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There's No Hacking Leadership

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There's No Hacking Leadership

One of my new least favorite words (along with “handcrafted” and “curated”, but that’s another post altogether) is the word “hack”. Not in the old sense of a taxi driver (remember taxis?), or even the newer sense of criminals who steal our online stuff. Or the even newer meaning, as in the Russians, and the, well, you know…

I mean hack, as in shortcut. How to make the inherently difficult easy. Or as one online source put it “A quick job that appears to produce what’s needed, but not well.” (By the way, that’s not real research. It was just a hack.)

I’m hearing it all the time. Ten hacks to make better coffee. How to hack your abs workout. Conversational Spanish hacking (which is a good way to say the wrong thing in the streets of Buenos Aires. I speak from experience.) Even Dr. Oz touting health and nutrition hacks.

Well guess what. When it comes to Leadership, there are no hacks.

And yet, in a day and age when leadership development at work is more likely than ever to be a do-it-yourself job, we’re seeing more and more people in leadership positions failing to do actual leadership.

Being a leader isn’t easy. And the mantle of leadership isn’t something to be taken, or given, lightly. Being good at a technical skill doesn’t make you a good leader. Neither does having the right last name.

And so, there are lots of people with the word “Manager” on their business cards, who aren’t exactly leading:

  • Instead of giving helpful, but not-so-fun-to-give feedback, they’re letting people run headlong into danger, saying “I wanted to be sensitive to their feelings”. Translation: I didn’t have the guts to tell them what they needed to hear.
  • They’re ignoring problems, in hopes that they’ll solve themselves. Or find another job.
  • They’re expecting skilled performance, without providing adequate training.
  • Instead of communicating, they’re sending emails, texts, and, dare I say, tweets, when a face-to-face conversation, or at the very least a phone call, is what a real leader would do.
  • They’re making pronouncements, decisions, and solutions without fully understanding what they’re trying to fix.
  • If they reward people at all, they do so on the “One size fits all” plan.

We spend a lot of time observing managers in their respective workplaces. We see the good, the bad, and the not-perfect-but-trying. If you want your leadership to work better, try some of this:

  • Watch good leaders. If you’re lucky, your boss is one. Regardless, find someone whose leadership style and behaviors have consistently earned the willing and eager followership of others. Adopt some of their style, and their substance.
  • Be willing to engage in uncomfortable conversations, and make difficult decisions, especially when the outcome of those conversations and decisions is likely to be improvement. In you. In others. In your business.
  • Take the time to listen to people. Really listen.
  • And finally, invest in getting to know the people you lead. So you can reward them in meaningful ways, and so you can help them be their best. That is leadership. And you can’t hack that.


Richard Hadden

Richard Hadden is an author, speaker, and workplace expert who helps leaders create a better, more profitable place to work. He and Bill Catlette are the authors of the popular Contented Cows leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. Learn more about Richard, Bill, and their work at ContentedCows.com. Or Hire Richard to speak for your next conference or leadership meeting.

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