If you can’t lead – use a big stick?

Firstly thank you to all those who have been requesting I put  some attention into the blog again. Those of you who know me well will be aware some personal circumstances have caused me to limit some things. Thank you for your encouragement – and demands to give you more! Enjoy this and future postings.

My good friend and a person I am indebted to, Tony O’Malley, used to jokingly say “If you can’t fight, wear a big hat!” As I’ve worked with  people who are expected to lead from key positions in organisations, there are some differentiators between those who lead well and those who find accessing their leadership capabilities more difficult. In the latter group a significant number seem to change my friend Tony’s adage to “If you can’t lead use a big stick”. But the worst piece is that Tony was only joking and they are serious. I see and experience these people throwing their position power around not listening, believing dominance and being bombastic equates to leadership. They also refuse to ever apologise – and the people I am referring to are not of one gender or other. They believe they are appearing ‘tough’ whilst the most common words others use when describing them is ‘stupid’ or ‘arrogant’.

In our development workshops we often model effective behaviour to stimulate discussion and the principle of saying sorry comes up, especially when you have had a negative unintended impact on others. It is seen by some as a sign of weakness and therefore ‘should never be used’. I was interested to see the conclusions of a study published in the American Scientific Mind at the end of 2011  which stated “people who are sure of themselves have the capacity to confess to wrongdoing and address it” and are willing to apologise. The two groups who found it most difficult – those with low self-esteem and those “very egocentric, with an overly grand view of themselves”. This of course is completely counter to the belief that apologising is a weakness.         

I am also privy to the impact these people have on their people, and how the talented performers gravitate elsewhere. Currently I know of a number of people who make key contributions to their organisations and are really engaged with what their organisation is doing, yet are exploring jobs elsewhere because senior players are unable to either see or hear the very obvious signs of discontent and are stuck in transmit mode with no receive. The key players have very directly given instances to their bosses where their actions have left them feeling devalued – yet of course none of them have heard the word “sorry” in return. They are usually met with a justification or avoidance – or being given something which they do not value, which makes things worse. I’ve personally been dealing with some people who would win the gold medal at the Olympics for management ineptitude despite their academic qualifications, where an apology was all they needed to give for a string of mistakes – but it was not on their radar.

Good leaders aren’t soft with people, far from it, they help people make the best of their talent mixing support and challenge, but it is a two way exchange!

So some easy advice, show curiosity about your key people, listen well and find out their ideas, accept that you will not get everything right however hard you try – and say sorry when it goes wrong. You’ll achieve far more and you might keep those key people who help you look good just that bit longer!



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