If you lead others there are certain things that they can ‘smell’ about your motivation and focus. Not dealing with these unseen forces might be costing you promotion and trust.

Essentially we can be focused on our careers, our needs and our status or we can be principally focused on the team goals, status and needs. Great leaders of a team continually look at the result of the team rather than their personal results and status amongst their peers and superiors. People in a team are always evaluating whether a leader has more dedication for results or status. People in a team ‘smell’ if a leader is feathering their own nest, enjoying the perks and working to look good for their superiors. I don’t need to tell you that trust and credibility are reduced substantially when those in a team believe that the team leader is focused more on themselves, their career, and how they look to those around them

I have seen many leaders who are very knowledgeable and skilled who others sense are focused on themselves. It is often the little things that reveal a leaders focus, but the little things count.

There are three main ways to avoid this trap:

  1. Keep the big picture as the only picture. Ensure that your sense of accomplishment is tied to the team’s performance. Understand that if the team fails, so do you. Even if you perform exceptionally, you don’t see it as a win. This means being clear on the scorecard of your team.

Making sure that the vision and goals of the team are not about what you want but want the organisation needs.

There is a story I tell sometimes in team development workshops about Scott Pippen, a star player with the Chicago Bulls Basketball team .

The game was down to the last 20 seconds, and a time out had been called. The Bulls coach was calling the play they were going to run to try and win the game. Normally the ball would go to Scott Pippen to shoot the basket and win the game. The coach, however, decided to change the play and asked Scott to be a decoy. Scott Pippen didn’t like the fact that he wasn’t going to be the star, refusing to go back out onto the court. In that instant he had confused his personal goals/desires with the team goal. He was focusing on the ‘I’ and not the ‘we’. He was the leader of that team but through that incident lost credibility and trust. Fortunately as soon as the team got back into the change rooms, Scott, realizing that he had made a selfish call, apologized to the team. Our ego is a delicate and dangerous thing. We need to continue to keep it in check.

  1. Give Credit to Others. Another way to avoid this trap is to consistently point towards the good work that those in your team. For instance, I heard of one team leader who was requested to gather ideas and data by the C.E.O. of a company for a particular project. This team leader needed information that people in his team had. He received the information back from his team promptly. Instead of synthesizing the information into a single report, maybe with his name on it, he simply gathered them together and sent them directly on to the C.E.O. What this did for the team was to show them that their team leader wasn’t trying to score points and was willing to share the ‘glory’. This engendered trust in their leader.

One of the things I try to do is if I have heard something positive about someone from a customer, client or other worker I make sure to tell that person directly but also tell those around me.

If a leader is ambitious giving credit to others will be very difficult.

  1. Develop your Emotional Security. The last way to avoid this trap is to develop emotional security. One of the reasons why leaders fall into the trap of making it about them and not the team is that they are trying bolster their sense of self.

One of the main fears we all have to deal with and combat is the fear that we aren’t good enough. It is that nagging fear that we will be found out one day as an imposter. To counter this we use various means to convince ourselves, and others, that we are ‘good enough’. An insecure leader wont let others share the spotlight because then their deepest fears will be confirmed. There are many markers that we are falling into this trap.

  • Leaders who talk about themselves, their vision, their likes, their accomplishments all the time
  • Leaders who take the credit for others work
  • Leaders who avoid or dismiss criticism or feedback
  • Leaders who wont develop those in their teams.
  • Blames the team when things go wrong constantly

When coaching leaders I find that many leaders struggle with feelings of being an ‘imposter’.

How do you develop emotional security?

Of course this is a huge topic. Let me give you some clues.

Recently I was coaching a leader who was very talented and respected by her peers. Interestingly her boss and fellow manager suggested that she receive some leadership coaching because they could see that confidence and security were a big issue for her. I had the privilege of coaching her. On the very first session we did an exercise, which transformed her beliefs about herself and confidence. She still shakes her head and the changes she has accomplished.

What we discover is that our security as a person and leader is beyond rationale thought.

The other thing we know is that deep confidence and security are positively impacted as we succeed. As we look back on mounting successes it slowly increases our security and confidence.

Questions to reflect on:

  • Are you wondering and thinking about: “what’s next for me in my career often?”
  • Would it bother you if the team exceeded it’s targets but you weren’t acknowledged in the process?
  • Do you personally consider it a failure if your team doesn’t meet it objectives?
  • In your communication, do you notice yourself saying me or I in team discussions or organisational goals/results when it should really be we and us?

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