In the past eight years of writing this blog (with over 540 posts) and my own blog, and in my work as a career and executive coach and podcaster, I’ve had the opportunity to interview hundreds of inspiring and uplifting leaders, influencers, business and entrepreneurial experts, bestselling authors, creatives, Pulitzer Prize and other award winners, and more. I’ve connected with men and women who lead in the most uplifting and enriching ways, demonstrating traits that bring people together to accomplish truly amazing things. I’ve seen that these people have a special manner in which they help us see and experience the highest vision of ourselves as well as the most positive and transformative view of the world around us.
But I’ve also witnessed the opposite–people who lead through fear, manipulation, intimidation, cruelty, divisiveness, narcissism and deep insecurity. Both approaches will certainly work to shape people’s actions and beliefs, but only the first approach can actually bring about lasting positive change that is of benefit to all people involved (not just a select group who feed on the divisiveness and separation that the negative leader embodies).
Are you using keen discernment in terms of who you are following as a leader, in your life, work, family and beyond? If not, they’re shaping (and even hurting) you without your knowledge.
Analyzing behaviors of leaders today who are making a lasting positive change versus those who hurt people through their leadership, I’ve seen there are five key behaviors that truly great and positive leaders will never allow themselves to engage in.
As a trained therapist, I conducted therapy for several years with people from all walks of life (from the very rich and powerful to those who were facing extreme disadvantages and challenges in society). I learned a great deal about why we respond the way we do to others and why we operate as we do in our lives.
What’s crystal clear is that anyone who rips someone to shreds because that person challenged them or said they were “wrong” is just deeply insecure. At the heart of it, they’re very afraid. Some people may think it’s a strength to tear your detractors down, but it’s the opposite of strength. Tearing someone down who challenges you reveals a deep fear and insecurity about your “image” and your fears about people’s perception of you. And you’re not strong enough to accept that everyone doesn’t like or agree with you.
Truly strong people have done the work to regulate their emotions and manage their fears. They embrace being challenged because they know they’ll learn from diverse viewpoints and from people who don’t agree with them. And they don’t rip someone apart who has the strength to challenge them. They embrace that challenge and grow from it.
Fighting to the death over trying to be seen as “right” and better than others
The need to be seen as always “right” or “smarter” or “better” than others is a wasted endeavor and any great leader knows it. Leaders who influence in positive ways know that the best leadership draws on the tremendous strengths, experience and brilliance of the people around them, and those who came before, in order to lead powerfully. Just because a leader is at the top of the hierarchy doesn’t mean they’re supposed to know all the answers. They simply can’t and they don’t waste their precious time trying to appear better or more capable than everyone around them and everyone who came before them.
Spurning and putting down the very people they say they are hoping to lead and influence
Great leaders will never ridicule and demean the very people they say they are trying to lead. They’re respectful and courteous at all times in their speech, actions and communications, and they demonstrate (and legitimately feel) compassion and understanding for the plights of those they are leading, no matter how different their views or life situations are.
Failing to hold themselves accountable when they make mistakes
Great leaders don’t pretend they’ve never done anything wrong. They stand up and admit wrong-doing and errors in actions and judgment, and apologize when necessary. No human behaves in flawless, perfect ways at all times. Humans err. Leaders make big mistakes that dramatically affect the lives and work of many people.
If you never hear “I’m sorry for my mistake” from the leader you’re following, you’re in the hands of a person who will never accept his/her own accountability for the situations that their leadership creates.
Lying about the facts and the falsifying data to skew the reality of the situation
Obviously, there are times when leaders need to “shape” a message so as to limit the potential damage or repercussions of a crisis situation. That said, if you are under the influence of a leader who is outright lying, falsifying data and simply not telling any version of the truth, you have a leader who is willing to manipulate reality to get what he or she wants. And that’s a very dangerous situation to be in.
People who lie are putting themselves and their wants and desires before everyone else’s. Leaders who lie are making decisions for you without your full understanding of the facts and how those facts will impact you and your life. In other words, you’re in the dark with this leader and aren’t being given the data you need to make an informed decision about how you want to react or respond.
Why do people follow a leader who demonstrates these negative traits and is in fact, a damaging leader?
If you’re following a leader (at work, home, in politics, business, academia, etc.) who engages in these behaviors, I’d invite you to ask yourself these questions:
1) Why am I attracted to an individual who divides and alienates people rather than uplifts and enriches people?
2) Why do I overlook that fact that this leader lies on a regular basis? What does that say about me?
3) Do I feel good about this leader because I’ve felt passed over and been unheard and unrecognized in the past and he or she makes me feel I’m finally appreciated and understood?
4) Do I want to govern my life from principles of hatred and disdain for others, or from love and compassion?
5) Does this leader embody the traits of the person I want to become and the legacy I want to leave behind? What is that legacy I want to create, exactly?
6) Does this leader make progress towards goals I care about, but does it in ways that step over people and crush them in the process?
7) Finally, can I imagine another sort of individual (or organization or work culture) who could lead in a more positive way but still accomplish the goals I care about?
The leaders you follow will inevitably shape who you become, including your beliefs and ideas, and they’ll also influence how you behave and relate to others and the world around you. How do you want to show up in the world? Figure that out, then find and follow leaders, organizations, work cultures and ecosystems that embody the highest version of you at your best.
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