaders share by coaching and mentoring others. Leaders see things others don’t. Leaders push others to places they wouldn’t otherwise go.
All of this is true, usually, and to a degree. They don’t often happen all at the same time, and some of these characteristics may or may not show up in a great leader’s arsenal for a very long time.
Unfortunately, some less than stellar leaders develop what might be called the ‘lazy leaders way to mimic all of this and more’: talking endlessly. Specifically, talking (ceaselessly) in a manner designed to let everyone else know how clever and how ‘leaderly’ they are. They need to be The Smartest Person In The Room.
You see it in teams all the time – everyone has said their say and we’re ready to make a decision, but the SPITR must talk more – to add a gloss, a nuance, an inflection that they’re sure no one else has noticed. The SPITR asks a question – but then spends five times as long telling us all precisely what, in their view, the answer is, before anyone else can get a word in. A topic is raised and swiftly, unanimously, dealt with – until the SPITR spots a pin-head they can dance on for thirty minutes, derailing the entire meeting.
How do you know you’re the SPITR? Simple. if you think you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re almost certainly The Smartest Person in the Room. And remember, if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
The need to be elsewhere
Yes, you’re busy. Yes, you’re the boss, so you get to duck out of meetings when they get tedious. Yes, there are endless little red notification buttons glowing on your smartphone, and it’s throbbing with something new coming in every forty-five seconds.
But you’re needed, here. And it’s all of you that’s needed – your full attention, physically, emotionally, intellectually – not just that pathetic sliver of peripheral attention you dole out minute by minute, depending on your level of interest at any one moment in time.
As has famously been said, Be Here Now. And if you’re not where you’re needed – all of you – then find out where that is, and go there.