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Why Great Leaders Get Passed Over: 4 Reasons

Feel you are doing all the right things but aren't getting the pat on the back you desire? You may need to have an honest conversation with yourself.
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A while back we looked at the four key reasons good leaders go unrecognized. But there's another category of leader, one who experiences even more frustration: leaders who are recognized as such, but who, for reasons unknown to them, never receive the recognition (or, perhaps, promotion) that they believe they deserve.

Over the years, I've identified four main reasons why this happens. If you feel you (or a colleague) are doing all the right things but aren't getting the increased responsibility or exposure you desire, check out this list and see which may apply to you:

1. You have an awkward blind spot. The most common reason I see otherwise excellent leaders fail to rise in an organization is because they have a blind spot about something so severe that it's badly affecting other people's perspective of their leadership abilities.

It may be temper control, or a failure to delegate, or a tendency toward 'paralysis by analysis', or any one of a hundred other possible candidates, but the common theme is that typically the blind spot is (a) consistent and recurring, and (b) causes the leader to appear dysfunctional in a significant way.

2. You have an unresolved screwup. If significant blind spots are behaviorally-based and relate to how you show up as a leader, the other area that can cause leadership to flatline is based on things that you have done. Specifically, around one particular thing you have done--what I term an unresolved screwup.

An unresolved screwup happens when something goes perilously wrong (badly enough to threaten one or more key business imperatives), is pretty clearly down to you, and about which one or more key peers or colleagues believe you have either not recognized your culpability, or if you have, you haven't apologized openly or profusely enough.

Now, this may seem petty -- and occasionally it is -- but ask yourself this: how often have you been negatively impacted by the ineffectiveness or incompetence of others, and had that setback amplified by the other person blandly shrugging it off as if it were no big deal? Well, believe it or not, the same dynamic applies to you.

3. You're carrying (un)hidden agendas. The third reason I see good leaders be bypassed is because of doubts others have about their motivation, caused by so-called hidden agendas. (A passing comment: Don't kid yourself: hidden agendas are usually anything but. After one or two meetings with any would-be Machiavelli, most everyone has them sussed for who they are and how they operate.)

Here's the rub: many leaders who use hidden agendas to achieve disguised goals by manipulating others aren't doing so to feather their own nests or promote themselves in the eyes of others - they're (misguidedly) trying to achieve genuine, laudable business goals, albeit in a twisted manner.

The problem is that in this case, the means outweigh the ends. Even though these leaders may be hitting the high notes in what they achieve, the way they're achieving it is leaving a bad taste in everyone's mouth.

4. You're ignoring or abusing a key constituency. Finally, one mistake many otherwise excellent leaders make is to overlook, ignore (or sometimes flat abuse) one of their constituencies.

Ever eager to please their external customers, they ride roughshod over their internal customers. Keen to deliver results to their manager(s), they wear out their direct reports. Loyal to a fault to their own team, they ostracize and alienate their peers.

Great leaders know that true leadership isn't situational in this regard. True leadership shows in the leader's interactions with all of his or her constituencies -- not just those that 'owe them something'.

What can you do to identify if any of these are holding you back? Well, it's pretty obvious that by definition, you're not going to self-diagnose the existence of a blind spot (which all of these are a version of), so find yourself a mentor you can trust, get enrolled in a decent 360 assessment process and let others inform you.


Want more tips on how to maximize your leadership potential? Download a free chapter from the author's book, "The Synergist: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success" which provides a comprehensive model for developing yourself or others as an exceptional, world class leader.

IMAGE: Robyn Lee/Getty
Last updated: Nov 19, 2013




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