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The Right Way, The Wrong Way And My Way: What Kind Of Leader Are You?

With so many management books, gurus, webinars, conferences and how-to posts on social networks, it’s challenging to know what type of leader you are or what you could be. Recently, I watched one of my favorite Las Vegas casino movies. In the film, the lead actor tells an employee that there are three ways to manage —“The right way, the wrong way, and my way!” This interaction between the characters could not be more truthful or exemplify the disconnect in how we interact with our people. 

The Wrong Way

The wrong way of leadership is easy to define. It includes all the things that we shouldn’t do as a leader. It’s the management versus leadership frame of mind. Take a moment to think back to a time you experienced terrible leadership. Who was it? What was the scenario? I would imagine the memory is still fresh in your mind as if it happened yesterday. One of the worst experiences I had with a manager was early on in my management of people. Allow me to set the scene. I had a dog that I had adopted and nursed back to health. This dog was my companion and my friend. Sadly, she was killed by a car on Valentine’s Day. I was distraught and needed to take a day off from work as I was a complete mess. I went to speak with my manager, where I was told that I was immature and lacked real leadership ability. She told me that it was pointless to take off due to the loss of an animal. Regardless of her words and actions, I took the day off. The experience was a check-in-the-box opportunity not to make the same kind of heartless comment to someone else.

The My Way

This manager is the type who knows everything and is never wrong. They never accept nor request feedback because it is “my way or the highway.” This form of management is often exemplified by telling people what to do and how to do it. They exhibit low emotional intelligence and have an inability to communicate. During meetings or one-on-one sessions, feedback is usually one way — from them to you. You are given directives and not asked for thoughts or opinions on how to get to a resolution. Success is theirs and theirs alone as it was their idea and, according to them, you had no part in the planning or implementing phase. Alas, another check-in-the-box opportunity. 

The Right Way

Before we explore this final leadership style, I need to have a disclaimer here. Any person who says they are the perfect leader is lying to themselves and others. That said, having the ability to be an effective leader is a skill that takes time to hone. In a previous article, I wrote about hiring people smarter than you. I don’t have time for self-preservationists (i.e., someone only interested in themselves — see The Wrong Way and The My Way). As a leader, you should be open to feedback and thoughtful opinions. You should know and understand how your team works and what makes them tick. The right way includes allowing your colleagues to succeed and to fail. You must create an environment of trust and respect to know and understand that calculated risks are acceptable. Being a good leader involves having open and honest conversations with your team. People should always know where they stand, but this can be done from a compassionate and thoughtful perspective. I liken this to emotional piggybanks — you make deposits into the account by getting to know your people. When the time comes to have a difficult conversation, you’ve already put the time and effort into the relationship, so your coworker or employee knows you are sincere and that the conversation is not an attack.

In Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves’s book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, the reader is taken down a path to self-actualization. The authors focus on four areas: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses while being open to hearing from others will pay dividends to your professional growth as a leader. Ultimately, being a leader is a personal journey. We have to make the call on how we interact with each other, coworkers and professional colleagues. So, make the right call and be kind and thoughtful to everyone.

This article was originally posted on my Forbes HR Council page.

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