Archive for January, 2010

Leadership Challenges and How to Deal With Them

Leadership Challenges and How to Deal With Them

When I heard President George W. Bush at his final press conference as President, I thought of the many challenges that leaders face. Regardless of your party of choice or your opinions about his presidency, one could hear a real clear message about leadership. Those of us who have held leadership roles – especially the one at the head (where the buck stops!) could relate to the message.

I am not referring to his accomplishments or disappointments. Nor am I referring to his reactions to reporters questions – both positive and negative. I could hear in his voice the frustration of what he could not control and how it impacted the decisions he made. Being the President or any leader does not mean everything will follow your vision and plan for success.

The situations are unique to each leadership role. The pressures vary with the importance of the position. There are several things that all executive leadership roles have in common:

1. You Can’t Please All of the People All of the Time

It is humanly impossible to satisfy everyone even some of the time. Many people think they have a “better way” or would have “done it differently.” It may seem to some that there is a better way. When you are sitting in the position to make the decisions, you must believe that you have gathered the necessary information to make the best decision you can at the time. And accept that it will never be the perfect decision for everyone.

2. People Will Judge You on Your Acts of Omission As Well As Those of Commission

It’s the old “Damned if you do and damned if you don’t” issue. Not only can you not please everyone, you cannot accomplish everything you would like to accomplish. Again you are criticized for what you did and could have done differently as well as what you failed to do. There is a limited amount of human energy available to put into any position and leaders seem to maximize their use of that energy into their vision. The challenges are never ending. And the praise for effort expended is nearly non-existent. But you certainly hear what you should have done!

3. You Can’t Do It Alone

There is no greater stage to demonstrate the need for a supportive team than when you are in an executive leadership position. This is also true if you are a team member or a family member. If you try to “do it yourself” most of the time, you risk not have buy-in and support of others. People need to be involved and feel a sense of commitment and satisfaction. Leaders need to build a team. Team members must be honest with their leaders when asked for feedback or input. No leader wants to appear as the Emperor with no clothes!

4. You Need a Tough Skin

This is not to suggest that leaders should be insensitive or domineering. Not at all! You do need to not take everything personally. If you feel wounded – stabbed in the heart – by words and actions of others, the stress of the position will take its toll on you. Just because a leader takes a tough stand or appears cold and calculating, don’t be fooled. The leader has probably spent many anxious hours consulting and mulling over the situation, possible outcomes and consequences. Since we often associate compassion and feelings with weakness, leaders have to maintain the aura of authority while demonstrating concern for others without losing the support of followers.

5. It Is Lonely at the Top!

No one – even if they are your most loyal supporters – take on the responsibility you do as a leader. No one feels the stabs of negative feedback as you do. And no one feels the sense of accomplishment for a job well-done like you do. Few people will give you honest feedback, but they will discuss it with others – both positive and negative. And as President Bush and others have said: Only history will tell the real story of your turn at the top.

Regardless of who is holding the office of President of the country or an organization, we have a duty to respect the office. While we may not like the decisions made or the personality of the individual, the office itself commands respect. Any person who accepts the responsibility of such a position believes they are doing the best thing for the organization and they have something to offer. By working with the leader, we can contribute and influence the decisions or direction of the organization. Being contrary only adds additional distractions and takes energy away from leading. Followers who are non-supportive of their leader do not help the situation and cause negative energy and outcomes.

Each time we enter a new administrative era on the national level, let us all respect the office of the Presidency. We need good leaders to be willing to take their turn at the top. With constant badgering and personal attacks, why would anyone want to leave a high level corporate position to take on the role of President of the United States? The same holds true in our organizations, be supportive of those who are willing to give talents time and talents at the expense of their business and family obligations.

In most organizations, you do not have the opportunity to elect or select your leader. And leaders don’t always have the opportunity to select their teams. By respecting the leadership position and committing support to the mission and vision of the organization, everyone will benefit. If you are not the leader, be a team player – even if you did not get to pick your captain! One day you will be on the other side of the desk.