Do You Have A Fatal Flaw?

Author

Jack Zenger

April 21, 2016

Roughly one out of four leaders does. The problem is that those who have such flaws are the ones colleagues hesitate to tell. Worse yet, they are the executives most reluctant to listen or take the message seriously.

But it is serious. Their performance is in the cellar. Based on more than one million 360 degree feedback instruments our data shows the following:

Leaders with fatal flaws have the lowest employee engagement, customer satisfaction, employee retention and productivity. Bottom line, the organization pays a high price for keeping them in leadership roles. And from a personal point of view, they have serious limitations on their career progress, along with having minimal enjoyment from their work.

How To Be A Better Leader: Four Essential Tips

What Is A Fatal Flaw?

Many would assume that fatal flaws describe the leader who shouts at people, pounds the table, yells, and berates people in public. Others assume it’s the bumbling oaf depicted by Steve Carell in The Office. (While there are undoubtedly a few “Michael Scotts” left in business organizations, our research doesn’t find many.)

Instead, the 10 fatal flaws most commonly identified by our research are these:

1. Not inspiring due to a lack of energy and enthusiasm.

2. Accepting mediocre performance in place of excellent results.

3. Lack of clear vision and direction.

4. Loss of trust stemming from perceived bad judgment and poor decisions.

5. Not a collaborative team player.

6. Not a good role model (failure to walk the talk).

7. No self-development and learning from mistakes.

8. Lacking interpersonal skills.

9. Resistant to new ideas, thus did not lead change or innovate.

10. Focus is on self, not the development of others.

What Fatal Flaws Have In Common

As we study these 10 behaviors, three things stand out.

First, each is relatively obvious. They are observable by anyone with even the most casual of connections to the leader in question. Everyone close to these leaders feels the impact of these behaviors (or in this case, their lack of impact). No one is immune. They have a huge influence on the organization, because the leader has an enormous “ripple” effect in the organization.

Second, these fatal flaws tend to be mostly “sins of omission.” Each case is marked primarily by an inability to do something. It is defined by failure to initiate activities, not discovering the causes of failure, ignoring obvious needs, not reaching out, not taking initiative, not seeking out new ideas, not connecting with people, and not exerting energy to make things happen. It could be summed up as complacency and general apathy. These are the people perceived as lukewarm and “blah,” because they are not effective in making things happen.

Third, the fatal flaws are not intellectual deficiencies, but fall much more on the “emotional intelligence” side of the equation. These flaws arise from emotional and behavioral dimensions, and seldom because of knowledge deficiencies or technical incompetence. The person with these flaws basically lacks the ability or discipline to initiate or get things going. In nearly every case, a serious effort to remedy that deficiency would result in significant change for the better.

How Can I Tell If I Have A Fatal Flaw?

The quickest, most economical, accurate and powerful way to find out is via a 360 degree feedback process. By getting information from those you work with on a daily basis, you can determine if you have some behavior that is dragging you down. That’s why 90% of the Fortune 500 use a process like this as part of their overall leadership development process.

Yes, you can meet with selected colleagues and do your best to have them tell you directly. That sounds logical and reasonable. Long experience has shown, however, that the feedback you receive will seldom be as accurate, candid or as complete as the feedback you get from colleagues you’ve selected and who know their responses will be anonymous. You can wish it weren’t so, but this is our current reality.

Can Fatal Flaws Be Fixed?

We all know the adage about not being able to teach old dogs new tricks. But that isn’t true of humans. We recently analyzed a group of 545 leaders from three different organizations. Of the total group, 18% or 98 of them had a very low score (below the 10th percentile) on one or more competencies. When the total group was retested after 12-18 months, we found that 71 of the 98 showed significant improvement in the competency on which they received a low score. Just under three-fourths (74%) made significant improvement in their low-score areas. The chart below summarizes their progress:
Note the huge gains they made as a group. They moved from being below the 1st quartile in performance to now being above average, with a gain of 33%.

Steps In Fixing Fatal Flaws

Step 1: Face reality by getting accurate feedback.

Get honest and accurate feedback from people you trust.

Step 2. Accept how it impacts your career.

The second step is for people to accept the fact that they have a fatal flaw and that the flaw will eventually be fatal to their career (if it has not held them back already). Until a person acknowledges there’s a significant negative impact that comes from the flaw, nothing will change.

Step 3: Create a specific and measurable plan for change.

Once people understand a problem sufficiently, the next step is to formulate a plan for change. The plan should lay out goals and activities that will demonstrate a significant change to others. One of the major failings in generating a plan is that people start with a general notion of change, but in order for the change to occur, it needs to be very specific.

Step 4: Seek the help and involvement of others.

Many times people work on improving fatal flaws without telling others of their plans or asking for their help. Sometimes people are embarrassed by the fatal flaw, and telling others they are working on change and asking for their assistance is an act of humility they are not willing to take. The reality is that everyone is well aware of the problem. By enlisting others, the person will feel supported and uplifted from the ideas and encouragement they receive.

Step 6: Reward progress.

An important aspect of the change process that is often overlooked is to find a way to reward yourself for progress and for achieving the goal.

Time For Your Check-Up? 

The great benefit of periodic physical exams is that they discover a condition we didn’t know about. Caught early, these problems can often easily be corrected.

We think every leader should have a periodic check-up on their leadership health. Everyone benefits. Roughly a fourth will be surprised to learn that some behavior is holding them back. Only by discovering what it is can they fix it. And the rest will get a few tips to make them even better.

This article was written by Jack Zenger from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

There are 3 comments

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