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Sweat the Right Small Stuff:

Five Achilles Heels of Today's Leaders

By: Leslie G. Ungar

Google is my BFF, my Best Friend Forever. I Google everything from updates from weather to sports, to movie trivia. Recently, I found out that Google and I have something else in common.

I began a search for the qualities of today’s leaders. Google commissioned Project Oxygen to interview 10,000 employees to identify qualities of today’s leaders. The goal of these projects was the same. We both build better bosses.

Throughout the search, I found that leaders often get in their own way. So I developed the 14 Achilles Heels of today’s leaders. Everyone is a boss: of their Firm, team, and company, or of themselves. In this article we look at five of what I have identified as the Achilles Heels of today’s leaders, then I identify the solution. Each Achilles Heel can be solved through more effective communication.

1. The Need to Be the Sole Point Person

Achilles Heel:
The executive who needs to be the sole point person is hard on an organization and hard on the individuals. In today’s world, young Gen X and Gen Y won’t wait out a micromanager boss. They will just move on. When the leader needs to be the sole person, the energy of the organization is directed inward rather than outward. The efforts of an organization need to be directed outward.

Sometimes the executive needs to be the sole point person out of lack of self-esteem. The more they are the sole point person, the more value they think they have to the organization. It is destructive behavior and can be addressed.

Solution: Communication challenges (every challenge is a communication challenge) are addressed in the same way. It is mindset first and then how to give the correct mindset a verbal, vocal, and visual voice. First the mindset you want to adapt is to make others responsible for nonlife and death decisions. If the leader makes all the decisions, they teach their team that the leader will always bail them out. Use communication to move an agenda forward with others: “How do you think we should handle this?, what would be your next step” are ways to begin the journey to give responsibility to others. Then the leader needs to hold others accountable for the pieces they own.

2. Public Flogging/Private Apology

Achilles Heel
: Playgrounds are not the only place in America where bullying still takes place. Most executives would deny public flogging in today’s world. In other words, they would deny belittling or criticizing others in any public venue.
If you have to ask if it is belittling, then it is belittling to the other person. If 99.9% was an acceptable standard, it would mean:

  • 12 newborns will be given to the wrong parents daily
  • Two planes landing at Chicago's O'Hare airport will be unsafe every day
  • 291 pacemaker operations will be performed incorrectly

You, too, can’t afford to be correct on this issue 99.9 % of the time. This is an area where there is no room for error. If you have to ask if you are guilty, you are guilty.

Solution: Your audience decides, not you—it is a rule of communication. In public, anything outside of your office one-on-one is public. Email, text, and tweet can be public and viral at the click of a mouse. Leaders’ communication needs to be receptive to all feedback. There is no such thing as good feedback and bad feedback. All feedback is good. When you criticize Person A in a meeting setting, it clearly signals to Persons B, C, and D that feedback is not only not wanted but it is punished. The effect is to squash both feedback and people. Use communication to inspire all contribution.

3. Demonstrate Inconsistent Leadership

Achilles Heel:
People want to follow a leader who is balanced.

A sky-is-falling mentality may be your Achilles Heel if you don't know it.  Operating under a 24/7 crisis mode takes a tollon an organization and its people.

The effective leader is the consistent voice through vnegative r positive quarters, through cancelled airline flights as well as cancelled contracts.

It is incumbent upon leaders to use communication in a consistent way to move their company’s agenda boldly forward.

Solution: The leader’s first responsibility is culture. Communication both verbal and non-verbal goes a long way to establishing culture. Leaders need to use communication to create a consistent environment which allows and encourages employees to keep moving forward. Companies can’t afford lost “water cooler time,” the time employees spend at the figurative or literal water cooler worrying about their future or the company’s future. Use your words to move your people forward toward the vision that you see: “If you could see what I see” is a helpful rhetorical device.

4. The Rules of Communication Still Apply to You

Achilles Heel:
Oprah was asked about what seemed like an extravagance at her girl’s school in South Africa: Why did the school need this cutting-edge auditorium with cutting-edge technology?

Oprah simply answered, “My girls are going to be leaders. And leaders need to speak.”

Unspoken yet assumed in her answer was that the journey inward requires the ability to communicate outward.

To speak in ways that empower individuals, get you out of your own way and move a company forward, is the responsibility of the leader.

Solution: Leaders of all titles are competent in their area of expertise. That used to be enough for a leader to be effective. A 21st-century leader is required to be effective at all of the spokes in the communication umbrella: formal speaking, one-on-one, small group meetings, large presentations, phone, email, media, and casual water cooler talk. Learn to be effective at all spokes. No one comes out of the womb knowing how to use a teleprompter. These are all learned skills.

5. Have No Honest Mirror

Achilles Heel: Who can be honest with you? Someone on your payroll? Who would you put in that position when they depend on a paycheck signed by you?

What if your honest mirror gives you a wrong reflection? No reflection may be worse than a wrong reflection. What do others see and hear?

You had honest mirrors along your journey to the top. Do you have one now?

Solution: You had honest mirrors on your journey to the C-level. A little league coach, an 8th grade teacher, a professor, or a first boss. Along the way you became other people’s honest mirror. Did you stop asking yourself the honest questions that could move you forward? Did you stop asking others honest questions that could move you forward? When is the last time you asked, “what should I know, what don’t you want to tell me, what could I have done differently?”

Fifty years ago, before my beloved Google was even a glint of an idea, Detroit had the highest income per capita in the country. Boston had one of the lowest. Fifty years later, the two cities changed positions. Perhaps executives in Boston had a vision and used communication to avoid these Five Achilles Heels of leadership.  Sometimes “small stuff” does need to be sweated. Just make sure it is the right small stuff.

About the Author(s)

Leslie G. Ungar,  president of Electric Impulse Communications, Inc., is a coach, speaker, and speechwriter. for more information, visit www.electricimpulse.com or blog leadersneedtospeak.com