Leaders are a diverse group, but they do share some common traits. For example, there’s something in the nature of virtually every leader—whether it originates in pride, a primal need for power, a desire for control, or an obsession with success— that causes them to be in denial about certain types of things.
Once you know what to look for, you’ll be better prepared to make sure you stay connected with reality. Here are five of the top topics that leaders are in denial about:
1. Self-awareness. Many of the leaders I coach assure me that they have more than enough self-awareness. It’s a statement that almost always is grounded in denial. It’s not that people want to fool themselves, but it can be genuinely hard to look in the mirror and see the truth about yourself. Most leaders are inaccurate in assessing their own strengths and weaknesses.
2. Communication skills. Many leaders think they’re great communicators, not realizing that they may be communicating only in one direction. Some pride themselves on being approachable and accessible, but they never really hear what others are saying. Some fail to set goals or provide context for the things they ask people to do, and others never offer feedback, leaving people wondering what they need to do to be successful. Communication is imperative for good leadership, so if there are gaps in your skills you need to know about them so you know where to improve.
3. Autonomy. The biggest mistake many leaders make, especially if they’ve worked their way up through the ranks, is failing to make the mental shift from being a doer to being a leader. As a result, they refuse to let the members of their do their job, and end up micromanaging to the point of frustrating their most talented people. An important part of a leader’s success rests in giving people the freedom to do their jobs.
4. Connection with their team. Most leaders know almost nothing about what their employees want, for the simple reason that they never take the time to ask. Employees quit because they see greener pastures in another workplace. That’s typically because of a leadership failure, and it happens more often than you’d think.
5. Mistakes. Successful leaders own their mistakes—they take responsibility, they learn from their missteps and move forward. Leaders in denial, however, put more energy into hiding their mistakes than it would take to own up to their responsibility and explore ways to make things right.
Leaders who choose to live in denial are likely doomed to fail. Think of these symptoms as warning signs, indicators that you may not be adequately attuned to the reality of their leadership. It’s well worth your time to take a second look or even to compare your perceptions with those of a trusted advisor.
Lead from within: More leaders would learn from their mistakes if they weren’t so busy denying them.
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