Do You Make This Leadership Mistake?

I received an email from one of my coaching clients the other day. He asked me to provide him some context on a situation he found interesting. I love interacting with my clients in this way and so I thought I would share the scenario with you and get your perspective, because I would love to know your thoughts on the subject.


The Email goes something like this:

Hi Scott, I met with a leader in our organization yesterday to interview her for a position we have coming available. This person has many of the attributes and attitudes that we look for in leaders on our team.  She was confident, articulate, driven, has a good background, and answered most questions quite well. She was a skilled interviewer in many respects.

However, when I asked her - in 3 different ways - for a "personal development opportunity" or "critical feedback you've received" she had no answer at all and couldn't come up with anything.  I even gave her an example of one that I've worked on to try to prompt her.  No answer still.

I'm kinda curious now - what's your read on someone who can't come up with a personal weakness or area for development?

Here are some ideas I gave to my client on what could be going on:

  1. Lack of  self-awareness.  This means that she doesn't know herself well enough to know when she has been given feedback, or how to process the information. A lack of self-awareness is actually quite common in leadership development. The Handbook of Leadership Development states that this is a key aspect of understanding ones strengths and weaknesses, what one does well and not so well, what one is comfortable and not comfortable with, what situations bring out the best and worst in us all, and the “whys” behind all of these. Self-awareness means understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the leader and the effect these have on others in different situations and contexts.
  2. Poor listener.  Even though you asked in 3 different ways, it is possible that she didn't understand your question, or she didn't understand the feedback when people gave it to her. In my book, 7 Secrets of an Emotionally Intelligent Coach I describe how this poor listening can happen.  CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A FREE COPY OF THE CHAPTER WHERE THIS IS DESCRIBED.  In any conversation there are three actually happing. The first is between the two participants. The next two conversations are the ones that each participant is having with themselves. If the conversation you are having with yourself has a “higher volume” than the one you are having with the other person, you are not listening to them, only preparing what to say next when they stop talking.
  3. Arrogance. It is common for the leadership literature to call this narcissism. Another common description is pride, or being so self-absorbed that the feedback that she has been given in the past just washed over her like water splashing on a rock. In this case she heard the feedback and rejects it.
  4. Omniscience. A high level of knowing is often seen as a positive quality in a leader. Both knowledge and experience can be  very valuable commodities to a leader. Robert Sternberg, when writing in the area of foolishness in A Handbook of Wisdom, describes that a leader who has expertise, power, or a great deal of knowledge, runs a risk of falling into the trap of believing they are all knowing. If a leader falls into this trap input from outside sources begins to lose value compared to the information they already have.
  5. Lack of  self-regard. Self-regard is an ability to be able to accept yourself for who you are and have an appreciation for your positive attributes and your perceived negative traits, while still feeling good about yourself. This means all of the external confidence that had been observed by this leader in the interview was just window dressing.  It is possible that her view of self was so low or distorted that she was afraid that admitting a fault would show such weakness that her ability to get the job would be in jeopardy. Steve Stein and Howard Book, in The EQ Edge state that leaders who fail because of difficulties with self-regard can not tolerate to have their “warts” visible publicly.

At this point many of you are trying to see if you can come up with another attribute that I may have missed. Let’s resist the temptation (using a heightened level of Impulse Control) to be organizational psychologists, and instead turn our thoughts more to ourselves.

How are YOU doing on being able to answer the question, “What is your personal development opportunity”? I am sure you all could mail this one in... you know, just write something down so that HR and your boss are satisfied. But why not stretch yourself a bit? Get honest with yourself and ask, "what is it that I really need to work on that is going to make me a more effective leader?"

If you ever want to talk about that sometime, let me know. In the mean time I would really value your thoughts on other leadership mistakes you have made, or that you have seen made. I would like to compile a list of these and do a post someday so that we can learn from each other.