By Joseph Folkman
Several years ago, I was consulting with a company helping a group of engineers. I was coaching the senior manager of that group and was talking with one of his direct reports. While I was asking for suggestions on what the senior manager could do to be a better leader I was shocked by one response from his direct report. He said, “Quit and leave the company!” Curious to understand more, I asked why he was so frustrated with this leader. He said that he had been working on a project where he came up with a new approach that solved a persistent problem. After he worked out all the details, he scheduled a time to discuss his proposal with the manager. They had a good discussion and the manager agreed with the recommendation but indicated that because this would require a capital expenditure it would need to be reviewed with the CEO.
The CEO had a reputation for being very direct and confrontational. In the meeting, the CEO came to the agenda item of the request and instantly reacted to the additional expenditure with, “What idiot wants to waste all your budget on this stupid project?” The manager of the group I was coaching simply pointed to his direct report and said, “He does.” The CEO said, “NO WAY,” and then went on to the next agenda item. The direct report said, “He threw me under the bus. The manager thought the idea was excellent when I discussed it with him. Ultimately if it was implemented it would save us thousands of dollars, but he just acted like he had never heard of the idea and let me take the fall.” Employees want a manager who will stand up and support them. Nobody wants to work for a wimp.
Most people have a conflicting feelings about leaders who are bold. We often love leaders who will take charge, move forward, and boldly go where no one has gone before, but other bold leaders have the opposite effect. They fail to listen, have poor judgment, or rarely consider how their actions may impact the organization’s long-term success in favor of making a short-term profit. When confronted with these leaders people will often say, “That leaders is too bold!” But do you want a timid leader? The problem with boldness is not the presence of that attribute. It is the absence of the other skills that enable boldness to be helpful. We have all had the experience of mixing two foods together to create an exceptional treat.
Leaders who can be bold and have the skills to enable that boldness to be an asset can be extraordinary leaders.
What Behaviors Make Boldness Work
We looked at assessments from over 70,000 leaders. We measured their boldness and then identified 10 behaviors that created an exceptionally positive outcome when combined with bold leadership.
- Good judgment. Bold leaders with poor judgement are the proverbial bull in the china closet. Often good judgement can come from the insights, knowledge, and opinions of others. An extraordinary bold leader needs to reach out and ask for help from others.
- The ability to inspire and energize. Bold leadership is often a push, but people also need a pull. They need to be inspired and energized to act and make a difference. When people are pushed they do things because they have no other choice; when people are pulled they do things because they want to.
- Recognition of what need to change. One of the benefits of bold leadership is the ability to act and fix problems. Leaders who can quickly identify what needs to change and then rally others to a solution can make a big difference in an organization. Bold leaders who focus on fixing problems that aren’t actually problems only create chaos.
- Openness to feedback from others. The most effective bold leaders are not only open to feedback but also request it from others. Feedback is a valuable gift. Others can often see our problems and mistakes much sooner than we see them.
- Willingness to listen to others’ ideas and opinions. The most effective bold leaders take time to listen. They are interested in everyone’s opinions, not just those who agree with them. Great wisdom often comes from those who disagree.
- Having high standards of excellence. Bold leaders can move others, but they need to ensure it’s in the right direction and the right thing to do.
- Ability to market and sell new ideas to others. The most effective bold leaders know how to sell their ideas to others and get their support. Some bold leaders realize that they can simply bully others to do their bidding, which generates compliance but not commitment. Effective bold leaders resist ultimatums such as, “My way or the highway!”
- Clarity about the vision and strategic direction. The most effective bold leaders are clear about where they are going, how they will get there, and communicate that vision to others.
- Spotting new trends, potential problems, and opportunities. Change is certain, and bold leaders need to be able to spot those changes quickly.
- Keeping others focused on top priorities. Having the ability to keep other focused on the most pressing priorities is a key to success. Organizations get bogged down in hundreds of competing priorities, but bold leaders keep people focused on the few priorities that make a difference.
Being bold is a great skill, but it’s a bit like salt. By itself it’s not very good but when mixed with the right foods it can make a huge difference. When I was young I remember seeing my father put salt on cantaloupe. When I asked him what he was doing, and he simply said, “Try it.” To my surprise, the salt brought out the sweetness in a way I’d never experienced before—and I’ve been putting salt on my cantaloupe ever since! By mixing these behaviors with boldness, you’ll see some unexpected but positive results that will help you improve your effectiveness as a leader.