Leadership is not a solo act. Every great leader has been successful because he or she has been surrounded by other highly effective people. Leaders seek to build other leaders who will multiply their impact.
That's why great leaders are strategic and thoughtful about the alliances they build and the inner circle they rely on most.
By contrast, there are many would-be leaders who show potential but never reach greatness because they make costly mistakes when building alliances. Here are five common errors you'll want to correct in your pursuit to accomplish great things.
1. You speak up on behalf of others. You rationalize that you should represent their opinions since they aren't very effective in doing so on their own. You see this as your responsibility, thanks to your position or your confidence or your ability to get noticed and heard. In fact, sometimes people ask you to carry their point of view to others and appreciate when you do. There are at least three problems with this approach. Every time you do this you are weakening others, not strengthening them. You rob them of their confidence and ability to find their own voice. Second, you also dilute their message. The more you speak up and claim to represent others, the less you will be heard. No one wants to listen to the same voice over and over again. Finally, you are losing credibility with the people you deliver these messages to. You're implying that you, and only you, can hear and champion others. That's insulting and inaccurate, so your motives will soon come into question. As they should.
2. You disassociate yourself from your peers. You don't agree with the decisions made by upper management. You are visible and vocal in your renegade opinions and take pride in championing a different approach. You roll your eyes when senior managers speak to a group and display other body language that lets everyone know you are not on board. You let others know how vigorously you argued against the final decision and say things like "I told them this was a bad idea, but they never listen to me." You rally others to your position even though it is too late and all you're really doing is making the inevitable more painful than it has to be. You aren't really helping anyone. You are especially not helping yourself. Every time you distance yourself from the management team, you are distancing yourself from their inner circles... from strategic conversations, from opportunities to influence company direction, and from future promotions.
3. You want to be popular. You measure your impact by how many people like you or by how many people admire you. To build the volume of admirers, you are not finicky. You lean in to water cooler conversations with anyone who is disgruntled. You are quick to leap to others' defense even before you know both sides of the story (usually siding against management). You stir the pot to probe dissatisfaction and keep it in the conversation. You want others to see you as the only manager who really cares about them. You may succeed in accomplishing those goals. But at what cost? Is it better to be a wildly popular dissenter who can't get anything done or to be a less popular and highly effective force for change?
4. You take more credit than you give. You are quick to call attention to your own achievements, especially those "wins" you score against other managers. You use recognition as a tool to curry favor or get information ("the dirt"). You seldom acknowledge your peers and senior managers because you prefer that others exclusively see your contributions. When you do give credit to members of your team, you cast yourself as the hero and describe the dragons you had to slay so they could achieve their goals. You don't see yourself as part of an interdependency where everyone contributes for the greater good. This causes others to hesitate or hold back when you need their support. Once burned, twice shy, so they would rather avoid working with you if at all possible.
5. You are swift and harsh in judging others who don't agree with you. You are intolerant of opinions and positions that don't align with your own. You go on the attack to quickly shut down alternate points of view, openly and inappropriately at times, but usually in whispered conversations where character assassination is easier. People who don't agree with you are cast as villains. You don't even try to understand the basis of their opinions, only to drown out what they have to offer. In your world, it's personal. People are either for you or against you. Over time, you've burned so many bridges that you start to believe everyone is against you. Your effectiveness and credibility is so badly damaged that you eventually leave the company, starting over again and probably repeating this same vicious cycle.
We've all seen it happen. These smart, talented people who stall out and never reach their leadership potential because they make these mistakes in building alliances. True leaders build other leaders at all levels, respect other leaders at all levels, and understand that leadership is a continual collaboration. Leaders make alliances to advance the common good, not for self-serving gratification or glorification.
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