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The Achilles' heel of leadership


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At one time, Achilles was considered the strongest of all Greek warriors, except for his pesky heel problem.

To give you a Greek mythology refresher, Achilles was the hero of various battles during the Trojan War. He was invulnerable, except for one spot untouched on his heel. And in true mythology misfortune, Achilles met his end when an enemy shot an arrow into his weak heel.

The story of Achilles not only gave the medical community a name for the tendon connecting the heel to calf muscles, but also gave us a metaphor for a small but crucial weakness.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we are all struggling with our very own Achilles’ heels. Leaders are far from perfect and are just as susceptible to slip-ups as their employees.

Here are three major mistakes leaders make every day, also known as, our Achilles’ heels.

Poor communication

Time and time again, one of the biggest complaints direct reports have of their managers and leaders is a lack of communication skills. There’s no need for the leader to work in a “vacuum” when it comes to developing ideas for solving problems. Management succeeds when it elicits creative and innovative ideas from team members so that everyone feels a shared responsibility for the success and quality of the team’s output.

If you don’t seek input from your direct reports, not only may the quality of your decisions be limited, but you may also alienate those around you who have much expertise and creativity to offer.

Remember to identify the business processes involved in accomplishing the goal and the process owners for each part of the process. Typically, these people should be included in the planning.

But be sure you balance the need for involvement with the need for action and speed. Don’t allow decision-making to drag on unnecessarily long. Train people in team processes so that team discussions will go more quickly and smoothly.

Ineffective feedback

If your idea of giving feedback is simply saying, “you need to improve,” you might as well keep your mouth shut.

Specifically, what needs to be improved? What have you noticed that was being done poorly? What does the person need to do differently? How will you and the person know improvement has occurred?

An important management function is to provide ongoing, honest feedback to each individual of your team.

If you haven’t given out feedback lately, you may not be adequately monitoring the performance of your team members so that you can give appropriate feedback in a timely manner. Or you may provide feedback that is vague or distorted by biases, emotions, or the perceptions of others.

Make sure that your observations and feedback are supported by well-defined goals, roles and responsibilities. Ensure that feedback is performance-related and combine it with suggestions for improvement.

Cloudy vision

“Vision” is a term thrown around the corporate and political landscapes, but I promise it’s not just another piece of jargon. This skill is actually the cornerstone of executive leadership.

Leaders must advance a long-range vision and generate ideas for meeting market conditions and even creating the marketplace of the future. They give direction to the company through clear thinking, and set the standards that brand the organization.

If you haven’t considered this type of vision lately, you may not be focused adequately on the issues and ideas that will move the organization into the future. You may be so focused on the "here and now" that you neglect to describe the organization's future direction.

Clearly articulate your vision and take every opportunity to communicate it so that others will be inspired to contribute. Make sure you understand your industry, your organization, and its products and services thoroughly. As you review your knowledge, focus on gaps in services or products that you notice, and allow yourself to visualize how to fill in the gaps.

Unlike Achilles who couldn’t reverse his heel’s fate, over time you can improve your own leadership weakness. With a little practice and patience, along with a solid development plan, you can rid yourself of your personal Achilles’ heel. 

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Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is CEO of TBC, a global assessment company with over 4 decades of experience, specializing in 360s and survey customization. Our hosting platform, TruScore®, allows you to manage all of your talent management assessments in one central location. Request a demo to discover why some of the most recognized brands in the Fortune 1000 chose TBC.

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