A Portrait of the Average Leader

The Jennifer Nash Newsletter

Where do you learn to be a good leader?

There is no “leadership” class in typical school curricula. No “how to be an effective leader” elective class or extracurricular club. There isn’t even a manual that we’re all required to study to get some kind of Working Adult Human license at the DMV. There is no trade school or degree that focuses solely on teaching the skill set needed to be an effective leader of people (though, an MBA is a good start for people who have the privilege to pursue higher education).

Jobs don’t explicitly teach leadership skills either. It’s all too common for promotions to come with new dynamics and direct report responsibilities, but no new training to ensure you have all the skills necessary to perform these additional duties well. This is why it’s so common to find leadership positions filled by people who are excellent at producing high-quality work, but not so great at leading others who do that same work.

Leading projects and leading people are two entirely different skill sets—and our workforce is only just starting to gain awareness of how lacking we have been in effective, accurate resources for the latter! Decision makers in all industries are increasingly focusing on that all-important question I asked before: where do you learn to be a good leader?

I wrote Be Human, Lead Human: How to Connect People and Performance to answer that question. I want to teach you everything you need to know to become an effective Human Leader.

As it stands, everyone answers the question differently. People largely acquire their people leadership skills by imitating leaders they’ve encountered in their peer groups, communities, and workplaces. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but it does tend to perpetuate behaviors and beliefs that are no longer effective in the increasingly complex modern workplace. 

To illustrate this, let’s take a look at what kind of leader the status quo produces.

Meet John

In Be Human, Lead Human, I introduce readers to John. John is a forty-seven-year-old engineer working in the manufacturing industry who has built a strong reputation by delivering projects and developing outstanding technical skills. He is comfortable focusing on tasks and prefers interacting with technology over humans. 

When John’s excellent work gets him promoted to his first people leader role, he faces several challenges. Attrition in his department is high, his direct reports’ engagement scores are low, and business unit performance is subpar. Despite these data points, John still considers himself a good leader, so he believes he is up to the task.

Imagine his surprise when soon after, comments on his 360 report reveal that his leader, colleagues, and direct reports think otherwise! 

John’s Ineffective Behaviors

When your job is to produce deliverables, being great at that job doesn’t automatically qualify you to lead others doing the same work. Take John for example.

While the people who work with John appreciate his bias to action (what he does), comments from the 360 respondents reflect unfavorable observations of John’s behaviors (how he does it) and beliefs (why he does it). 

His 360 respondents mentioned John interrupts others and tells people what to do, gets angry when they don’t do it, and talks over people. They also mentioned John’s belief that it’s his way or the highway. They shared stories of him yelling at direct reports in public, micromanaging their work and projects, and never admitting he’s wrong. John is confused why this isn’t working for him, since he learned these actions, behaviors, and beliefs from his previous leaders.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

John believes in influence through positional power, managing through emotional volatility, and control through bullying. He thinks he must have all the answers, never fail, and always be the hero who saves the day.

On a surface level, this thinking is understandable. He got this role because he was the best at what he does, so why wouldn’t he believe it should be his way or the highway? If he admits he’s wrong, doesn’t that undermine his authority and cost him credibility? How can he ensure the best results if he doesn’t micromanage when he’s the best at what he does?

It’s easy to relate to the faulty logic conveyed in these questions—but it is faulty. We have the data to prove it. You can’t lead people the way you lead projects because you can’t treat people like inanimate resources or milestones to be achieved.

Command-and-control leadership sufficed in the twentieth century for mechanistic tasks. However, it isn’t as effective today for ambiguous and complex environments where human connection, communication, and empathy are paramount to effective outcomes. John needs to change his thinking to adapt to his current environment.

Want to know more of John’s story and the details of the limiting factors that are holding him back? Go to BeHumanLeadHuman.com and get the first few chapters of Be Human, Lead Human for free. Consider how your behaviors and beliefs compare to John’s, then sign up for updates on the book launch so you can learn how to become a more effective Human Leader!

I’ve got lots more juicy previews and thought-provoking anecdotes from Be Human, Lead Human to share with you! Don’t miss out—make sure to subscribe to this bi-weekly newsletter for updates!

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