Inspired by a fantastic panel on leadership hosted by WiH Global with six accomplished women from the legal and real estate sectors of hospitality moderated by Jennifer Fox, who’s held CEO, COO, and President positions with Millenium, Fairmont, and IHG.
Exploring what it means to be leader, the panel reflected on the best leaders they have worked with over their impressive careers. In short order, the panel agreed that the best leaders are authentic, genuinely caring, and offer a purpose-led vision that excites the people who work for them. They further agreed that being a leader is a learned behavior that takes hard work and training. Just like if you want to be a great athlete, artist, or musician, you have to practice regularly, the same is true of leadership.
If you want to learn to be a better leader, what should you be practicing? Muriel Maignan Wilkins, leadership coach, best-selling author, and host of the Harvard Business Review podcast, “Coaching Real Leaders” argues, that you might be better off focusing on what to avoid. Drawing on her and her colleague Amy Jen Su’s analysis of thousands of 360 qualitative interviews, they conclude people pay more attention to negative information, and “remember four negative memories for every positive one” when asked to recall important emotional events. Their advice in the Harvard Business Review says don’t focus on building your strengths, instead work on avoiding these three behaviors:
Judgemental, non-verbal body language. Nobody likes a Judgy McJudgerson, which Urban Dictionary defines as "someone who judges everyone for their behavior, except, of course, themselves." An article in the New York Times claims that up to 93 percent of communication is non-verbal, the combination of your tone of voice and how you hold your body most impact how your message is received. Do you ever react quickly and make judgy comments that sound harsh or condescending? Other top non-verbal offenders: scowling, furrowed brows, quizzical looks (as if to say, ‘are you stupid?’), rigidity, and sarcasm. According to Wilkins, “though small, each of these subtle darts creates a considerable amount of relationship damage.”
Interrupting and interrogating. As a kid your teachers or parents may have told you, don’t interrupt! The same goes in the workplace, people want to feel safe to bring forward ideas, and it’s “impossible if the boss is taking up most of the airtime, cuts people off, or interrogates,” says Wilkins.
Being inconsistent. Do you treat your employees and clients or boss the same way? Nobody likes the suck-up that is charming to top execs or external clients but disrespectful to their own team. “This inconsistency makes these behaviors even more memorable and egregious,” says Wilkins. Maybe you’ve known or worked for a person where you never knew who was going to show up: “smiling, charming, funny person” or “judgmental, intense, snapping person.” Wilkins claims “over time, this drives passive-aggressive responses from others in their attempt to avoid confrontation.”
How can you practice avoidance? Awareness is the first step, says author Marilee Adams, Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, (the book was recommended by Abby Murtagh). In fact, if you are looking to get away from being a Judgy McJudgerson, the book offers this handy choice map to help avoid the “judger pit,” and teaches you how to become a "learner, " which Adams claims is a key trait of successful leaders.