Becoming a true leader requires an incredible amount of self-awareness. It involves knowing when to eliminate behaviors that are no longer working, even if they worked in the past. In his book "Tipping Sacred Cows," Jake Breeden warns that traditional managerial values, such as fairness, collaboration and balance, can sometimes be the “downfall of an otherwise promising career.”
“There is this conventional wisdom to do your best at work and produce excellent results,” Breeden tells us, “but some of these things can produce unintended consequences.”
He says that certain qualities are so highly regarded, they’re thought of as “sacred cows” and are revered in the workplace. But true leaders know when to break the rules, and in today’s complex business world, managers should take a close look at their own work habits.
1. Balance and Fairness
Leaders cannot expect to enter into win-win situations and not have to make sacrifices. Breeden argues that this is just an excuse not to have to make real, tough decisions. “Balance backfires when it moves from being about bold, sometimes tough, choices to being about bland compromises. If a leader, in striving for balance, is mediocre at everything, then balance has backfired.”
At some point, leaders will have to make decisions that won’t make everyone happy and aren’t considered fair or balanced by their employees.
“Fairness is the inverse of excellence,” Breeden says. “Leaders should ensure that there’s a fair process, but you also need to have the courage to treat people differently.”
Collaboration is a good thing, but it isn’t always the best strategy. To ensure collaboration doesn’t sabotage your project, Breeden advises:
“When leaders do collaborate, it must be accountable, not automatic. Accountable collaboration means everyone has a clear understanding of the mission of the team, and the goal of the team is to achieve its mission and disband. When collaboration is accountable, everyone knows everyone else’s responsibility, and they aren’t afraid to point out when the ball is dropped.”
And beware of the number-one excuse that prohibits a team from getting things done: Calling a meeting when it’s not needed just in the name of collaboration.
When you spend too much time producing perfect work instead of developing the solutions that you need to accomplish work immediately, you may very well lose out on the opportunity at the moment.
“Striving for excellence in the end is a good thing. However, this prohibits risk-taking,” Breeden says. Leaders shouldn’t obsess about every mistake or detail, because most of them won’t matter. “When excellence is worshiped, it becomes a goal in and of itself, disconnected from larger goals.”
“Sometimes the preparation and the work happen at nearly the same time, which can be both healthy and productive,” Breeden says. On the other hand, if you’re constantly “hunkering down” and “hiding out” because you’re preparing, you won’t be as on top of things in your industry as the ones who are just going along with the big idea everyone is talking about.
“In the workplace, preparation can backfire by causing you to fall in love with your work to the point that you defend what you should change,” Breeden says. “It backfires when your work becomes your baby. And sometimes, preparation is merely an excuse not to take action.”
In short, great leaders need to constantly examine different qualities depending on the situation—you can’t just follow the same rules for every situation.
“Powerful, often invisible behavioral, social and cultural forces can cause leaders to espouse the infallible importance of unexamined virtues in their ascent to success,” Breeden says. “One of the mightiest of these forces is the advice passed down from successful leaders, who attribute their success to such virtues.”
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