It’s imperative you define yourself on both an aspirational and practical level as a leader in order to lead well. Leadership isn’t just a role or a title—it’s a choice. The best leaders choose to be better, they choose to be different—they choose to lead well. The seminal question you must ask yourself as a leader is why should anyone be led by you?
Think about it like this—aside from having a job, how are people better off for being led by you? To consistently receive the right answer to the aforementioned question, a leader must first gain an understanding of the following three critical leadership gaps:
1. The Development Gap
This refers to the gap between how you assess your current leadership ability and your true potential as a leader. An accurate understanding of this gap indicates whether you see leadership as a destination or as a continuum. It will determine whether you grow and develop your leadership skills, or whether you will follow the path of least resistance and rest upon your laurels. Keep this in mind—it is impossible for a leader who is not growing and developing to lead a growing and developing enterprise.
2. The Influence Gap
While influence can be generated in all directions, for purposes of this discussion I’m referring to the gap between your self-assessment and the assessment of your leadership ability by your peers. Your understanding of this gap, and willingness to do something about it, will determine your ability to build a cohesive team. Leaders who don’t have the trust and respect of their team won’t be able to generate the influence necessary to perform at the expected levels.
3. The Reality Gap
This refers to the difference between how you view yourself and how those you lead feel about you. A leader who loses the faith and confidence of their workforce won’t be able to attract and retain talent will have a culture on life support, and subpar performance that ensures only one thing—a limited shelf life.
Let’s stop right here and do a quick gut check. I want you to rate yourself as a leader on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 representing the worst in leadership and 10 being the best in leadership. I don’t want you to rate your leadership potential, but rather how you are currently performing as a leader. This is a risk-free evaluation, as nobody will see your score but you; do this now and write the number down. Here’s what we know to be true based upon the empirical evidence gleaned from conducting thousands of interviews with senior executives. Regardless of your position/title, you likely rated yourself between a 6 and an 8. Am I right? The reality is regardless of how transparent you tried to be, 90+ percent of all people in leadership positions won’t rate themselves below a 6. Similarly, 90+ percent of people in leadership positions won’t rate themselves higher than an 8.
While this first set of data might not shock you, here’s something else we know about leadership self-evaluations—leaders consistently overrate themselves. How do we know this? Because we have also surveyed thousands of subordinates and peers, as well as those whom the leaders report to. This next set of data will shock you. When we ask those who work for and with you to rate you on the same scale with which you conducted your self-assessment, they rate you on average 200 basis points lower than you rate yourself—that’s right, two full percentage points lower. So, if you rated yourself an 8 your co-workers likely rate you a 6. If you rated yourself a 6, then they likely rated you a 4. How does that make you feel?
The difference between your self-assessment score and how others rate you is what I refer to as the leadership gap. Whether the leadership gap is perception or reality doesn’t really matter—it’s nonetheless the gap all leaders must learn to hack. Put yourself in the shoes of those who rated you—how impassioned and motivated would you be to awaken each morning to go to work for a leader who rates somewhere between a 4 and 6? Where leadership always runs amok is when hubris overshadows humility, and self-serving motives take the place of service beyond self. Leadership is not about the power and the accolades bestowed upon the leader; it’s about the betterment of those whom the leader serves. At its essence, leadership is about people. At its core, leadership is about improving the status quo, inspiring positive change, and challenging conventional thinking.
As long as positional and philosophical arguments are more important than forward progress, as long as being right is esteemed above being vulnerable and open to new thought, as long as ego is elevated above empathy and compassion, as long as rhetoric holds more value than performance, and as long as we tolerate these things as acceptable behavior we will all suffer at the hands of poor leadership.
This is an edited extract from Hacking Leadership: The 11 Gaps Every Business Needs to Close and the Secrets to Closing Them Quickly, by Mike Myatt, published by Wiley, RRP £22.14
About the author
Mike Myatt is the CEO of N2growth, a global leader in providing leadership development services to Fortune 500 companies. He is widely regarded as America’s Top CEO Coach, the author of Leadership Matters, and a Forbes Leadership Columnist. Mike Myatt is one of the world’s most respected authorities on leadership, having been recognised by Thinkers50 and other organisations as one of today’s preeminent leadership thinkers, and his theories and practices have been taught at many of the nation’s top business schools. Mr. Myatt has worked directly with more than 150 public company CEOs and his representative corporate clients include: AT&T, Bank of America, Deloitte, EMC, Humana, IBM, JPMorgan Chase, McGraw-Hill, Merrill Lynch, PepsiCo, and other leading global brands. Mr. Myatt also frequently lectures and keynotes on the topic of leadership. If you’re interested in contacting him, you can email him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter @MikeMyatt, or find more information on his company website at www.n2growth.com.