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Part 2 of this four-part mini-series looks at Power and Self Confidence.

Lots of people write about leaders having unclear aims, a confusing strategy, communicating it badly, de-motivating people and poor delegation. These mistakes are well-documented. It’s in business books, articles, podcasts, videos and ubiquitous on the internet. But what mistakes do leaders themselves talk about?

Part two of this mini-series looks at mistakes connected to power and self-confidence.

I am lucky enough to have interviewed hundreds of global managers over the last decade and more. As a coach and consultant, I also have a background in finance and clinical psychology. That enables me to understand the business context and the human dynamics within a group. The interviews were part of a change management project or 360-feedback interviews on executive performance. All of them were one-to-one – a format where people open up more and share what is really on their mind.

This is what executives say are their mistakes.

#1 Accepting a higher position, its status and prestige but not its power
When you move up a level, it can be a big psychological step. Being thrown into the #1 role at a country, regional or global level has challenges. The status and prestige of the higher position can be seductive. The fatal mistake: rejecting the power that comes with the role.

You have more people under you but less time for each individual. Weak executives fail to stamp their authority on the situation. For example, they let key deadlines slip because they make nobody accountable for the outcomes and consequences. They get pulled into meetings that they don’t need to be in. They avoid tough decisions. They avoid conflict. Long-term, this all adds up to confusion, mistrust and more game-playing.

Key point: Be fixed on the goals, flexible on the journey. Know where you want to go. Move with purpose towards that goal because the worst decision is no clear decision. If the path you have chosen is wrong, change it but keep moving forward because the second worst decision is not being flexible.

#2 Not being vulnerable
Loneliness at the top can be a problem. But more often it is a symptom of a leader who does not want to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable is commensurate to taking the risk of being open. You does not have to be open to everyone, but you’re wise when you are open to someone. If not, may see you see them as aloof and distant. This relational distance is larger when leading from another country. Few people will fully trust a leader who is aloof.

Key point: Build your executive support system. Get out of your bubble by seeking out opinions that contrast with yours. Also, open up to employees and other stakeholders step-by-step. Nobody is asking you to fully expose your deepest thoughts and ideas. Show gratitude to others when they are open with you; it leads to a positive spiral of trust.

#3 Low self-confidence
Low self-confidence at the executive level typically manifests itself in the imposter syndrome. Executives rise to the top, feel out of place, feel underqualified, feel inexperienced and feel fake. The inner dialog for these executives is, “People will soon find out that my skills are not up to the job. And when they discover that fact, it will be out in the open for everyone to see. My humiliation will be complete.” Opinions are unclear. Decision-making is increasingly tentative. Intuition – a key skill an executive level – is ignored.

Key point: You can believe that your rise to the top was pure luck – you won the leadership lottery. Alternatively, your rise was because of your skills and personality which you have worked hard to improve over the years. In addition, the hard work is a pattern of behaviour which can be repeated. So stop the “internal dialog of doubt” in your head. Instead, use a morning mantra to ground yourself. Journal your successes. Identify and raise to awareness the positive behaviours that lead to your successes. Write down the praise you get from other and review it once a month. Join an executive mentoring circle where you can test out your imposter fantasies with open, honest feedback from a peer group.


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This process allowed people to re-appraise how this [senior team of managers] group was functioning or, rather, not functioning correctly. The tendency for each member of our group to see himself as an isolated beacon of excellence – which acted against the vital need for cooperation between members – were eased and communication is already becoming more 'normalised'.

RS Senior Director

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