The Challenge of Leadership

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I have never met a firm or practice leader that did not find the job challenging. Being the “go to” person for answers, inspiration or motivation can be both gratifying and taxing. Add your own to-do list to the mix – how to hire the right talent, making employees happier, and serving the needs of clients – the list can seem overwhelming, even to the most seasoned leader. These types of challenges are almost expected and probably a part of your day-to-day professional life.

Leaders face challenges that may not be evident to those around them. Here are four challenges you may face and some ideas on how to work past them.

1. Seclusion
It is lonely at the top – an old saying that rings true even today. Most of us are told from an early age to reach for the stars—we might dream of being president, CEO, or owning our own firm. When you reach that coveted leadership position, it may come with perks, but you may also find the distance between you and your team has unexpected negative consequences.

Executive seclusion happens when leaders become less connected with the day-to-day. While a certain amount of disconnect is to be expected and necessary, too much can create unanticipated consequences. An easy solution is to make an effort to interact with people at all levels of your firm. Even the busiest executive can allocate one day per month to invite staff members to coffee or lunch.

2. Apprehension
M. Ena Inesi of London Business school and Adam D. Galinsky of Kellogg Graduate School of Business found that holding a leadership position impacts an individual's response to generosity and kindness. In short, holding a position of power and responsibility makes individuals more apprehensive and suspicious of others' motivations. It’s the “what does this person want?” syndrome.

While the practice of “trust but verify” is often taught in leadership circles, doubting every action can inhibit or prohibit the formation of authentic relationships. The first step, like so many other self-help processes, begins with recognizing your own tendencies. Once you recognize your tendencies to become apprehensive or doubt the motives of others, it’s easier to change that thought process before it takes root.

3. Support and Only Support
Research published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes found an inverse relationship between power and listening to advice. The more powerful an individual’s position, the less they actively sought out, much less listened to the advice of those with opposing views. In other words, they sought the counsel of those who would tell them what they wanted to hear.

It is comforting to surround yourself with like-minded souls, but doing so as a leader inhibits your ability to understand, solve challenges, and address issues head on. It isn’t easy to actively seek opposing views. Leaders must look for those who will offer constructive criticism and challenge their thinking. Connect with professionals out of your normal circle who will not only challenge your thinking, but also offer new ideas. Seek diversity in gender, industry, and background. Just remember, these conversations are the time to listen, not argue your point of view.

4. Teamwork
In an article published by Harvard Business Review, Lawrence Levy states that extraordinary leaders “believe they know best about how their ideas should be realized and won't let up until their high standards are met." People want a confident leader at the helm, but leaders need their team to get things done. Be open-minded (it may take practice) to the ideas, processes, and approach of others to strengthen the teamwork in your organization.

What unexpected challenges do you face as a leader? Let us know on Twitter. Tag @Hollinden and use #leadership to join the conversation.