Leadership: It’s all in the Attitude

“I did everything they told me to do and I did it well, but I still was asked to leave.” I heard this statement recently from an individual commenting about the past few years of work. This person was in a leadership role that had significant impact on others in an organization. And it is not the first time I have heard statements like this one.

So how can a person be doing the work asked of them and be doing it well and still lose their job? There must have been something beyond doing the work that was more of an issue for this leader; more than knowing how to do the “work” and being able to perform the “work” well. As I continued to interact with this individual, it became apparent there was a real misunderstanding of the “work” of this leadership role, resulting in a disconnection with the supervisor.

From the leader’s perspective the work was to get more production from his/her employees. To the leader this meant she/he needed to know the business of the organization better than all the other employees and be able to tell them what was needed to improve productivity. This meant being very knowledgeable and very directive, as any outstanding leader would be. It meant perceiving the role of the leader as the authority with the final say. It meant being “above “ the “subordinates”, requiring compliance to organizational policy and procedures, even if it meant the that the leader did not have to comply. After all, the leader had now joined the level of the organization in which he/she was no longer subject to the same expectations of the rest of the employees. The leader was now in a class at a higher level than the others.

This is an attitude that I see all too often in working with leaders and organizations. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting that all leaders demonstrate this attitude or have this perspective of leadership. I interact with many leaders from a variety of organizations and settings who understand that the attitude one demonstrates as a leader has a significant impact on the behavior of others. In fact, these leaders get it and understand that emotional intelligence (defined by Daniel Goleman as self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills) is more important than being the most knowledgeable about the business or exhibiting the best technical skills. This is pointed out in a Harvard Business Review article by Goleman (What Makes a Leader?, November-December 1998) where he states; “I have found, however, that the most effective leaders are alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence.” This does not mean these leaders don’t need knowledge of the organizational business and skills to be productive, because they do. It does mean that their effectiveness as a leader will be better determined by their level of emotional intelligence.

As I interacted more with the individual who made the opening statement, it became clearer to me that the attitude of the leader really does make the difference and this attitude has a whole lot to do with their level of emotional intelligence. This individual, while doing all the right things and using all the suggestions offered by his/her supervisor, was doing them with an attitude that said, “I’m really better than you because I’m your leader and I know best.” This individual was not aware of her/his attitude and could not demonstrate a level of empathy or relate in a way that indicated he/she understood. This is why she/he could do the right things and do them very well and still not be seen by others as an effective leader. This is why others were not ready to follow and work hard enhancing the productivity of the organization. This person’s attitude got in the way.

As you think about your role of a leader, reflect upon your own attitude. Are you aware of how you come across to others? Do you care about their life or work situation? Can you regulate your own desires and behaviors and communicate in a way to build effective working relationships?

Until next time, ask yourself. Is it time for an attitude check-up?