Workplace Wisdom

This Is How to be a Leader in Name Only

Aspiring, self-aware leaders think of leadership as a practice and a way of life. They’re always looking for growth opportunities and greater self-mastery, whatever their rank or title. And yet a surprising number of executives operate as leaders in name only, neither understanding nor caring about what inspires employees to be creative, diligent, or do their best work.

If you’d like to lead in name only, here are some tips you can follow. On the other hand, if you’d prefer to be a real leader who contributes significantly to your organization’s success, and who can be proud of developing generations of up-and-coming employees, please ignore this advice completely!

Do what’s good for you, not for the larger organization. Leaders who are primarily concerned about their own success and “taking care of number one” behave in partisan ways. So hoard resources and only share information on a need-to-know basis (if that) — and you don’t need to support or invest in your team members unless it serves your own interests. Plus, you can avoid contributing to colleagues’ or company-wide initiatives; just do what it takes to hit your own goals, even if that works to the detriment of other people or groups.

Consistency is unnecessary. Say whatever your team wants to hear — or whatever comes into your mind at any given moment — because you don’t really care about backing up your word anyway.

Don’t bother modifying your approach just because your assignment changes. Just keep doing whatever worked for you in your previous job, even if operating on automatic pilot keeps you from learning the nuances and realities of your current role. If the old way was good enough for the old position, then it ought to be good enough for the new one too. You’ve got a track record to point to, so how could anyone question you? Who cares if your employees don’t really like being led by someone who keeps referring to the old thing as if it’s still happening? No one gave them the right to an opinion anyway.

Try to keep people off your team who are even slightly smarter or more competent than you. If other people realize you’re not completely sure what you’re doing, they could show you up in some way, and that’s no good. Or else they’ll finally start working well for you, and then some other decision-maker will hire them away, and you’ll have to start over. Better to stick to middle-of-the-road types. It’s a lot easier to train them to do things exactly the way you want them done, and they’re much less likely to leave you for greener pastures.

Don’t make any decisions you don’t feel perfectly certain about. Not sure which thing is the right thing to do? Don’t do anything! Yes, you’ll frustrate your team and some of your colleagues, but you’ll reduce your own risk for the short term, and that’s what really matters. Otherwise, you might make a mistake, and it’s certainly better to leave people in limbo than to look bad in front of your boss or your team.

Don’t worry about other people’s input. Why accept people’s opinions if you’re not going to use them anyway? It only raises their expectations unnecessarily. Better to show you’re don’t need any insight from anyone. Once employees eventually stop being creative and giving you recommendations, your life will be easier. And if they get fed up and want to move to another team or leave the company, so much the better — you can replace them with people who are happy to leave the decisions up to you.

Set the bar where you can reach it. Make sure your stated goals are easily met so you’re never found wanting. To ensure that you always hit your mark and look good, add some cushioning to your expected costs, or play down what you think your results will be. There’s no point in pushing yourself unless you’re sure it’s going to get you something you want — and without too much risk.

Last but not least, throw your weight around. Don’t be afraid to show them who’s boss, particularly if employees are starting to get big ideas or persist about things they want. “Because I said so” is usually enough of an answer. And sometimes a little punitive treatment is exactly what’s needed to bring people into line and teach them not to mess with you. If they’re not delivering, or if they’re going off in some inconvenient direction, it’s perfectly reasonable to call them out for it. And if you do it in front of their peers, they’ll all get the lesson at once, and be less likely to go complaining to any other executive or HR, either.

Now it’s up to you!

Onward and upward,

LK

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