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Five troublesome truths about leadership


When I was young, my mother told us that if we swam within half an hour of eating, we'd die. (If you're over 50, I'm sure you heard the same thing.) We were also told to put on baby oil before going into the sun. (That now sounds like child abuse.)

Remember when meat and potatoes were good for you? And in case you hadn't heard this one, the earth is not really flat!

I wrote earlier about "unknown unknowns" (Do you know what you don't know?), a phrase that Donald Rumsfeld made famous. In many cases, you don't know what you don't know. However, another great way to get in trouble is by knowing for sure that something is really true.

Here are my top five troublesome truths about leadership:

1. You should minimize conflict. This is another one my mother taught me, and she was flat-out wrong. In an organization, you should optimize conflict, not minimize it. Avoid conflict at your own peril. I've seen far more trouble in company cultures for too little conflict rather than too much.

2. It's all about the execution. Hogwash! Bad ideas executed well just cause you to fail faster. You must be heading in the right direction. Strategy first, then execution; they're equally important. Execution, however, is a daily thing (managing complexity). Changing strategy is typically infrequent, which makes it hard to do.

3. Be nice! No ... be kind. Kind means that you'll tell people what they need to hear, even if it's painful. Nice people often avoid tough conversations and fear upsetting someone else. Nice mangers always find something to compliment you on. Kind managers tell you what you need to hear, even if you're screwing up. Be kind, not nice!

4. Only hire brilliant people. This is partially correct. Emotional intelligence, however, is more important than being the smartest guy in the room. In most jobs, I'd sacrifice 20 points of IQ to find someone who is self-aware and socially aware and has good self-control and social skills.

5. Be solutions-oriented. Sometimes you need to find quick answers, but I believe it's much more important as a leader to focus on asking the right questions. More time crafting great questions will yield better answers. Too often, we're solving the wrong problem! Ask a good question today!

What do you know for sure that's getting you in trouble? Spend some time examining your rulebook, and you may find some troubling truths.

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is president of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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