Yesterday I stood behind a guy at Starbucks who was talking on the phone. I wasn’t eavesdropping because he was talking loud enough for the entire store to join in. The conversation he was having (with the person on the other end of the phone and all of us in the store) was about repositioning employees for a new work initiative.


Guy on phone: Well of course there’s Frank. I mean when it comes to skill, he’s a black belt (referring to six sigma) and the best we’ve got. But, you know how he is in a meeting. I’ve just seen him fly off the handle to many times.

There, in one 10 second comment, went Frank’s chances on the new team.

Simple reality: Know how is not enough.

If we are a pain to deal with, the best skill level in the world can eventually come up short. The way we interact matters. By now, most of us know this, but it doesn’t change the fact that many people still limit their opportunities because they can’t get along with others.

What’s even worse, is when the one who can’t get along is the leader of the team, department or organization. Leaders cannot excuse themselves from the same behavioral standards they expect to see in others. The danger is this: the more "senior" the leader becomes, the easier it is to excuse bad behavior as "necessary" because of the demands of the job (or some other lame excuse).

The other trouble here is that senior leaders have fewer people scrutinizing their behavior (like the guy in the Starbucks was doing). So we have a double whammy: 1) leaders give themselves too many passes, 2) fewer people scrutinize leader behavior because they are afraid of the leader or believe it’s not appropriate to do so. That’s not a good combination.

This is why leaders need courage to listen, and sensitivity to create the space where feedback can be given.

These are tricky waters, no doubt. Leaders can basically stonewall feedback, on the one hand. On the other hand, leaders can be so open to feedback that they have no leadership of their own. It’s not easy to find the integration point between the two. However, it is important to try.

What would it take for you to be more open to and receiving of feedback about your leadership?