By Dr. Detlef Klann
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Public University
In a previous article, I explained that your company’s values should be focused on providing a good experience for your customers and having good leaders. But you should also focus on your strengths or weaknesses for growth and effective leadership. The best leaders are willing to listen to their employees; they should accept ideas, provide funding or sponsorship, follow up and most importantly, give credit to employees’ suggestions.
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Good Leaders Are Made, Not Born
There are three schools of thought with respect to focusing on improving leadership strengths or weaknesses. One school of thought is to make your strengths even more pronounced to increase and optimize the value proposition of each strength. Furthermore, if you try to improve your weaknesses as a leader, that will take longer and require a lot more effort.
The other school of thought is focus on your weaknesses, since your strengths are already solid.
The third school of thought is to ensure you concentrate on building relevant strengths for your employer. It seems like a simple enough approach, but employees often assume they know precisely what their strengths are.
But a far more sensible approach is to ask your boss what skills, strengths and weaknesses would be your best targets. You could then adjust your performance accordingly.
The risks of using these approaches are how to maintain leadership strengths while improving weaknesses. Ask yourself the question, “Is improving weaknesses worth the time and effort?” If the answer to the question is “Yes, it is worth the effort,” then you’ll know what to do.
But if the answer is “No, it’s not worth the effort,” then making improvements to your leadership weaknesses would be a waste of your time and effort. Logically, your focus should then be improving your strengths to ensure professional growth.
Leadership Development Starts with Being Ready to Progress Upward
In high school, students are provided with resources such as books, websites and magazines to study. They are then asked to rephrase this information in simple sentences to prove they read, researched and understood what they were assigned to learn.
In undergraduate college courses, students are given a broader range without as many specific resources. In graduate school, there are even fewer resources provided. The emphasis is on being more active in choosing topics and creating good research habits, in order to present a culminating thesis that proves or disproves a hypothesis.
In doctoral programs, students now have even a bigger challenge to narrow down a topic and communicate it to others through a dissertation. They must then convince a degree-granting committee why the topic is relevant and should result in the award of a doctorate.
Leadership development occurs in much the same way. Most people start off in entry-level positions and wonder why they were not immediately placed in the CEO’s office; I thought the same way. As I progressed upward to other positions, my thinking evolved to one of “What can I do to be ready?” for roles in which I was interested.
In interviews, employers often ask questions that are designed to pinpoint if you are a ‘careerist’ or a person who is clearly recognizable as someone who will be a catalyst and a leader. But do not confuse being a leader with leadership; one is a strategic quality while the other implies the act of leading.
Good Leaders Ask Questions and Listen to Employees
When employers conduct feedback in the form or an employee survey, do not be shocked if nothing changes. Based on the nature of the survey questions, a workplace may or may not have improvements or recommendations from information gleaned from the survey. Employers are not focused on what makes them a preferred employer; they are focused on how to maximize revenues to achieve the desired (or higher) levels of profitability.
When employers solicit input for how to improve something, nothing is likely to change unless a very high postured leader sponsors and endorses the idea. Employers care more about meeting and exceeding customers’ expectations, but are somehow not able to synthesize the connection to how happy employees provide superior customer experiences. If employers openly request suggestions from employees but never use those ideas, eventually those employers will end up with disheartened, frustrated employees.
Leaders Rely on Continuous Learning
Having an academic milestone like a degree is merely the start of your journey. Being equipped with more tools enables your career journey to be more effective and focused.
Who Is Remembered Most: Good or Bad Leaders?
Leadership being a trait rather than an action verb conjures up memories of leaders in one’s past that are examples of good and bad leaders. I was blessed with both good and bad leaders.
How can a bad leader be a blessing? For starters, since you have examples for why they were a bad leader etched cognitively in your mind, you also have a plethora of things not to do or run the risk of being a bad leader.
Another thing a bad leader can teach you is that patience is a virtue. It has been my experience that I grew more from bad leadership rather than good leadership. While that may or may not be true for everyone, you have a lot of eyes on you as a leader. If you make a blunder and do not ‘own it,’ that lack of accountability and responsibility inevitably does more damage than good.
It has been said that employees do not leave a bad employer; they leave toxic work environments and bad bosses. It turns out employees are open to being led, but detest being managed and in particular being micro-managed.
It’s easy to look at a list of leaders (personal ones and global ones) and have an opinion of their leadership traits. It’s even easier to remember specific incidents and how they impacted yourself and the environment.
Look at this list of good and bad leaders. What does it conjure up?
- Bernie Madoff
- Bill Gates
- Billy Graham
- George Steinbrenner
- Jim Jones
What do all of these people have in common? They were effective leaders.
The point is that there is not necessarily a correlation between good and effective leadership. But in looking at the list, these leaders were in leadership positions and did lead people.
However, their legacies, either good or bad, are significantly different. Even if you are not in a leadership position, you can have an impact if you so choose.
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About the Author
Dr. Detlef “CK” Klann is an adjunct faculty member in the School of Business at American Public University. His academic credentials include an associate degree in avionics technology from the Community College of the Air Force, an associate degree in electronics from Victor Valley College and a bachelor’s degree in electronics management from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Other degrees include a master’s degree in aeronautical science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a doctoral degree in business administration from North Central University. Dr. Klann has held various leadership positions at Sprint, AT&T, the United States Air Force Reserve and the U.S. Air Force.