What kind of leader will you be in 2013? The kind who can rally the troops and take an organization forward in uncertain times, or the kind who lets opportunities and threats go by, paralyzed by fear and uncertainty? The answer can make all the difference: for example, Apple certainly made missteps (Apple Maps, anyone?) but remains one of the world's most influential and powerful companies, while Best Buy sat on its hands as online stores lured away the price-conscious shoppers it catered to.
How can you tell which kind of leader you are? Ask yourself these three questions, advises Mike Staver, author of Leadership Isn't for Cowards:
1. Do you have a reliable reality check?
Fearless leaders need someone or something to force them to avoid denial, Staver says. "Often people pretend they don't know something, and sometimes they create a story that explains away or rationalizes an unpleasant reality."
To counteract that human tendency you need a reality check that won't let you get away with either tactic. "It could be a financial dashboard that gives you your company's numbers," Staver says. "It could be a CPA or a friend or a spouse. For me, it's my brother."
Once you face the truth, you should be able to take some action in response, he adds. "Your reality check should not only show you what the truth is but ask, 'What are you going to do about it?'" Staver says.
2. Can you take quick and decisive action (even if it's uncomfortable)?
"So many leaders spend so much time getting ready to be almost ready," Staver says. "Powerful executives move very quickly. But many entrepreneurs get caught up in this I'm-not-quite-ready thing. Someone said to me recently that he needs to work on being comfortable in the face of a certain business challenge. I said, 'You need to learn to act despite the discomfort.'"
Though many leaders take a sense of comfort as an indication that everything is okay, Staver takes it as the exact opposite. "If you're completely comfortable, you should start asking, 'What are some areas that I can change in order to advance the company?'"
As an example, one of Staver's clients has been putting out a publication for decades. The company loved the publication and customers loved it too, but it took up 25% of the company's marketing budget, and its benefits as a sales driver were unclear. "I asked them to examine whether they simply had an emotional attachment to this piece or whether it was producing tangible results," Staver says. As a result of this unflinching self-examination, the company is going to taper off putting out the publication taking it from monthly to quarterly as a first step, he says.
3. Can you accept responsibility when things go wrong without self-recrimination or blame?
"There are leaders who lob every problem over the wall and make it someone else's fault," Staver says. "It's the employees' fault; it's operations' fault; it's the market's fault. And those executives who don't blame others for their missteps can get hopelessly caught up in self-recriminations, he adds. "Shame paralyzes us into a self-critical mode."
The right answer, he says, is neither--fearless leaders can recognize a problem without blaming themselves or anyone else. Instead, Staver says, they look in the mirror and say something like this: "I have contributed to this in some way. So now I'm going to do this to fix it.'"