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Leadership… How To Know If You Are Doing It Wrong

13-12-2018

I have always had negative emotions when I hear the term “Leader” or, even worse, “Leadership Development”.  These emotions are usually reserved for ambitious students in high school or early university who join clubs about leadership, read books on leadership and do all they can to become “better leaders”. Whenever I am given the chance to talk to this demographic, my common directive is, “Get good at something first, then learn later how to lead what you are good at."

Well, as a Senior Lecturer of Marketing and Strategy in a graduate management school with masters level students, I am much more comfortable with the concept (if not always the actual execution) of “Leadership Development”. Which is probably a good thing given that one of the required courses in the MBA program at Maastricht School of Management (MSM) is “Leadership and Organizational Behavior”.

So if you, the reader, are at the point in your career where you have become good at something (anything), then it is time to talk about leadership, which this article written by Jeff Boss (Forbes.com), does very well. Here are a few of my thoughts and observations while reading the article. (A running commentary on the article, if you will.) 

First, fortunately I don’t hear the term “Work/Life balance” as much as I used to 10 years ago (the 00’s).  But it is still important to remind students that one of the most important decisions you will make in your life is the choice of career field. If you choose well, based on your passions and strengths, your life will not be only outside of work… your work will be an important and enjoyable part of your life… even on the hardest days.  The need to find balance between work and life only becomes a stress if you are not doing what you are good at and love.

Next, a leader makes decisions based on the tools available to him/her. These are tools that we teach in the MBA and Master in Management in order to do a thorough external and internal analysis. The internal analysis is not a vote regarding what is popular internally.  Rather it is an understanding of the capabilities and resources which give the firm a competitive advantage. The best decisions are not always going to be the most liked decisions. The proof of a good decision is found in the outcomes.  But ongoing communication is important.  Be warned, open communication does not mean democratic decision making… it just means better informed decision making.

Third, leaders cannot exist in an emotional vacuum. EQ has been one of the most commonly missing traits of top leaders in my experience.  This seems to be a bit of a contradiction with the previous point. What this means to me is that you don’t make decisions based on emotions (neither yours nor that of those you lead), but a good leader must understand the emotions that surround the decision making process. The good leader is able to mitigate negative emotions and build on positive emotions. The students/managers/leaders who study at MSM have to deal with the added complexity of a multi-cultural environment in which emotional cues are even harder to read, interpret and respond to. This is one reason the “Managing Cultural Diversity” course is the very first course in all of our degree programs.

Finally, complaints are clues. Don’t ignore them. I have seen and worked with leaders (managers) who see staff complaints as disloyalty. Of course, disloyal or generally negative people can be the reason for the complaints in rare circumstances. But in most cases people want to like their work. They want to like their employer. They want to like their leaders. If the leader does not do well in the areas from the previous two paragraphs, then often complaints or gossip are the only way the staff has to express their concerns.

Finally, the article takes and unexpected turn with a very valuable, but unrelated, phrase: Learning is a Competitive Advantage. So true!  Keep learning… preferably at MSM!