Most great leaders are self-contained individuals. That's not surprising, given that the process of becoming a great leader develops a high degree of self-startedness in people.
Those that aren't self-contained--those who exhibit neediness, or a too-strong desire for external validation--generally cap out at a leadership level somewhere below 'great'.
This characteristic--usually expressed as a lack of self-doubt, coupled with the ability to stand strong and reach inward for what's needed in times of trial--is almost always a great asset for both the leader and their team. It brings clarity and assurance at times of crisis, and helps re-center and re-focus a stressed or up-ended team.
There are times, however, when being self-contained turns into a damaging liability. In these times, a leader puts everything on the line by trusting too much in his or her own skills and judgment. Not surprisingly, this happens most often when a leader turns their skills and judgment on themselves--when they attempt, in essence, to self-diagnose their own leadership weaknesses.
In such cases, a leader will eventually need to reach out to a coach or mentor for help. The alternative is that the leader will battle fruitlessly with the same issue over and over again, often for years, without ever fixing it. And of course, during all that time, their leadership development is placed on hold, stunted by the key issue they cannot put behind them.
Here are the three specific cases where I most often see leaders struggle to relinquish control and reach out to others for help:
Deep-seated behavioral traits
Temper tantrums; inability to stay focused on details; promising to delegate and then micro-managing instead--sound familiar? These and any of a hundred more behavioral traits can trap a leader, forcing him or her into a negative pattern of behavior and freezing his or her ability to develop further.
If you find yourself repeating a cycle of one or more negative behavioral traits, promising yourself again and again that you'll act differently next time, then exercise some personal tough love: admit that you won't act differently next time, and reach out for some help.
Find someone who can coach you through the behavioral changes you need to make by providing you with the tools and techniques your need to make it happen, and most importantly, who will hold you accountable over time. That’s the only way the change will become permanent.
This is a tough area for any leader to recognize the need for help. While behavioral issues are usually self-evident, prejudices, by their nature, lurk beneath the surface, with the leader often wholly unaware that they're even there.
Prejudices can, and do, occur in just about every aspect of leadership--not just in the more obvious areas such as gender, race or belief systems, but also in strategic and tactical issues. A preference for this pricing structure or that sales channel isn't always a reasoned judgment. Sometimes it's just a prejudice, plain and simple.
Of course, we all have, and exhibit, prejudices from time. What we're discussing are deep-seated, material prejudices that appear with enough regularity to undermine your leadership ability.
How can you know if you're exhibiting such prejudices? Simple: Ask a good selection of the people you work with. (If you work in an environment where you won't get useful feedback by asking the question, then you face deeper problems.) If you hear the same consistent feedback about one or more apparent prejudices then again, don't trust yourself to fix it. Get help.
Over-dependence on a strength
For many leaders, their greatest weakness is an over-dependence on their biggest strength.
Perhaps it's a frequently-exhibited ability to think creatively; a hard-earned reputation for grinding out the detail, or a stellar history of landing big clients. Whatever a leader’s signature skill, some leaders develop a learned dependence on it. Subconsciously, they default to that strength in almost every circumstance, whether appropriate or not.
This pattern--of limiting oneself by over-dependence on a key strength--can be spotted only over time. Only someone who has worked closely with you in different situations will see it. That’s just one of the many reasons every great leader needs true confidantes.
Think you're limiting yourself by over-dependence on a key skill or attribute? Again, don't try to fix it yourself. No doctor would attempt self-surgery, nor should you. Find a coach or mentor you can trust, and get some outside help.
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