There have been times in my leadership career where, unknowingly at the time, I became the unaware leader. It can be a dangerous place to be. Thankfully, there are indicators to look for.
Years ago there was a consistent problem in one of our areas of ministry. It was something, which I would have quickly addressed, but no one brought it to my attention. I’ve learned the hard way what I don’t know can often hurt my leadership or the organization the most.
Therefore, I try to be good at asking questions and being observant. Through my normal pattern of discovery I encountered the problem, brought the right people together, we addressed the problem and moved forward.
So, end of story.
Yet, if only it was the end of the story – every time. I’ve missed problems many time since. Fact is, the same for every leader, I only know what I know, and it’s often what I don’t know is what I need to know.
The leader is often the last to know when something is wrong. Therefore, I have consistently told this to the teams I lead. You only know what you know.
Many times, because of the scope of responsibility of the leader, he or she isn’t privy to all the intricacies of the organization. Plus, there are people, who for a variety of reasons, tell others the problems they see before they share them with the leader. Without intentionality of discovering problems the leader may be clueless there was one.
Not knowing, however, is never a good excuse to be unaware.
As a leader, you may not know all the facts – and you don’t need to know every detail of the organization (in fact you shouldn’t). Attempting to know everything keeps an organization very small and very controlled. I spend lots of energy on this blog denouncing that style of leadership.
But you should figure out how to be aware enough, as a leader, to discover the facts which you need to know.
Unaware leaders have some commonalities among them. So, there are indicators you are the unaware leader.
Here are 10 indicators of the unaware leader:
- Not attempting to discover the real health of a team or organization.
- Remaining clueless to what people are really saying.
- Being unsure of things which could be measurable, simply because they are never measured.
- Not asking hard questions for fear of an unwanted answer.
- Not exploring/dreaming into the future; becoming content with status quo.
- Preferring to not know when there is a problem in a certain area of the organization (or with certain people).
- Dismissing all criticism as negativity.
- Not learning anything new; instead relying on “the way things have always been done” and hoping they consistently work.
- Making every decision without input from others.
- Assuming everyone supports and loves your leadership.
Those are just some of the indicators a leader has become unaware. There are possibly many others.
Some things the leader will never know. That’s okay. There are issues within the life of an organization, however, that while the leader may not know readily, or even want to know, he or she should explore continually.
One of my rules of thumb in determining what I need to know and what I don’t is if it has the potential to impact the long-term health of the organization then I need to know about it. It could be a change we are about to make, a mistake we made, or just perceptions people have within or outside the organization. But, if I’m eventually going to hear about it anyway I want to hear about it as early in the process as possible.
Want to test your awareness?
Try this simple experiment. Send an email to a fairly sizable group of people you trust – key leaders, staff members, friends – people who know your organization fairly well. These could be from the inside or outside depending on the size of the organization. Also, make sure there are some people on the list who you know will be honest with you. Tell them you are trying to be more aware as a leader and need their help.
Pick some or all of these questions and ask people to respond to them:
- From your perspective, what am I currently missing as a leader?
- What do you see that I don’t see about our organization?
- If you were in my shoes, what should I be doing that I’m not doing?
- Do you think we are changing fast enough to keep up with the needs of the people we are serving?
- What are people saying about me or our organization which I’m not hearing?
- Would you say I am generally aware of the real problems in our organization?
- Who on my team is keeping from me how they really feel?
If you really want to a challenge from this experiment, let them answer anonymously. You trust them, right? Plus, you get to set that in the parameters of who you asked to answer. So, set up a Survey Monkey or Google Survey doc and let them respond without having to add their name.
Then, see what responses you receive.
Not ready to do that? I understand. Frankly, I’ve gone to that extent only a few times in my leadership – when I especially felt tension in the organization or that I wasn’t losing touch with reality. (You have to be self-aware as a leader to diagnose this one.)
You could simply address the indicators above and see how that improves your awareness as a leader. Whichever you choose. Let’s just always strive to be better leaders.
Check out my leadership podcast where we hopefully help limit bad decisions and discuss issues of leadership in a practical way. Plus, check out the other Lifeway Leadership Podcasts.