Leadership Effectiveness: Dig Deep—Don’t Be Fooled By Appearances

Leadership Effectiveness: Dig Deep—Don’t Be Fooled By AppearancesIn my personal experience as well as my experience as an executive coach of top leaders of highly successful organizations, I have seen how often we humans make mistakes assessing people based on outward appearance.

The only way leaders can have great people around them is if they can identify, hire, retain, nurture, and develop talent in their leaders. Great leaders are able to determine the qualities of other great leaders in their organization, and are not seduced by appearances, a nice gift, or a slick presentation. Evaluating others on superficial qualities is facile and lazy; accurately evaluating the abilities and character of others takes time, thought, and analysis.

The recent Harvard Business Review article, “What sets successful CEOs apart,” (by E. L. Botelho, et al, May-June 2017) addresses the appearance vs. reality phenomenon at the CEO level, but this logic lapse extends throughout organizational levels: “… an unrealistic yet pervasive stereotype … holds that a successful CEO is a charismatic six-foot-tall white man with a degree from a top university, who is a strategic visionary with a seemingly direct-to-the-top career path and the ability to make perfect decisions under pressure. Yet we’ve been struck by how few of the successful leaders we’ve encountered fit this profile… [O]ur analysis revealed that, while boards often gravitate toward charismatic extroverts, introverts are slightly more likely to surpass the expectations of their boards and investors.”

Leaders who think more deeply about people and problems are able to develop a culture in which they encourage and teach people to tell them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. They position themselves and their organizations for vigorous and healthy communication, open exchange of ideas, bold innovation, and strong growth.

If you as the leader are doing all the talking, you are not learning much about the people around you. A technique used by Nelson Mandela was indicative of his great leadership style. “Mandela would … [gather] leaders at his kitchen table or in his driveway and [hold] discussions. Mandela would always listen first, and speak last.” See slide seven of 10 Business Leaders You Should Strive To Emulate – How Nelson Mandela’s father made tribal decisions.

As Walt Disney said: “You can dream, create, design, and build the most wonderful place in the world … but it requires people to make the dream a reality.” – Walt Disney, founder of The Walt Disney Company. Here are more valuable ideas from other famous leaders: 8 Brilliant Hiring Philosophies from Famous Leaders.

Ask yourself: Are you listening enough? Are you “seduced” by polished appearances? How has that played out? Do you create an atmosphere where you learn about others and where people can be open and direct with you? What are the characteristics of successful and unsuccessful talent picks you have made? What led you to make each one?

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