Even Smart Leaders Make These Mistakes
Recently, I had the pleasure of hosting Jack and Suzy Welch for a lively conversation about their new book, The Real-Life MBA. Based on decades of experience leading and writing about companies, they highlighted six common leadership blunders—all of which are backed by evidence:
- They don’t invest in developing their people.
Many leaders are threatened by talent, fearing that they won’t be the smartest person in the room. Great leaders have the “generosity gene,” Jack says. They “love to see people grow and prosper.” By making other people smarter, they’re able to multiply the organization’s capabilities.
I couldn’t resist asking: has Neutron Jack gone soft?
The data: when technology CEOs are rated by their executives as caring more about their companies’ success than their own, their firms’ return on assets
- They reward people who have great results but bad
If you promote employees who specialize in kissing up and kicking down, pretty soon you’ll have an entire leadership team who exploits their employees. “That kills cultures,” Jack observes. “Your promotion decisions are so far-reaching to the whole vibration of the organization.”
The data: the negative impact of a selfish person on a team exceeds the positive impact of a generous person. It’s nice to have the right people on the bus, but critical to
- They don’t provide meaning.
All too often, leaders focus on creating strategies that will take their companies in promising new
The data: when call
- They don’t let people know where they stand.
Too many leaders leave employees in the dark about how they’re doing. “Guess what: Your employees are going home every day drawing 20-70-10s,” Jack notes, “because they can’t stand the fact that you don’t know who the turkeys are.” When leaders do give feedback, they stay vague, telling employees their performance is poor or excellent without fully explaining why. Great leaders emphasize
The data: over a third of feedback conversations make performance worse rather than better. The feedback that helps is specific: it moves away from the self and toward the task. That way, employees can learn from their successes and their shortcomings.
- They only hire from elite schools.
Many leaders believe a prestigious degree is
The data: at Google, after analyzing the performance of employees from different schools, HR head Laszlo Bock writes in Work Rules: “We now prefer to take a bright, hardworking student who graduated from the top of her class at a state school over an average or above-average Ivy League grad. The pedigree of your college education matters far less than what you have accomplished.”
- They don’t give people the confidence to try new things.
Jack grew up with a stutter, and he still stammers. What gave him the confidence to transition from an engineering job, which relied primarily on his mind and his hands, to managerial and leadership roles that required lots of public speaking? “My mother told me forever—Jack, you’re so smart, your tongue just can’t keep up with your mind. And I believed her,” he reflects. He’s 5’7” on a good day, but “she gave me so much self-confidence that I actually thought I was quite tall. It took me till my early forties, when I looked at a high school basketball picture of me, to realize I was that short.”
The data: when leaders have high expectations for employees, even if they’re not unusually talented, they rise to the occasion, working harder and achieving better results.
A great leader is someone who sees more potential in you than you see in yourself.