Default Leadership: 3 Reasons Why Leaders Stop Growing

Personal and leadership growth go hand and hand, when you grow as a person it impacts the way you think and behave as a leader. The opposite is also true; when a person stops growing he or she conforms to familiar patterns, which become all too commonplace, predictable and sadly obsolete over time. Eventually, an emerging learning leader will pass you by because he or she is intent on acquiring new knowledge, which enhances their station as a leader in the eyes of others.

I recently spoke to group of High School students, and in the spur of the moment I took out my 3G iPhone to make a point about the need to reinvent our leadership style. As I held up my iPhone in my hand I asked the proverbial question, what is this? Most students raised their hands to answer my question, while others simply shouted out the answer – “It’s an iPhone!” I responded in the affirmative but added a crucial fact, “It’s just not any iPhone, it is the 3G model; the third generation of iPhones.” I continued making my point by asking a follow up question: “Why do iPhones go through a generational makeover?” Silence gripped the students. After a brief moment I answered my own question, “Because people get bored with the old ones.” The students then understood my point about the need to reinvent one’s leadership ability by assessing, creating change and transforming thinking and behavior on a continual basis. It is strategically advantageous to consider a leadership makeover from time to time, because your followers will eventually get bored with the old “leader.”

Leaders stop growing for many reasons. Some feel they “have arrived” to the place of their dreams, and simply have no need for further growth, while others stop growing because the effort to change is not worth their time and energy. And some leaders mistakenly feel they can create their own change apart from others.

After some dialogue with peers and professionals in the marketplace, I gathered some of their insights for this article. I then summarized my findings into three categories. Leaders stop growing for these reasons:

1. Success blinds them
Leaders at the top often deceive themselves by believing their own press; simply put, they have reached a level very few people ever achieve in the corporate or professional world, so what more is there to learn? Hence, they fall prey to the belief that there is no more professional growth required at this level. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Growth is required throughout life at all levels, especially when a person occupies positions at the highest levels of the corporate world. The sage advice from Pastor Rick Warren, one of the top leaders in the faith-based community reveals, “Leaders are learners. The moment they stop learning they stop leading.” Learning from others, mainly from subordinates, requires a level of humility greater than most leaders are willing to admit. In other words, success blinds those who seem to achieve top dog status. Leaders, at this level, must understand that success is not singular in form but rather manifests itself in the plural form. So what got them to the top may not necessarily be their own competencies but the willingness and effort of those around them to make him or her look good. Leaders must understaing that the best learning happens in community, not alone.

2. Pride gets in the way
Tim Erwin, author of the best seller Derailed notes, “The most foundational and most self-destructive” failure of one’s character “is arrogance.” This is the primary reason most leaders at the top stop asking for help. Why is this so? Some leaders are simply afraid to ask for help for fear of being stigmatized as being inadequate in their role. This couldn’t be further from the truth. According to Debbie Zois, co-owner and partner of Keller Williams Las Vegas Realty, “Asking for help is not showing signs of inadequacy – it’s smart! If you ask, you will simply get there quicker. If you don’t ask, you will never know what you missed. Sounds to me like you need to figure out your BIG Why! That will push you through a whole lot of things!” So what’s the solution? First, a leader must swallow a mouthful of hubris by understanding they play a minor role in comparison to the whole system. In other words, there are many more factors contributing to organizational performance. Once the leader embraces this view, he or she can see that learning begins by eliminating pride and seeing things from different perspectives.

3. They fear feedback
Some leaders are afraid of what others may find out about them so they avoid the facts about their leadership competencies all-together. According to Bill George, author of the book True North, leaders “reject the honest critic who holds a mirror to their face and speaks the truth. Instead, they surround themselves with supporters telling them what they want to hear. Over time, they lose capacity for honest dialogue, and people learn not to confront them.” The facts are the facts, if leaders are to genuinely reinvent themselves, he or she cannot avoid the facts.

Annual assessments are crucial for measuring effectiveness, especially the measuring device known as the 360 Degree Feedback Evaluation. The number “360” is an obvious term meaning a “full circle” where the leader or executive is measured from all angles; the top (supervisor or board members), on the side are colleagues (others of the same rank and stature), and underneath are direct reports (those who report to the leader), and perhaps other people known or unknown by the leader. The qualifying feature of this feedback technique is the leader-executive does not know “who” is involved in their evaluation; they simply receive anonymous feedback, which makes the data more transparent. Without a 360 Degree Feedback a leader cannot truly know what others think about their ability to lead effectively, and the areas requiring a tune up. Therefore, an “openness to feedback reflects our interest in being a learning, growing person.”

If you play a key leadership role in your workplace or have the need to go to the next level, then you are a candidate for a leadership makeover. I would also venture to say, if you are a leader and feel that you are at the top of your game, you will need to take a pulse of your leadership style more often. Leaders cannot afford to stay at the same place for very long. Reinvention is a process of constantly evaluating self in the midst of an internal and external changing environment, and making the proper corrections to change thinking, attitude and behavior. As soon as you stop growing as a leader you start diminishing in leadership effectiveness. Do not allow your development as a leader to be arrested at the top of your game; others are depending upon you.

Who provides feedback to you on a regular basis? Is coaching an option for your development as a leader?


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