Today’s Question is about having bad role models:
Q: How do I grow my leadership skills when I don’t have a good role model in my leader? My boss is not a good leader and I really don’t see many examples of good leadership in my department. I’m starting to think that might not be valued here, but I don’t really want to be the kind of leader that my boss is being right now – what do I do?
A: That sounds really frustrating and demotivating to be in an environment where your boss isn’t demonstrating great leadership traits. First, congratulate yourself for recognizing that just because you report to this person, that doesn’t make him/her a leader. Also, you have recognized that you are not particularly inspired by the style of management your boss has displayed and don’t want to replicate it. That is great insight. So, how can you take that insight and use it?
First, I suggest you think about the behaviors your boss has that make you less than excited about that leadership style. Think about why it is you don’t see this person as a good role model for you. As you list out those behaviors, think about what an alternative to each behavior would look like. For example, if your boss doesn’t seem to trust his/her direct reports – what specifically do they do that make you feel that way? How do you feel mistrusted? Does he/she withhold information from you? How might you be more forthcoming with information? How can you do that today? With your peers and your boss, think about how you could demonstrate more behaviors of trust to see if you can invite people to reciprocate. Based on what your boss is doing that you don’t like, you can start to create your own strategy for how you DO want to lead when you are in charge of a team.
Second, think about leaders that you do admire. What are the characteristics of those leaders? What behaviors do they display? For example, how do those leaders build trust and share information? How might you do more of that? Think about ways that you can keep those behaviors and traits top of mind when you go to work. Maybe you want to keep a list of those things at your desk or set a reminder on your phone to focus on one of those behaviors every day.
Without knowing all the details of the situation and the exact behaviors you are trying to work around with your boss, my answer is necessarily a bit generic, but I hope to have given you some ideas to focus on to start developing your own unique leadership style.
You also mentioned being a bit afraid that “good” leadership isn’t valued in your organization. That can be an easy assumption to make if you are lacking good role models. My advice there is to truly question whether good leadership is truly not valued at your organization. Look for evidence that good leadership IS valued. It may be difficult at first, but I would be very surprised if the company motto was really – “bad leaders will take us where we want to go”. I would also challenge you to audit your bosses behavior to see if you can find any positive thing you can learn from that behavior. Somewhere along the way, that person was promoted or hired as a boss. Perhaps they lack many of the leadership skills you would like to see, but it is also likely that there is something you can learn about what has gotten him/her to this level of success. Postpone your judgement of this person as a “bad” leader and look for evidence of the opposite, you might be surprised to find one redeeming quality that you overlooked in the past. Perhaps you can even ask that boss for help in developing that skill in yourself.
If you have additional questions, please post in the comments and I will work to get those answered in a future Ask A Coach post.