Photo: Adi Goldstein
Leadership is a tricky topic.
It requires an immense amount of experience in the trenches to learn the hard lessons.
It’s common for people to associate “leadership” with a title.
A CEO is a “leader.” The creative director is a “leader.” Even your manager is a “leader.”
But that’s not what leadership actually is. Leadership isn’t a badge you wear or a hat you put on in certain situations — “Time to step up and be a leader!”
It goes back to the old cliché: Leaders lead by example.
They are leaders not because of what they have achieved or what fancy title they have before their name.
They are leaders because of how they conduct themselves, and their ability to inspire people to do things they wouldn’t do on their own.
A lot of people think they are leaders — and that’s the problem.
Here are five signs you are spending more effort trying to be a leader than actually leading.
1. You use your title as leverage.
The moment you say, “Do what I tell you because I am your director, the owner, your CEO,” you may win the battle, but you’ve lost the war.
You are no longer leading by example, and are instead trying to inspire through hierarchy.
“That may instigate action in the moment, but it will cause resentment down the road.”
Just because you are in a certain position commonly associated with “being a leader” does not automatically result in “leadership.”
2. You point the finger instead of pulling the thumb.
A great leader knows that, at the end of the day, it all comes back around.
If your employee or your business partner makes a mistake, yes, on some level they are accountable, but on another level their mistake may have been the result of a process or a request that you put forward.
“The truth is, it really doesn’t matter how or why something goes wrong — things happen.”
What matters is how you, as a leader, react and move forward. And if you point out everyone else’s mistakes without ever acknowledging your own role in the equation, the people around you will feel alienated.
3. You are emotionally inconsistent.
As an employee, there is nothing worse than not knowing whether today is a “good” day or a “bad” day.
What prohibits great work and dramatically increases execution time is having to worry or wonder what sort of emotional reaction you are going to get from your leader.
It may be that on some days, a very complicated question is handled with ease, and on other days, the simplest of questions throws the person into a fit of rage.
These emotional inconsistencies are what create chaos in an office or work setting because nobody knows what to expect.
“As a leader, you are the rock, the foundation upon which it all co-exists and operates.”
It’s a lot to carry, but that is why you are the leader. Deal with it.
4. You don’t keep your word.
Nothing destroys loyalty and follower-ship faster than saying you will do something and then not doing it.
Your employees and associates will begin to question your ability to carry your own weight, no matter how much else you have on your plate.
“What you should do instead is be honest and admit, even as the leader of an organization or a small team, when you need help.”
There is no dignity in taking on responsibilities you ultimately can’t fulfill.
5. You focus on the bad and never highlight the good.
There is a fine line between inspiring greatness and tearing down motivation.
If you focus only on the mistakes of the people around you, they will begin to feel as though “everything they do is wrong.”
This is a recipe for disaster, both intrinsically and extrinsically. Yes, point out the mistakes and address them as needed. But do not overlook or devalue what they bring to the table the rest of the time.
“Hearing what you do well is just as important as hearing what you do poorly.”
Otherwise, your employees or associates will be lost in the dark, unsure of how to best navigate themselves within your expectations.
This piece originally appeared in Inc Magazine.