What makes someone an effective leader? The best are creative rather than reactive, says Bill Adams, co-founder and CEO of leadership development company Leadership Circle. That's the finding from a recent study the company did of 2,506 CEOs. "Creative leaders lead with vision and measure how results are achieved, not simply that they are achieved," Adams explains. "Reactive leaders emphasize caution over creating results and self-protection over engagement."
It's an important difference, and it's all too easy to wind up on the wrong side of that line. In an interview with Inc.com, Adams describes five faulty beliefs that can turn you into a reactive leader--and a boss no one wants to work for. I've made the mistake of believing every one of these at one time or another in my career. See how many of them sound familiar to you, too.
1. You're the only one who can really do it right.
This belief might be objectively true. It's possible that you really are better at certain tasks than anyone else. It doesn't matter, though, because whether it's true or not, operating this way is always a recipe for trouble. You just can't be an effective leader if you're doing all the work yourself.
The more your company grows, the more responsibilities you have, the more of a liability this approach will be. "Guess what? It doesn't scale," Adams says.
2. You succeed by making your customers or boss like you.
Adams says he's worked with many executives who had this mindset, especially when they first achieved positions of power. "They judge themselves by how others see them," he says, "versus defining themselves by a well honed, very clear understanding of who they are and what they stand for."
Having the skill of making others like and support you may have been instrumental in getting to your current position. But that's not leadership, Adams says: "At a certain point, you have to be authored by yourself rather than authored by others."
3. You're the smartest person in the room.
You may well be very, very smart. But if you feel the need to display your intelligence as a leader, you're headed for trouble. "That's a person who has a tendency to dominate, doesn't listen well, doesn't do a good job of inviting others into their own greatness," Adams says.
Another problem with wanting to be the smartest person in the room is that it often leads people to become highly critical, finding all the flaws in a project, company, or product. "That never goes over very well," Adams says. "It doesn't engage people, it pushes them away." It also makes it harder for you to learn from others, or for you and your team to learn together.
4. You always know how your words and actions affect the people who work for you.
"Most of the leaders who work with us are unaware of their impact and don't get any feedback on it," Adams says. And all leaders need feedback in order to know how they are coming across. That includes Adams--on the day we talked, a colleague had alerted him that he had talked over two female employees in a way that seemed dismissive. "If I didn't have someone on my team who was willing to help me be aware, I would have missed that for a while," he says.
The best leaders strive to be self-aware, he adds: "In many cases, it equates to me getting comfortable in my own skin. To know who I am as a human being, where I'm not that strong and where I'm really strong. Creative leaders are radically transparent, and they're radically human-centered."
5. It's your responsibility to get the work done, and you need employees to help you do that.
It's a subtle mental shift but an important one, Adams says. Reactive leaders see employees as a means to an end, necessary to accomplish essential tasks. Creative leaders see employees as the most critical part of their job. "Being in relationships, building teams, connecting in a way that people know they're cared about, mentoring and developing people--all those things are incredibly important," he says. "You're working with people as opposed to managing them. It's a very different orientation."
There's a growing audience of Inc.com readers who receive a daily text from me with a self-care or motivational micro-challenge or idea. Often they text me back and we wind up in a conversation. (Interested in joining? Here's more information and an invitation to an extended free trial.) Many of them are entrepreneurs or business leaders, and the ones who seem most successful are those who are most focused on the human side of doing their jobs. They seem to understand that in any company or workplace, it's the relationships that matter most of all.