Successful Leaders Value Others and Deliver on Promises

Success is a shared experience -- not always easy, but always worth the work.

Posted May 24, 2019

What’s the difference between individuals who succeed and those who fail? That’s easy—successful people are confident there’s a solution to every problem. Unsuccessful people can’t let go of the belief that there’s a problem with every solution.

Success and failure are considered polar opposites, but it often takes experience with a failure or two to propel a person into successfully overcoming a challenge. People who are able to re-think faulty solutions and take new perspectives on problems are more likely to find a way to find a workable solution. Some people may just be savvy enough to put in place a cure-all “quick fix” for a problem, but there are exponentially more people who know that the “magic bullet” is seldom the first one fired from their toolbox of solutions. They are successful because they persist.

Finding the perfect fix for the imperfect problem can be an ongoing and potentially frustrating challenge. However maddening the problem becomes, the successful problem solver is able to do one important thing that unsuccessful people do not. To solve a complex problem, it is essential that you are able to address the obstacle in an oxymoronic “passionate but dispassionate” manner. You need to care passionately about finding a solution, or the path to overcoming the obstacle, but you have to divorce yourself from any potentially debilitating negative emotional investment in any initially failed outcomes. Frustration when our efforts fail is normal, losing our cool and throwing a metaphorical or literal wrench is not. 

Failure Happens...Until it Doesn’t

For some people who fail at a task, the failure balloons into more than just the unfortunate result of an unsuccessful attempt at a solution. Are you the type of person who tends to take failure so personally that your reaction is such strong anger, either externalized at the problem or internalized at yourself, that you give up and walk away from the challenge? When negative emotions start rolling through people, they may go into “fight, flight, or freeze” mode as the stress hormones, blood pressure, and heart rate rise. In some cases, this may encourage problem-solving if strength or action is needed now. Anger may inspire us to work harder, but it doesn’t promote working smarter. In others cases, where sophisticated or elegant solutions are needed, negative emotions can short circuit effective problem-solving practices. And as attempted solutions fail, anger may increase, and if the problem isn’t resolved, individuals prone to anger at failure may turn their anger in on themselves. This can result in self-degradation and loss of personal agency—which only further sabotages efforts to overcome challenges and solve problems.

Negative thinking can derail our efforts if we aren’t able to rein in tendencies towards despair and frustration with challenging situations. Learning to harness the energy that anger generates in our bodies can actually enhance our search for solutions if we channel it into a motivator that can help us “work smarter, not harder.”

Leadership Qualities

There are countless studies that have an aim to catalog the traits that effective leaders exhibit. Not surprisingly the traits that hallmark successful leaders don’t vary significantly between industries. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a shift manager, a C-level executive, a medical professional, an academic, or a full-time parent, the skills, perspectives, and personal characteristics needed to successfully lead others are pretty much the same. In the book, The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner (2012) note that among 20 qualities that are typically ascribed to leaders, there are four that show up almost universally as desired traits:

  • Honest
  • Forward-looking
  • Competent
  • Inspiring

Even if you’re the type of person who is honest as the day is long or dots every “I” and crosses every “t,” if you always shoot down possible solutions to unresolved challenges or innovative ideas that are not yet realized, your leadership potential may be limited. Effective leaders cannot be short on forward-looking perspectives or the ability to inspire. They must have a vision and commitment to realizing success even when the future is yet unknown; looking for the problems with potential solutions does nothing but waylay creative thinking and innovation.

Practices of Successful Leaders

In a research project they dubbed the “CEO Genome Project,” Elena Lytkina Botelho and Kim Rosenkoetter Powell (2018), explored the experiences and characteristics of thousands of leaders to determine whether common threads or practices existed among successful leaders across industries. There were four practices that formed this thread. These are:

  1. Deciding speedily and with conviction
  2. Engaging with others in an impactful way
  3. Proactively adapting to changing circumstances
  4. Reliably delivering expected results

Seldom is a path to the C-suite lined with rose petals and scented candles, although some leaders do rise surprisingly quickly in some organizations. The keys to success outlined by Botelho and Powell (2018) suggest that leaders must be able to build productive relationships with others, respond with commitment and conviction in dynamic settings, as well as deliver what they have promised. Effective leaders do not let fear paralyze them nor do they let anger cloud their judgment.

Everyone’s tendency towards anger varies, but if you’re quick to anger, it can be helpful to use some basic anger management techniques to help you keep a handle on the negative effects that anger can have. Counting to ten when you feeling anger rising; taking deep breaths in through your nose and out mouth; taking a break and taking a walk; and using self-talk to calm yourself down are all effective ways to defuse anger.

Remember that successful leaders go at life with the belief that every problem has a solution. If you’re the type of person who is always looking for the problems with every solution, your attitude becomes the biggest obstacle to success that you will ever face.

References

Botelho, E. L., & Powell, K. R. (2018). The CEO Next Door: The 4 Behaviors that Transform Ordinary People into World-Class Leaders. Currency Press. https://hbr.org/2017/05/what-sets-successful-ceos-apart

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2012). The Leadership Challenge, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012.