Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Getting Over Yourself

Every person has a flaw - it's what makes us human.  It is using your flaw to your advantage that counts.  As a leader this can be particularly difficult because, not only do our flaws effect our work, but they can actively effect the lives of our staff members (and not always in a positive way.)  But before you can own your flaw and make it work for you, you have to know what your undoing is.  In a Webjunction webinar I recently took called Skills for the Everyday Leader, presenter Edra Waterman lists ten common mistakes that managers make.  See if you fit into any of these categories:

  • Thinking nothing has to change
  • Wanting everyone to like you
  • Buying into the hype (that you are the best)
  • Ignoring problems or behaviors
  • Being a doormat
  • Being reluctant to make decisions
  • Thinking you are always right
  • Hiding in your office
  • Being a jerk (and no, I'm not kidding about this one)
  • Taking things personally
At first glance, these traits seem pretty off-putting but they are reversible.  After reading Good Self, Bad Self: Transforming Your Worst Qualities into Your Biggest Assets by Judy Smith, I realized that each of these traits can be identified as one of the following:

  • Ego
  • Denial
  • Fear
  • Ambition
  • Accommodation
  • Patience
Not sure what I mean? Take "hiding in your office" or "being reluctant to make decisions" as an example.  These are direct reflections of the bad quality "Fear."  An example of the quality "Denial" would be "ignoring problems or behaviors" and an example of "Ego" would be "thinking you are always right."  Get the picture?
Once you can pinpoint which flaws you possess, leadership becomes much easier because you can address conflict head on.  In order to be a great leader, you have to get over yourself!  Find which category you fit into and use these techniques to build bridges with your staff.  

If you have a tendency to think you have all the right answers, you may not be aware of the strain it is causing on staff members who would like to have their thoughts and ideas taken into consideration.  Listening to others does not mean you have to take their advice when all is said and done but, actively listening goes a long way to create a strong foundation for a good working relationship.  If you are able to keep it in check, Ego can take you a long way.  It often gives you the motivation to take risks that can change an organization for the better.

This quality doesn't seem to be very promising, but it has its place.  If you find yourself contributing behavior problems among staff to a bad day or writing off perpetual mistakes as accidents, then you are probably in denial.  Most people with this quality are optimists - trying to find the best in everything.  While this quality is great at lifting others up to get them through a rough patch, it does more harm by overlooking mistakes and bad behaviors.  By gently correcting staff, you save yourself time and energy from having to clean up the mess that will inevitably follow.

Fear of change is one of the leading causes of the death of libraries.  It keeps us from being able to make a decision because, usually, we are afraid of failing.  In a Virginia Tech publication, Think Like a Start-Up, librarian Brian Matthews says "If you are too hung up on creating policies and procedures, workflows and logistics, wordsmithing and committee debates then your idea doesn’t stand a chance."  I love this quote because it gets right to the heart of a problem.  It's impossible to tell if something will be a good or bad idea if you don't try it.  If you fall into the "Fear" category then you may want to remember this piece of wisdom: there is little that can be done which can't be undone.

Ambition can definitely be a good thing - until you lose sight of the bigger picture and forget all the work you did to get where you are now.  When harnessed, ambition makes you a very productive leader.  Only when you lose focus does ambition become a problem, usually because ego, lack of patience, and/or denial creep into the picture.  If you would describe yourself as the ambitious type, it is important to be a big picture thinker.  Looking ahead to the future, instead of getting caught up in the present, will help you maintain a goal-oriented staff.

Everyone loves the accommodator!  That is, until nothing gets done to avoid hurt feelings.  It's okay to want people to like you but sometimes there are tough decisions to be made that may inconvenience some folks.  If you remember my post regarding The Five Dysfuntions of a Team, you will recall that a healthy organization will allow conflict and, in most cases, encourage it.  If you have followed these principles to building a functional team, then there is no need to worry about hurt feelings because your teammates will be understanding of your decisions (even if they don't like it.)

More like the lack of patience, people in this category want results immediately without waiting for them.  In managing, and especially in training, there has to be an element of patience involved.  Change is always gradual when working with people and you should respect the amount of time and effort they put into trying to make the change happen.  Impatient personality types are sometimes doomed to fail because they may reject a new skill which takes time and practice to perfect.  If you find yourself an impatient personality type then I recommend taking time to learn a new skill and share it with others.  And don't take it personally when others are not as quick to implement the new skills you've trained them on.

In a 12 step program, the first step is admitting you have a problem.  I haven't worked out the 12 steps to becoming an awesome leader, but identifying your worst quality and turning it around will definitely get you going in the right direction.

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