50+ Best Leadership Qualities (2019)

Leadership qualities

Best Leadership qualities (2019)

 This blog explains the 50+ best leadership qualities in an efficient manner.

Before we can listen to the call we first must understand and accept the following facts about leadership:


  1. The call to leadership is a choice.
  2. Whatever you lead, leadership is about leading people.
  3. Leadership comes with a taxonomy of trouble.
  4. The trouble is your fault, even when it is not.
  5. When we accept these facts, we are ready to learn how to lead the unleadable, including our own troublesome selves.




Mary was superb technically, and the CEO wanted to reward her with a promotion. In Mary’s company, as in many organizations, there was a ceiling to the career of the individual contributor. The only promotion available was to become a team leader. Mary happily took the promotion and the associated pay raise.


Mary had the sudden responsibility of doing work not with, but by leading, other people. She found herself doing things she had always thought of as overhead.


Meanwhile, she was responsible for people doing the work she used to do. This transition was a shock to the very way Mary thought. She had to relearn how she would get meaning from her work in this new role.


Nomination Accepted

This situation happens more often than the bestowal of formal titles of leadership. There are significant issues that cut across normal boundaries in which no official leader is clearly responsible.


A combination of forces happens whereby (a) someone has the skill to handle it, (b) that someone has little tolerance for the current situation, and (c) the group urges that someone take the lead. This person may be an individual with no title but suddenly is leading.


This was actually how I became a leader. I went to college to become great at software development. Within six months in my first job, I found myself doing very little development because I was organizing and leading multiple teams that cut across organizational boundaries.


I was nominated, and I accepted. Within a few months, I was given the title of manager. It did take me some time before I noticed the real implications of leading people.


Business Owner

Business Owner

Many leaders became leaders because they had a good idea and started a business around that idea. Simon is typical of many business owners. He had a great technical idea and started a business around the idea as a business of one—just himself. However, he soon found that his idea needed other people.


Although it took a few years, Simon found himself responsible for an organization of over 300 people and growing.

Many business owners did not realize when they began their business journeys that they would be leading so many people.


A Desire for a Title

This category represents just a small percentage of all the leaders I have worked with. However, some people really want the prestige of the title that is associated with leadership. They have often received business-specific college degrees and are hungry to be part of making significant business decisions.


They reach for and achieve their desire to have the title of manager. They find much of what they expected, such as the joy of looking at the returns on significant investments they made in the course of leading their organizations.


However, they are often surprised to find that there is a world of people problems that come with leadership. They were not prepared.


The Expert Becomes Leader


This happens frequently in the field of high technology development. “The expert” has been focused on a very specialized field of the technology. Everyone begins to look to “the expert” for guidance on anything to do with that technology.


Soon, “the expert” finds himself leading a group of people who follow him easily, based on the vast knowledge he possesses. The expert is able to do his own work and guide others in theirs. The rest of the team is often essentially a pair of hands for the expert's deep understanding and vision of where the technology, and thus the team, need to go.


The trouble begins for the expert when a new technology replaces his area of expertise. This will eventually happen. Now “the expert” has been typecast as a leader but is a novice at this new technology. He is no longer the expert but still the leader and not prepared.


Dynastic Transition

Dynastic Transition

This is often true in family-run organizations. The daughter or son has worked in the organization for years and now the parents step out and suddenly the heir is in charge.


In talking to people about their leadership origin stories, there are common experiences regardless of how they became leaders. They come to a point where they realize that the work of leadership is different. They come to the point where they realize that the work of leadership is all about people.


Further, they realize that even if they didn’t mean to do so, they each made a choice to be a leader. If they faced the leadership crisis referred to in the first section and continued leading, they again made a choice.


Leading a Group of Leaders Within a Company

Leading a Group

This is a generic category that can include, for example, the COO (Chief Operating Officer) or a division leader of a cast of hundreds. Or it can include a manager of a group of thirty. The common characteristic is that they are leading other leaders.

These leaders report to at least one other person and often have a cast of stakeholders who have high expectations of results.


Leading Projects

The leader here may have a very large project team. There are teams as large as a thousand people dedicated to developing and delivering a single product to the marketplace. There are also teams as small as just two people.

Leading Projects

The project leader must deliver results, whether anyone reports to her directly or not. She may have a single sponsor who is paying for the project. It is, however, more likely that the project has many stakeholders who care about those results, and they often have conflicting priorities they are presenting to that project leader.


Leading a Company

This can range from leading a famous company such as Apple to helming a small restaurant with a staff of three. It can also include a company the size of one person where individuals must lead themselves but also a virtual team of everyone who helps support that company, such as lawyers and accountants.

Leading a Company

Even CEOs who are in charge of an entire company, small or large, have a number of stakeholders outside their direct lines of command. This can include the board of directors, a board of advisers, and investors in the company. It also always includes the customers of the business.


Leading a Cause

The common thread all the examples have is that leaders are leading other people to accomplish a shared set of objectives. The objectives vary immensely across the various roles of leadership and the context within which the leaders work, but what they all have is a set of responsibilities that come with leadership.


These responsibilities are not to just get things done, but to lead others to accomplish great tasks. All leaders know that it is truly all about leading people, and that comes with a taxonomy of trouble.


Leadership Comes with a Host of Trouble

Leadership Trouble

However, I often remember his quote when I find myself in a room full of discord. Yet, we absolutely need others if we wish to achieve the bigger things we desire to accomplish. 


The following is a taxonomy of difficult challenges that leaders, even those with just a few years of leadership experience, are likely to encounter.


Troublesome Project Teams

Project Teams

If a project is truly striving for exceptional impact, there is a level of stress on the team and natural barriers in the way of success. This is normal. The problem occurs when the project’s troubles start negatively impacting the whole organization. Consider these three examples.


Teams that are always late and have quality issues. This occurs when the project team says they are “almost done” and then announces to management that they need another three months.


When that time is almost up, they say that they need yet another three months. This delays the revenue expected from this project repeatedly and does not allow the organization to plan.


Quality issues exacerbate these delays. Further, this impacts the ability of leadership to start other projects and thus delays the revenue achieved from these other projects. 


The problems are multiplicative, typically starting with phone calls from customers. Further, the team is spending so many time-fighting fires that the time to build new services or features is greatly diminished.


The divided team. There will be stress on any team striving for excellence, and that often leads to conflict. The key is that conflict must be constructed such that arguments produce better solutions and improved trust. With the wrong chemistry, the opposite occurs, resulting in damaged trust and team drama.


The worst variant of this situation is when that drama leaks from the project in trouble and divides other parts of the organization as well. The damage done has many ripple effects, as leaders have to deal with drama instead of progress.


Troublesome Individuals

Projects such as the ones just mentioned can get in trouble because of things like technology issues or incorrect requirements. However, those are often excuses. Projects are successfully completed by people—not by methodology or technology. If a project is in trouble it is most likely to be a people issue.


The following is a sample of people issues that leaders commonly must address.

people issues

The cynic. Sarcasm, cynicism, pessimism, whining, and general sniping are all common negative attitudes that, when delivered in the right-sized doses, can provide relief to difficult situations.


However, many leaders have faced situations where individuals bring too much of that attitude to the team and it breaks down the fabric of the team culture.


The slacker. Many times, managers face the problem of an individual not living up to teamwork standards. There can be many causes for this, but the main problem facing the leader is that there is a team member who is not contributing sufficient value.


This is sometimes a competence problem, sometimes a bad fit of skill to the task, and sometimes an attitude problem where someone just doesn’t seem to care. The appearance may be “slacking,” but the causes behind it are often hidden.


The Diva. Some people are experts at narcissism. It appears that they believe that everything that is going on is all about them. In fact, with the most extreme divas, if things happen that distract from the diva being the centre, the diva will raise enough trouble to bring the spotlight firmly back to his or her own personal centre-stage performance.


This is often a difficult leadership challenge, as most people develop their diva personalities because they are actually very good at what they do.


The pebble in the shoe. These people are the teammates who provide a persistent annoyance to other teammates. The types of annoyances vary. Sometimes a person has a ready excuse that is actually plausible, but it seems there is always an excuse. Another example is the person who is a little critical of other teammates, with comments ranging from their clothes to how the work is done.


It isn’t quite enough to challenge them on it; it is the persistence of it. These slights observed by an outsider for one day would seem to be just mildly annoying if noticed at all. Yet these little “bug bites” being repeated daily have a cumulative negative effect.


Troublesome Leaders

If you are a leader of leaders, you may have all the troubles previously listed. You are also likely at some point to face any of these additional situations.

Troublesome Leaders

Clash of the Titans.

People in leadership positions are generally very ambitious, which means there will be conflicts over such things as the direction of the group, desire for the same resources, or who gets which set of offices. People in leadership positions are also likely to be collaborative, however, so these conflicts should be manageable. 


Nevertheless, at some point, you will be faced with a leadership group composed of people actively trying to make each other fail. They are engaged in destructive conflict, which if not addressed will adversely affect the whole company.


The leader is suddenly faced with a culture clash between the maverick and the rest of the organization. In these situations, the leader has many people saying, “If the maverick is staying, I am leaving.”


Leaders facing their own leadership crises. The other challenge leaders of leaders must be aware of is that the leaders they lead are feeling the burdens of responsibility.


An individual team member who suddenly quits has an impact. When a manager suddenly departs, there is a much larger and longer-term impact. As leaders, we must watch for these moments and be ready to help those leaders across their own crises.


Troublesome Stakeholders

Troublesome Stakeholders

As a leader at any level, you have responsibilities to the people you are leading, as well as the people who are stakeholders.


This is even true for chief executives who report to a board of directors, and if not to the board of directors then to their customers. Here are three examples of that kind of trouble.


Too many bosses with conflicting priorities. As a leader, it is likely you have many stakeholders and that your direct manager, if you have one, is just one of them. When you have multiple stakeholders, it is rare for those stakeholders to agree on what your top priority is.


Leaders who do not know how to handle the problem of multiple stakeholders with conflicting priorities have trouble brewing every morning before they even start their own coffee brewing. 


The wrong level of involvement from your stakeholders. The trouble here can be when your stakeholders want to micro-manage not just you but also the people who work for you. Just as damaging can be invisible stakeholders. You need their attention and they are nowhere to be found.


It is not just that the stakeholders are invisible to you; you are also invisible to them. When you have critical needs, they won’t hear you. Yet when you don’t deliver, the trouble is still yours.


Bright-light projects bring lots of pressure. Much of it does come from above. However, much of it is also self-imposed.


This pressure leads to bad decisions and late surprises. All of this has one significant common attribute. That attribute brings us to the last place trouble can come from you.


On the first day, he found out how seriously behind schedule the project was. He told me that he thought hard about the problem and then, laughing, he said “I asked who was to blame, and I realized that really there was only one person to blame and that was me.


It didn’t matter to anyone that it was only my first day. On that first day, it became my responsibility. Thus, as far as anybody was concerned, it was my fault.”


Watts was partially kidding about the problem being his fault. His real point was that blame has nothing to do with troublesome situations. If you are the leader responsible for making sure the mission is accomplished if it is not accomplished, it is still your responsibility.


This may seem obvious, but the following common behaviours demonstrate that too many are slow to reach this acceptance of responsibility. Which of these have you seen or perhaps even can identify with?


It is not really a problem. When confronted with a scheduling problem, the quick reaction is “We are not really that far behind.” When seeing a serious quality issue, the quick response is “Well, it only happened in this one place, this one instance.”


It is not our problem. The excuses come quickly when the leader can point to others. “The third-party vendor was late with the deliverable” or “The customer provided us with unachievable conflicts in the requirements.”


We need time to put into place this new set of tools. It could be a new set of tools. It could be a new magic methodology such as rapid prototyping or “lean agile.” If we have these things everything will be better (we hope).

This is an especially hard problem and it takes time. To be the most annoying, this must be said in a whiny voice.


Anyone of these excuses can be absolutely valid. However, these are simply excuses and when said in those ways it is done to deflect responsibility. Further, it absolutely delays the most effective solutions to the problems at hand.


Note that these excuses are common even among good managers. Those managers do get the work done, eventually, except when they don’t. It is also these good managers who often face the leadership crisis we mentioned at the start of the blog.


They haven’t yet crossed the Rubicon to know that to become an exceptional leader it is about more than seeing to things getting done.


It is a choice to accept that leadership is all about leading people to achieve more than they believed was possible. It is about accepting that all high-impact projects come with troublesome project teams, people, leaders, and stakeholders.


You must accept that those troubles are your responsibility. One of the keys that made Watts an exceptional leader was his ready acceptance of this fact followed by his willingness to directly deal with the trouble.


He had to bring his various team leaders and management above into the solution, but the solution started with accepting responsibility for it. To successfully lead the unleadable, we must accept that leadership is a choice.


For the maximum personal benefit, take a few minutes to answer these questions out loud or to write your answers down.

  1.  What was your pathway to leadership? Did you set out to lead people? 
  2.  How often with how much impact have you encountered the taxonomy of trouble? 
  3.  Are you facing any of that trouble now or see it coming soon?
  4.  Troublesome project teams?
  5.  Troublesome individuals?
  6.  Troublesome leaders?
  7.  Troublesome stakeholders?
  8.  Which of the following phrases have you recently used? Which one did you use most often?
  9.  It is not really a problem.
  10.  It is not our problem.
  11.  We need time to put into place this new set of tools.
  12.  This is an especially hard problem and it takes time.
  13.  It is my responsibility. I will ensure we remedy the situation and put in measures to prevent this in the future.


Accept the Call of Exceptional Leadership

Exceptional Leadership

In some ways, this was similar to work with two big differences. I enjoyed all the challenges of the ultramarathon and, unlike work, that actually did have a finish line.


I decided I could not continue in this way. I went into my office and closed the door. I canceled all my meetings. I ignored all phone calls. This was a problem that I would solve. Through the week, I contemplated many things. The following were the most important realizations.

business and leadership

Growing up on a farm, I learned much about business and leadership. I especially learned from my parents that work is a choice and making the choice was a key component of joy.


My father would laugh when he read about people retiring to farming after waiting for years to do so. He loved farming and found it strange that people would wait so long to do what they love.


I looked to the future and contemplated what my next fifty years would be like. There were many things I realized thinking that far into the future.


The limits of our time on this Earth was one clear realization on that not-so-distant horizon, but also an opening of my mind to a plethora of opportunities ahead if I used my imagination. If I chose courage.


Many of the things I was doing for my job were things that I did not believe were right for the company. I was asked to do them, but that didn’t mean these were the right things. I knew for sure that many of the things I was doing and how I was doing them was not right for me. 


I realized that the mental model I had of my job as an endless marathon of slogging through the mud was simply my projection onto the situation. I was choosing that mindset.


After we realized with great clarity that our career belonged to each of us as individuals, we returned to work on a different mission.

  1. We had chosen the path of exceptional leadership.
  2. What Does It Mean to Choose
  3. Exceptional Leadership?
  4. The first thing it meant for me was that I chose it.


I had realized that the main difference between the muddy ultramarathon and my work life was simply that: choice.


I had chosen to run the muddy horrendous hills of the ultramarathon and although it was often difficult, and sometimes painful, I found the thing to be fun and rewarding. Meanwhile, I was treating my work life as an obligatory trudge across a desolate landscape.


I was finding work difficult because I was being a victim. I was not choosing to be there. My big realization was that my mindset was simply wrong. Every day that I went to work was a choice. No one was forcing me at gunpoint to go there. Further, I realized my work life could be full of fascinating, rewarding challenges.


It was up to me.

set of responsibilities


Reduce my labour while dramatically increasing the value I provide.

Before this mindset shift, I just worked harder, whatever the challenge was. The more tasks that came my way, the harder I worked, and I was rewarded generously with more tasks. My focus on providing value with impact changed how I treated every single request that came my way.


I recently discussed these mindset shifts with a business owner. Even as a business owner he was not immune to being “run by the business” as opposed to him “running the business.”


Our leadership crisis stories had parallels. He too found himself on a repetitive treadmill of just working harder. We both had come to the conclusion that we needed to focus our time on the big benefits to ourselves and the businesses.


These mindset shifts result in significant changes in how leaders approach work. Here are five examples of how to manifest the changes in day-to-day work.


Make “What are the business goals and benefits?” a favourite question. Any time that a stakeholder approaches you, including a direct manager, or any of your employees has an idea for more work, always initiate a discussion that starts with that question.


Do not allow micromanagement of how. Focus on the best way you know to achieve the goals. This may seem obvious, but many of my clients work with micromanagers who are challenged in their abilities to clearly state their goals; they instead want to dictate what tasks to do and how to do them.


The micromanagers think they want a pair of hands, but accepting that diminishes the results. I simply refused to work this way, often to the micromanagers’ shock, as no one else did this.


I would talk with them until I understood the goals and then I would say, “If I achieve the goals, do you really care how I get it done?” Freedom in how to achieve the goals improves. the efficiency and the results.


Seek opportunities to dramatically improve your business. This is a big shift for most people. Before the mindset shift, they were so overwhelmed that they would never consider looking for more work.


With the mindset shift, you will be thinking. about the overall business and where you can provide the most impact. You will be pitching new ideas and initiatives that further the business of you, and the business that you own or are employed by.


Make saying “no” become valuable to you and others. In spite of loads of literature and coaching on the importance of “no,” many people still find this challenging. If you focus on the business and where your effort can provide the most impact, the word no becomes almost effortless.


I admit that my manager was initially startled by my sudden change in this regard. However, he soon came to understand that whenever I said “no” it was in his best interest.


Cut your “nonsense tolerance” level significantly. Before my mindset shift, I was doing lots of work I just didn’t care about, and too much of it fit into the “this work is balderdash” category.


Before my mindset shift, roughly 50 per cent of my activities fit into that category. After the shift, I worked relentlessly to keep it under 10 per cent.


I really enjoyed the ultramarathons that I raced in. All of these changes added up to making work into as much fun as those races were for me. Work became challenging and rewarding. I now shaped the daily challenges to be rewarding for my employer and myself. Every day I went to work I knew it was my choice.


The most invigorating part of this change was based on a conscious choice of how to shape my work to fit within exceptional leadership and the associated measurements of success.


Success Measures of Leadership

Success Measures

For those who have accepted the call to leadership, the initial mission they take on is simple: Get more done by leading people to accomplish even more than they could accomplish alone. 


The best and simplest measure of successful leadership is resulting because of results matter. Here are the typical indicators of success for this.


 Make a profit. The executives of any significantly sized organization are keenly aware that the lifeblood of their organization is making profits.


Further, they must delegate much of the day-to-day operations to other members of the organization. They do this so they can focus on next year’s profit. They are aware that the actions they take will define whether payroll can be met not just this year, but next year and beyond.


Deliver on time. The standard in most project management literature is delivering projects on time with high-quality results. This is often hard to do, especially when working in the world of new technologies. In spite of how hard it may be, that difficulty is never an acceptable excuse.


Delivering on time with high quality is a measure of success. If you do not deliver to expectations, projects will not be deemed as successful. You will not be deemed as successful.


Delight customers and inspire loyalty. Whether you are a leader with the title of CEO or the title of a project manager, it is well known that the result that really counts is providing great value to your customers.


 Without delivering the value you will not make a profit. In fact, it must be a value that delights and inspires the loyalty of the customer to the brand.


Successful leaders get things done. Their businesses are successful. They deliver. They make a profit. And these leaders do this in spite of all the troubles that plague them. Many managers are successful in this way, but the call to exceptional leadership can take them to a higher level of achievement.


Success Measures of Exceptional Leadership

Exceptional Leadership

The first difference with exceptional leaders is that they have a very personal, passionate mission that goes beyond those simple (and, yes, important) results. Thus, their measures of success also have a much higher bar. Consider these famous leaders and ask yourself if they would be satisfied with simply the results in the previous section.


Exceptional leadership calls for exceptional measures that go beyond the simple measures of profit or on-time delivery. The following are criteria that exceptional leaders employ that are useful and inspiring.


Measure the Positive Difference for Your Customers

short-term profit

For a project to be successful, the customer must like it well enough to use it. In the history of software development, many products delivered became “shelfware,” where people bought it and never used it. For the simple measure of short-term profit, this is fine. For most, this bar of success is sufficient.


However, having customers use your product is a simple, important measure. It is even better to have your customers be delighted. This is good in a twofold way. First, your product is making an important difference to your customers. Second, they are much more likely to buy more products in the future.


Track the Attrition Rates of Top Talent

exceptional leader

Since executives know that their results are truly based on the talents, loyalties, and focus of other people, one of the key measures they watch is attrition.


And although they care about the attrition of the overall organization, the exceptional leader is especially focused on retaining the top talent of the organization. If you are keeping your top talent, it is likely you are creating an environment where they thrive.


Measure Whether Constructive Conflict Occurs Much More Often than Destructive Conflict

Exceptional leaders understand that if you are pushing for excellence, pushing on boundaries of the status quo, the conflict will occur. Some organizations have a hard time distinguishing between constructive and destructive conflict.


Destructive conflict becomes more about the people than the idea. It breaks down trust even if a good idea emerges. The lost trust creates more conflict.


Constructive conflict builds on ideas and will actually build more trust between people. Constructive conflict creates energy, passion, and greater belief in the team.

  1. What is the ratio of constructive versus destructive conflict in your organization?
  2. Watch to Ensure That the Energy Equation Is Positive


One of the measures my best clients use when leading their critical projects is the “energy equation.” Are you ready for high math? During checkpoints for the project, the question is asked, “Is the energy you are getting out of doing this project greater than the energy you are putting in?”


I have personally worked on projects where it seemed the project was draining so much energy from me that it felt that it could eat my soul! Okay, that is an exaggeration, but you see the point. The high bar for projects should be that the personal energy equation of the team is very positive.


Watch the Trend Lines of Unacceptable Behaviors or Results

Unacceptable Behaviors

Exceptional leaders will have clearly defined what excellence is. They will also have been clear about the behaviours that are unacceptable.


How many times do you hear about trouble in these areas? How many times is it related to a specific person or team? Is this decreasing or increasing over time? Are the actions you are taking working to improve the situation or the opposite?


Measure Your Troublesome to Tremendous Conversion Rate

How many times have you had to deal with projects that were in trouble and transformed them into tremendous? As with baseball players facing pitchers who throw over 90 miles per hour, these situations are often difficult. However, success is possible. How wonderful it is for you and the team when your conversion rate is high!


Watch Your Protégés Excel

Truly, the best measure of exceptional leadership is seeing the people who have learned from that leader. If you have had the pleasure to coach, mentor, and guide a number of people who have gone on to be highly successful, you can certainly take great pleasure in knowing that you were part of their journeys. If they still seek your counsel it is a very good indicator that your leadership is exceptional.


Accepting the Call of Exceptional Leadership

Some people stand on the brink of the call to exceptional leadership and back away. They back away because of fear of the responsibility of accepting that call.


Somehow they find it easier to be able to continue to play the victim. Essentially, these leaders throw up their hands from their steering wheels and say they have no control over their problems with their customers, their managers, the technology, or those unleadable people they were allegedly leading. They refuse to keep their hands on the steering wheels.


They choose that desolate landscape of no control, which they said they were unhappy with. The familiar is more comfortable to them than the difficulty that the changes required.


Accepting the call to exceptional leadership does come with new challenges and new responsibilities. It isn’t always easy. Here are five things to do to help meet the challenges.


Be fearless. 

Be fearless

That is easier said than done, and you must work at it. If your journey is similar to mine, when you start saying “no” to things you used to say “yes” to, the reactions can vary and even include anger. Nonetheless, saying “no” will often be the right choice. Be fearless and confident in your choice. 


Build your own community of exceptional leaders. Leaders who choose this path notice that there are not many people who have chosen this path, but they can immediately identify the leaders who have. Talk to them, work with them, and learn from them. 


Stop whining.

That is obvious and still worth saying. It is fine to take the occasional whine break, but make it short. In the middle of the ultramarathons I run, occasionally another runner and I take a moment to compare the pains of the activity we are engaged in.


We then laugh and get back to the work at hand. The best people to have a whine break with are other exceptional leaders. Make it quick, though; we don’t have much patience for it! 


Learn to love the challenge of transforming the troublesome to the tremendous. This is the opposite of the whining that perhaps you used to do! When you have a difficult employee who is challenging you, learn to relish this as an opportunity to grow others and yourself in the process.


Know that learning will have setbacks. Taking on brand new learning opens up pathways in your mind and is very exciting. There will be moments, though, where it is a more difficult path than the familiar one. Take your time and learn the new road. It is worth the effort.


Perhaps you are already doing these activities. If so, congratulations, as you are either already an exceptional leader or you are well on your way. If you are not doing them, consider the choice that you have. Only by leading your unleadable self can you then prepare to lead the unreadable.


Leadership is ultimately a choice. Exceptional leadership is also a choice. Engaging in this choice is a personal journey where it is best to think about what choices you make for yourself that is helpful to you and to others. 


The Mindset to Lead the Unleadable


People who practice mindful meditation maintain that it changes their mindset and that change in how they think leads to different, improved behaviours.


Changing how we think physically changes us! Championship athletes frequently discuss how they work hard on their bodies and also on their mindsets.


When we change our mindsets that change how we act in response to the events that occur around us. How we act changes the outcomes. To be able to best manage the Mavericks, cynics, divas, and other difficult people and situations, we have to first change our frames of reference in how we think about them.

elements mindset

Appreciate The Diversity Of Every Leaf

When I travel around the world to other forests, deserts, canyons, and all the diversity I find our world has to offer, it just becomes more amazing. 


The same is true when I work with various organizations around the worldI find that, as in nature, the diversity of culture is a rich, textured tapestry of where we have all come from with our unique backgrounds.


Besides the different experiences people have due to growing up male or female, research shows that male and female brains are hardwired in different ways such that males and females actually think differently.


Exceptional leaders more than understand this diversity, they love it! First, it is important to recognize that we all have similarities that have great value. Communication could not happen at all without that! The secret is to understand that the diversity that always exists produces some “noise” in our communications.


When someone speaks to another person, each sentence has a unique context that includes their own background, how they think about things, how they learned the language in which they speak and their assumptions about the current circumstance. When another person listens to that person they go through all of their own filters that are different from those of the person speaking.


The more differences among their filters, such as growing up in a different country or in different economic strata, the more likely that the differences between the meaning the speaker intended and the meaning the listener heard are significant.


This noise can cause confusion or, worse, lead to mistaken assumptions that lead to anger.

This is important! Exceptional leaders know that when encountering some behaviour or action that appears unacceptable, their first thought should be to wonder what they don’t understand about the person and the communication process.


Good managers can miss big things because, with their cultural filters, these things are invisible. Consider what I witnessed in an organization that was predominately one ethnicity, and almost all male.


In a team setting, a woman points out the problems with an approach. She does so clearly and bluntly. She is ignored. Later, often two or three meetings later, a male points out the same problem, and someone says, “Oh, good catch.”


In sharp contrast to this are organizations that have immense diversity and also typically have diversity training. There are not only significantly more female team members, but also women in leadership positions.


When I see a woman perform the same actions in such a group she is immediately listened to. She is viewed by leadership as an innovative thinker who speaks her mind. In fact, she often is the team leader.


Note that the difference is not just better for women. It is also much better for the group and organization, as the diversity of thinking accelerates idea development and innovation for the customers served. Having multiple ways of thinking about things can lead to arguments, but with great leadership, this results in great innovation.


Start with the Belief That Everyone Has Good Intentions

Good Intentions

Most people actually have good intentions and are working toward what they believe is the greater good of the organization. Even if they are annoying, or doing things that you believe are counter to the good of the organization, it is unlikely that they are damaged, stupid, or evil.


When confronted with difficult situations, especially situations that seem directly related to troublesome behaviours or attitudes, this is an especially important mindset to have ingrained as your first response.


A friend of mine worked for a short time in an organization where the owner exploded with anger any time something went wrong.


By the end of the day, it was common for someone to have his employment with the company terminated either because the owner fired him, or the person on the receiving end of the anger quit.


The company lasted for only two short years in spite of having started with very good products and an enthusiastic customer base.


This is an extreme example, but it does demonstrate the impact of reacting improperly to bad news.

Many leaders are very driven to achieve great results. It is natural to have a strong reaction to bad news or the perception that someone is not driven in the same way that you are. In coaching these leaders to work toward a more constructive response, I urged them to find the mindset that drove them to this reaction.


The most common answer these leaders came up with was “when things went wrong, my initial gut reaction was that troublesome people were trying to cause me or the organization harm” and it was that belief that made them feel such negative emotions.


When they articulated this feeling it became apparent that this was actually never true in any of the situations they faced.


The exceptional leader believes that when someone is causing problems it is not the person’s intention to cause problems.


Almost certainly the troublesome person is trying to do his or her best to further the overall good of the initiative. The calm leader has the mindset that when trouble arises, it is not of evil intent, it is because something is missing.


The “angry” leaders I worked with did change their mindsets. This change in mindset does not mean we ignore bad behaviours or bad results. What it does mean is that when confronted with these situations we immediately have a more focused, constructive response.


Accept Reality But Do Not Let Reality Define You

Accept Reality

Jobs said, “Don’t be afraid. You can do this.” In this instance and many others, Steve Jobs was not going to let the “reality” before he defines him. He would push to change it. Corning delivered Gorilla Glass in time for the iPhone launch.


Exceptional leaders do push to set a high bar and to define what that high bar should be. This takes an important mindset, which is summed up in the threefold relentless pursuit of seeing reality, accepting reality, and, based on this, dealing with reality in a way that sets a high standard of achievement.


See Reality

See Reality

Observation, questioning, and reflection are incredibly important keys to leadership. If you are unable to determine the reality of the situation within and surrounding your very important initiative, the initiative is at great risk!


The better you are at determining the current reality and predicting future reality if things continue, the better your ability to not let the current reality define the outcome.


Explore the details within your domain. Ensure that you have data that is accurate, useful, and used. Develop the ability to focus on the most important elements.


For example, be able to rise above the daily noise of problems and excuses. Be able to see patterns and trends and understand when the indicators call for clear action.


I have worked with many projects that have had critical deadlines. For example, I have worked with projects at the company Intuit where if you missed a deadline, you missed the tax season.


It was critical to the team to have detailed data to let them know on a daily basis if they were on track, so they could make real-time adjustments. The data would let them know very clearly, and all too often, that they were going to miss that deadline unless they took action.


Accept Reality

Accept Reality

This step is difficult for many. It is perhaps too easy to listen to those who say, “It will get better” or even to tell that to yourself.


We can easily choose to say “We are actually okay because . . . ” This list usually includes that the project had a special event that won’t be repeated or that the hard part was done first and the rest will be easy.


Ah, it would be so nice to believe that. However, it is so rarely true.


Exceptional leadership looks at these details but does not accept the notion that working harder will fix everything. Instead, exceptional leaders study the details for a more complete understanding and are thus prepared for determining the next step.


Returning to the Intuit example, the projects I worked with often had indicators of being behind. Teams that ignore those problems end up missing their deadlines.


Instead of just accepting that the data was right or wrong, this team studied it and applied their engineering judgment. They accepted what they saw and prepared to act.


Do Not Let Reality Define the Outcome


This final step is a tough one too because dealing with reality usually includes publicly admitting problems and soliciting help.


For the example of a quality problem, exceptional leaders will push themselves and others to investigate every opportunity to improve the situation. Further, they will engage with others beyond the project as well.


They will not allow the current reality to be the definitive outcome. Exceptional leaders relish this step because they know that dealing with reality is the only way to achieve excellent results.


In the Intuit example, one of the projects I was dealing with found a significant issue where it would have been natural to ask management to drop a feature to be able to make the deadline. However, the team leader encouraged the team to not let the data define the outcome for them.


The team engaged in multiple brainstorming sessions and came up with solutions. They were also not afraid to apply extra sweat and to ask for help from other teams. They achieved their deadline with style.


See reality. Accept reality. Deal with reality.

None of these steps is simple or easy, but pursuing them is a far better path than the alternative.


Set the High Bar for Excellence


That People Desire

We’re used to the defective software, whether it causes our computers to hang or enables a hacker to exploit it. Nonetheless, we accept this state of affairs because “software has bugs. It is the nature of the business.”

  1. There is only a little truth to that. Many teams do struggle with software quality, but some deliver large complex systems of software with very high-quality results and zero operational defects.
  2. The leaders of these two types of teams have different mindsets.
  3. The leaders of the high-quality results organization know that people crave the high bar of doing excellent work.


If this seems obvious to you then you may already have this mindset. However, in conducting many organizational assessments I have not found this mindset to be pervasive; instead, I have found the opposite.


 In conducting organization assessments I have the benefit of talking to all layers of large and small organizations, from CEOs to individual contributors. When I ask about disappointments, the most common answer I hear is “We didn’t take the time to do the job with quality.”


That was the case with most organizations, but there were organizations that were exceptions. In those exceptional organizations, disappointment around quality was not in anyone’s answer. Not one person! Because I typically heard it so often, I knew there was something different in those organizations.


The following demonstrates the mindset of excellence by contrasting the common themes in these two very different types of leadership.


The Low Bar

Low Bar

The leadership in these organizations may actually be driving very hard toward results. However, the way in which they drive toward results is the antithesis of going for excellence. Here are some actual quotes from leaders in these organizations.

  1. “Get this new software development project to testing as soon as possible. We have to start finding the defects.”
  2. “We don’t have budget nor time for training.”
  3. “I don’t care about your concern for quality. All I care about is the date. Make it happen.”
  4. “Don’t talk to Tom, our most important developer, about those quality problems. He might get angry.”


There is a mindset that underlies these quotes. In this example, the leadership expects through their words and actions that the development team will deliver poor quality to testing and it is testing’s job to fix it.


These leaders believe that quality is expensive and will slow productivity. They also believe that people cannot achieve excellent results and actually may get upset and quit if held to that high bar.


Treat Trouble as Information-Rich Data


You are holding a meeting with your team. One individual is on an especially long cynical diatribe and is enabling many others to join the conversation.


What is your reaction?

You are the executive responsible for multiple projects where almost all of the teams are missing the deadlines.

Your reaction to these types of situations indicates whether you possess the key mindset of treating trouble as information-rich data. The following reactions are sorted from the worst type of reaction to the best reaction.


  1. The manager joins the diatribe with his own snide remarks.
  2.  The manager begins to argue with the team that everything is really better than they say it is. 
  3.  The manager waits very patiently for everyone to finish and then moves on with the rest of the agenda. 
  4.  The leader asks everyone to pause for a minute, remove the cynicism, and state more clearly what the problems are. 


The exceptional leader, in addition to asking for clear problem statements, later reflects on why cynicism was the response by the team to the situation. This leader asks what in the environment, including his own leadership, may have contributed to this. 


In the second situation, where most projects in an organization are late, leadership responses ranging from the worst type of reaction to the best include the following.

  1. The executive considers that “situation normal.” It is not even thought of as a problem.
  2. The executive holds critical reviews of all the projects and terminates the employment of the project leaders who were furthest behind.
  3. The executive looks for pattern differences between the projects that finished on schedule and the projects that finished behind. There is a lessons learned document written and never read.
  4. The exceptional leader has the lessons learned sessions held publicly and ensures that there is ample incentive for all project leaders to attend. The exceptional leader is looking for everyone to come up with his or her own ideas on how to change the situation.

exceptional leader

The exceptional leader, in addition to ensuring that the lessons learned document is a living document, reflects on how it became situation normal to deliver late. This the leader asks what in the environment, including her own leadership may have contributed to this.


If there is trouble occurring in any of the things you lead, it is important information—not just about the actual incident or the actual trouble, it also contains information on the process, the people involved, the culture you are creating through your leadership, and you.


The best reaction to the trouble is not to ignore it. Nor is it the victim response of whining. The ideal response is to treat the trouble as a rich source of information that can help the organization excel.


Own Your Leadership Power

Leadership Power

Have you played racquetball or perhaps squash? In those sports, the two people playing each other are not on opposite sides of a net, like in tennis, they are sharing the same space and hitting the ball toward the same surface.


The best players understand that the centre of the court is a very valuable space to hold. Rookie players can be easily identified because they consistently are on the edge of the court, never contending for the centre.


Even managers with great titles and all the associated responsibilities that come with them have been knowing to behave like rookie players. They do not take ownership of their own leadership power.


The final key to the exceptional leadership power of being able to transform the troublesome to the tremendous is to take ownership of your leadership power. The meaning of this is simply that you understand and own all the keys to the mindset of leading the unreadable.


It means that when you have setbacks in making those mind-sets your first response (and there will be setbacks), you don’t let the setback become a norm; you forgive yourself and get back on track.


It means that you don’t let the trouble you have to deal with define your response; you take ownership of your response. You take ownership of your leadership process and the results.


When I actually beat him one year later, he was absolutely delighted. He understood the power of the centre of the court so well that he absolutely owned it. He also understood it so well that he insisted on the proper sharing of it. You should do the same with your leadership power.


rate yourself

How would you rate yourself on each of the exceptional leadership mindset keys? Use a scale of 1 (I seldom think that way) to 10 (that is always my first response).

  1. Appreciate the diversity of every leaf. 
  2.  Start with the belief that everyone has good intentions.
  3.  Accept reality but do not let reality define me.
  4.  Set the high bar for excellence that people desire.
  5.  Understand the power of gelled teams.
  6.  Treat trouble as information-rich data.
  7.  Own your leadership power.
  8. How do you confirm if you are correct in your self-rating?


Fine-Tune Your Radar for Trouble

I was once leaving a hotel on my way home. I was partially down the hallway and was feeling very happy, which gave me pause. I am often happy, but I was so pleased with myself I asked myself, “Why?” That’s when I realized that my suitcase had closed very easily for the first time!


To deal with issues you first must be aware that they exist. And, as in all things, the earlier you are aware of issues emerging the more likely you will prevent damage and achieve the excellence desired. This blog is focused on the methods you can use to develop highly tuned radar to catch a trouble early.


Before we begin, I have a quick question for you. How good is your radar for trouble? To help you answer this question, consider the following troublesome situations. How often do these types of trouble occur for the areas you are responsible for?

Quality issues

  1. Quality issues in products found by customers
  2. Significant issues with quality service to your customers
  3. Projects that are late
  4. Members of your teams having significant conflicts
  5. Teams getting stuck and not making significant progress


The question is not just “How often do these situations occur?” but also “How often do you find out about them well after there was the first indication of trouble?”


Developing a Radar for Trouble

For those who have now objectively determined that their own radars are flawless, scan these areas and see if you find anything new to help make them even better. If you have found that your radar can be improved, consider the following three methods.


Talk to people. More importantly, listen to people.

Talk to people

The most obvious way to be able to spot trouble is to be there when the situation is beginning or at least right when it happens. And since you cannot always be there, the next most obvious way is to hear about troublesome situations soon after they happen.


One way to do this is by the classic “management by walking around” or, in this very connected world filled with distributed teams, leadership by calling around and checking in. You have two goals with this.


The first goal is to find out if there are any situations that need your help to ensure the achievement of the project goals. The second goal is even more important. That goal is to build trust in a way that people will come to you without fear of difficult situations.


The way you conduct yourself in listening and in responding will build the foundation of trust. Thus, the leader must provide the help that is actually helpful, as opposed to “anti-help,” which many people feel they actually receive when they raise issues, such as being forced into endless fact-finding and status reporting instead of actually attacking the root causes.


The following are the keys to making your walkabouts successful.

Ask questions about the project and the person.


Vary the questions you ask. The most boring meetings are the ones that ask the same questions of each person week after week. The status in these meetings is often abbreviated to NNTR (nothing new to report). This same thing can happen on walkabouts.


Make sure you are in the right mindset before doing a walkabout. If you are stressed or distracted, your walkabout could do more harm than good. So set your troubles aside. Make room for their troubles. Listen. Listen.


Listen. The biggest mistake leaders make on walkabouts is listening to the first part of a problem and, before the speaker is finished, jumping in with advice or solutions.


Wait for people to finish—even if the solution is obvious to you! If you can’t wait because of time pressures on you, let the person know that. Instead of just cutting them off, ask them to provide you a concise summary on the spot.


Too often, people try to provide a long background story before getting to what the key problem is. Simply say, “Tell me the core problem or question. If I need more background, I will ask.”


When you do hear about trouble, first ask what the person is doing about it. Then ask for suggestions on how you can help. Of course, use your judgment here. There are situations that are obviously outside the person’s control and what he or she is doing about it is telling you.


However, much of the time the person is already working on the problem and was just getting ready to tell you when you cut the speaker off with your ideas.


Before offering ideas of what they could do differently, ask if they would like to hear your ideas. This is a good courtesy to give to people. It is also a very useful one. It gives the person who is going to listen to a chance to prepare to receive. With that preparation, you are more likely to be heard.


Be careful that your suggestions are not criticisms. Just asking questions may lead the person to figure out the best way to handle it. Employees often figure it out after you have walked away and given them time to think.


Follow up. The most important thing you can do is follow up and let people know that you did. By doing these activities consistently and well you become a trusted leader who can be talked to. It makes your radar much better when people come to you at the earliest moments of trouble, well before you would have noticed!


Pay attention to differences.

Pay attention

Often, the first indicator that something is wrong is a feeling that something is different from previous experiences. The key is to pay attention to that feeling and investigate whether your feeling is meaningful or not. Is there something that needs your attention?


On the surface, this sounds easy, but in the turmoil of leading complex organizations, teams, and projects, it is often hard to sort out the significant from the noise in the differences you need to pay attention to.


Many managers are in such a hurry rushing from event to event that they miss these small things that are actually important. In their hurry, they have lost speed. Speed isn’t about being in a rush.


Speed is about accomplishing things that bring great value. To achieve speed, move quickly in your mission and do so calmly such that you can notice the small differences that have a big impact.


Look beyond the first level of data.

 project management

Often, project management data says the project is on track. When I examine the detailed data, I frequently find key indicators that the projects would experience trouble later unless underlying issues are addressed quickly. 


People often have a story that goes with data, especially if that data doesn’t indicate good news about the project. And although the story gives a great context to the data, the data is still important.


If people say the project is fine in spite of what the data says, I find that the data is almost always correct. It is important to go deeper when the story and the data do not match.


When looking at data, the most important thing to do is to ask the following questions.

 Is the data providing a compelling answer to useful questions? For example, the first question being asked in this situation is “Will the project finish on time?” The answer to a yes or no is insufficient. The real question is “When will the project finish and how do you know?” The answer will provide the next level of detail.


Was the data collected accurately and consistently? What are the possible sources of inaccuracy? Can the collection method be cheated? If so, know that the very act of collection is often a disincentive for accurate collection.


Using this example, looking at the next level of data you can quickly tell if the predicted end date is superficial or is based on detailed estimates by all people involved, and get a detailed tracking on whether or not tasks were finished completely, well, and on time.


Based on the data, what actions can and should be taken based on trigger points?


For example, to make schedules that can be consistently met, the plan should enable early delivery if things go correctly. Doing this would call for detailed plans to have been built with contingency in them to deal with inevitable surprises.


The data tracking should have a built-in indicator that is as useful as a flashing light in the car saying you are about to run out of gas. The associated action (fill it up!) should also be that clear.


Even Radar Has Blind Spots

There are limits to developing your personal radar. If you are a leader of a team of people, even if you still do some work on the team, you are different from the rest of the team and you will be treated differently.


In spite of what a nice person you are, team members won’t share with you the same concerns or frustrations they will share with other teammates. The higher you go in the organization, the less access you will have to the full story and all of its details.


There are a number of readers thinking right at this moment, “This is not true about me.” I know this because I have heard this from every level of the lead up to the CEO. The argument I hear is along the lines of “I am not like the others.”


The clincher for the argument is something like “and just the other week, Sally in development told me the absolute truth about something I needed to hear.”


And it was true in that one instance that Sally did tell you the thing you needed to know. However, what you are missing are the other ten things she didn’t come to you with because you were too busy, or because she was afraid of the repercussions it would have on her teammates.


It also doesn’t include all the other people who have never told you things that you or your subordinates really should know.


There are many reasons why leaders are blocked from the whole story even when they have fully developed their radar. I have often found situations where the team members absolutely knew that the trouble was significant yet failed to raise it to anyone in leadership. I always ask why they didn’t. It is critical for managers to understand the most common barriers to truth-telling.


The Top Fifteen Barriers to Truth-Telling


 Fear of disappointing. People don’t like disappointing anyone. To tell the leader bad news would be against how they think and behave at home. They just won’t do it. 

  1.  Self-doubt. People have told me that they haven’t said anything because “I might be wrong about this. It might not be that bad.” 
  2.  Fear of personal or career repercussions. “If I raised this issue, the bad news would stick to me for a long time.”
  3.  Fear of losing future business with clients. “If we delayed the release to fix the real issues, we could lose the customer.”
  4.  Fear of conflict. “They might argue with me!”


Low self-esteem. “I don’t believe I am worthy to bring the issue forth. They are too important for me to talk to them No one else thinks it is a problem. “When no one else has even noticed the problem, it must not really be a problem.” about my views.”


 Low skill in communicating issues. “I just didn’t know how to raise the issue. I was stuck on getting the message Fear of the issue sticking to the issue-raiser. “If I raise the issue, I am afraid I will get stuck with fixing it—and failing.”  right.”

  1.  Confusion. “I didn’t know who I should tell.” 
  2.  Incorrect trust in management. “I thought it was obvious. Management was surely taking care of it.”
  3.  Fear of nothing happening. “I have raised issues in the past and nothing happened. I gave up hope.”
  4.  Not my problem. “They gave us a stupid irrational dead-line. It isn’t my problem that this project is doomed.”
  5.  Protecting others. “My teammates could get fired over this. I am not taking that on.”


Three Methods to Drastically Reduce Your Blind Spots

Blind Spots

It is not possible to eliminate the blind spots in your radar completely. The best you can do is to continuously work to reduce your blind spots.


No matter how hard you work to do this, there will be some surprise that comes up from an area that was never expected. The good news is there are three significant ways to reduce blind spots.


Draw from the experiences of others.

You will have a much greater ability to make sense of complex situations when you have a large set of experiences you can draw from. Those who are truly seeking mastery of leadership will grow this experience base by leading many projects, by reading blogs, and by talking with other leaders about how they handled situations.


You can increase your collection of experiences exponentially by talking with lots of other leaders about the difficult situations they have encountered. The following are the four keys to making these discussions as valuable as possible for everyone involved.


Set the stage for confidential and intimate sharing. If you truly want to understand how others have dealt with situations, be ready to share one of your own. Also, make it clear that anything discussed is confidential. Be clear that your mission is to learn how to better deal with troublesome situations in positive ways.


Ask for details. Ask when they first noticed there was trouble. Did the leader act right away or delay?


Were there earlier clues that they saw? Were there potential clues they missed? How did they deal with the trouble once they decided they needed to act? How did it work?


The question, but avoid judging. You will hear things that may be against your own personal ways of handling situations. If you find yourself feeling judgmental, it will cloud your listening.


It is also likely to be noticed even if it manifests just subtly in your tone of voice or body language. If you notice that you’re feeling judgmental and can set it aside happily, do so.


If the judgmental feeling remains, this may be a good place to explore further with the person. I suggest being open to bringing up your feeling in a way that promotes shared learning.


You may say something like this: “I am finding myself troubled about the approach you are discussing. I am not sure exactly why, but it is getting in the way of my learning. Could you tell me more about why you chose that approach and any feelings you have about it?”


I have found that the discussions resulting from this opening of feelings are the most productive of all.

Think about what you learned later and apply your own judgment. Many people use the same methods over and over again and have them not work over and over again. Yet, they believe they are working. So when you speak to others about their experiences, balance their words by observing the actual results and evidence.


Periodically have an external expert conduct an assessment.


You should periodically call for an external assessment. Properly conducted assessments will provide you with a thorough understanding of complex situations.


Assessments should have a key purpose beyond simply finding out what is going well and not going well. Assessments are much improved when they are focused on an important goal. Those goals could be any of the following types. Determine the soundness of the project plan.


Is the plan technically feasible? Has the team considered alternative approaches and picked the fastest approach to deliver the most value to the customer? Has the team made a commitment it will keep or beat?


Evaluate the customer engagement process for developing valuable proposals. Understand how the customers feel about the process, including long-time customers and prospects that said “no.” Work with the team to understand its view of the weaknesses and the strengths of the process.


Evaluate the organizational strategy and how well the implement

organizational strategy

Find out how well people understand the strategy without looking at any document. Find out what actions are being done that support the strategy. Find out if actions are being taken that contradict the strategy. Good assessments will produce reports that have clear and useful guidance for leadership to act upon.


The best assessments will do more than that. The best assessments will result in teams and individuals taking a good hard look at themselves and result in significant improvements created by all those involved. Great assessments fuel the culture of continuous improvement.


Periodically have an external expert help you collect 360-degree feedback.

external expert feedback

Method 2 is an assessment to hold up a reflective, magnifying mirror to the organization. You will learn much from that activity.


This method is holding a similar mirror up to yourself with the help of your organization and peers. This is powerful because it will help you learn what the key obstacles are in your quest for exceptional leadership.


This method is very powerful, but some organizations are effectively destroying that very power. These organizations are making 360-degree feedback an institutionalized yearly event on the organizational calendar for everyone. They make it a standard survey.


In those organizations, 360-degree feedback is becoming as welcome and useful as “performance reviews.” In other words, just another box to fill in at year-end.


Even if that is happening in your organization, you can still collect your own 360-degree feedback and restore its power for you. Here are the steps you need to take to get full power from this method.


Get an objective expert to help design and conduct the survey. This is optional, but the expert will help make each of the following steps more powerful.


The remaining steps are written with the assumption that an external expert is guiding the process. However, if you cannot get an external expert, you can substitute yourself in the equation.


Design the survey. Like the assessment method listed previously, it is very useful to have some specific ideas on the information you would like to collect.


Consider a number of categories that would be useful regarding your expertise and your leadership effectiveness. Design questions that you would love to know the answers to. Discuss these with the external expert.


Select a group of people who will provide you with the feedback you need. The key is to get a balance of peers, leaders above you, and people who follow you. It is also important to think about people you know are fans of your work and those who may be detractors.


It is important to have a mix of both. You may be surprised by supporters having issues you were unaware of and also by the respect that people with whom you have had issues with may have for you.

in-person survey

Have the external expert conduct the in-person survey. The external expert can conduct interviews either in one-on-one sessions or in small groups. When the written survey is done first, this enables an in-depth investigation into the areas that you would like more explanation of.


So, even if the written survey was anonymous, if there are mysterious results, the follow-up interviews will uncover the more detailed information needed for driving improvement.


Work with the expert to make action items to improve in key areas. This is the step that many leaders find most useful to work with the external expert on. There is so much information that it can be an overwhelming list. That alone is not a problem; the real problem is that some of the information can be painful to listen to.


Many people are aware of their weak points, but hearing about it from others can cloud a leader’s judgment in sorting through the results. The expert will help you sort out the most important areas that will be the keystones for your improvement plan. 


Plan for improvement, “Follow Through: A Bridge to Enduring Improvement,” provides detailed guidance on how to do this. The key is to have clearly in mind what things you want to be better at and to let people know that you. are working on it! The other key for this step is to plan a follow-up survey.


Conduct a follow-up survey a few months after the first survey.

follow-up survey

Knowing this survey is coming will help keep you focused. It will also help those who gave you the feedback focus on whether or not you are improving. Their feedback will be valuable.


The majority of people who have employed this method have exceeded their own expectations regarding how much improvement they achieved.


Spotting trouble is good. Spotting trouble early is better. Develop these methods and more of your own and maybe the un-leadable will never get a chance to become that way.



  1. When leading, what are situations that put you on alert that something could go wrong either with your project or around your project? What previous experiences led you to develop that awareness?
  2.  Where are your blind spots when leading?
  3.  What actions have you taken to reduce blind spots?
  4.  Have you ever taken any actions that have created blind spots?


Take Action: Transforming the Troublesome

Transforming the Troublesome

Once you spot trouble, how will you deal with it? The trouble can be a conflict brewing, a conflict in progress, a quality issue, a scheduling issue, or any issue that puts the group and mission at risk.


There is a choice to be made by the leader. If action is not taken, it is possible that things just might get better. However, it is more likely that if action is not taken things will get worse, and often in unpredictable ways. It can get worse in big ways, such as larger conflicts or schedule delays.


Often, these situations get worse, instead, in small ways, such as a lethargy overtaking the team as team members become apathetic about the mission. If the leader does not care, why should the other people in the organization?


If improper action is taken, it can make things worse faster. For example, consider a leader who suddenly delivers a lengthy monologue at full volume to a troublesome person in a public situation.


This leader had waited for things to get better and had let her own anger build until it escaped. This incident led to significant attrition of the team over the next weeks and to those within and outside of that leader’s organization to actively avoid her.

These steps will help you focus on the person at the center of the trouble and learn how to take action that leads to a positive difference. This framework is effective regardless of the type of situation that arises.