Six Ways to Prevent Becoming An Accidental Leader

The mind-boggling stories of unintentional leadership breathe color into every headline. From the Coach of the New Orleans Saints to John Edwards to the “improper conduct” of HP and Best Buy CEOs, it is almost difficult to be surprised anymore.

Each incident, however, is exacting an additional toll on leadership, forcing the rest of us leaders to stay vigilant to the power we wield.

Here are two irritating examples of accidental leadership creating missed opportunity to intentionally lead:

Lady Gaga’s Missed Opportunity

Superstar Lady Gaga has protested against cruelty to animals. (even wearing a dress made out of bologna to make her point!) She wears head-turning outfits, has spoken out against eating disorders, and written songs advocating for people to be who they were born to be. As a result, garnering an enormous following.

So when she recently tweeted to her followers: "Killed it in a double spin class. Eating a salad dreaming of a cheeseburger. Rock stars don’t eat," we can only assume that she forgot that she was born this way. Worse yet, she forgot that her every move influences theirs.

The Yahoo in the CEO of Yahoo

Scott Thompson the CEO of Yahoo embellished his resume about his education, allowed the inaccuracies to remain, and upon being caught, lofted a feeble apology. He forgot that thousands of employees were watching his every move. How could he possibly expect them to act with integrity and veracity when he didn’t?

Social Cognitive Theory

Here’s the reality. If you lead anyone, even your kids, they are watching you. According to “social cognitive theory,” people watch their leaders’ actions and behaviors to shape their own. They are influenced by what they observe. They take note of how you, their leader, act and react in every situation. They then mold their own actions off of yours. So remember you really are on candid camera.

Accidental vs. Intentional Leadership

When we intentionally lead, we role model our expectations for the people who follow us. When we accidentally lead, we forget that people are watching, choosing instead to take actions that are self-serving and event recalcitrant. Accidental leadership is a missed opportunity to make a difference with a position of power. Intentional leadership is elevating the importance of our actions, cognizant that we must simultaneously execute as a manager and guide as a leader.

Manage Up, Lead Down

While certain titles naturally signal a call to manage others, there is an opportunity to lead. The challenge lies in direction that we manage and lead. The key to intentional leadership is to relentlessly manage people above, freeing us to lead the people below to greatness. Only then do we make the most of our position of power.

Leaders Who Get It

  1. Peyton Manning, the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts who upon being cut by the Colts called every reporter in town to express his appreciation for their great coverage of him on the team.
  2. Former University of Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber who upon being fired purchased a billboard in town to thank the great Illini fans for their support over nine years.
  3. Tony Hsieh who pledged $350 million to regentrify downtown Las Vegas by developing and building a small city neighborhood for the emerging creative class.
  4. Howard Schultz of Starbucks who began moving all manufacturing back to the United States because he believes in the American workforce.
  5. Bill Gates who used his enormous wealth to set up the world’s largest foundation to do good in the world.      

6 Ways You Can Remember to Model the Behavior You Want to See in Others

  1. Reverse Mentoring: By allowing someone younger or lower on the corporate ladder contribute to us by sharing their wisdom, we engage in “reverse mentoring.” In this relationship, we are seeking their insights into and perspective on our leadership.
  2. Boomerang Assessment: Assess the people around you. Which of their behaviors and actions displease you? Now consider if any of them were modeled after you. Further, identify your missed opportunities to influence different behaviors and actions with your own.
  3. Monthly Pulse: Every month take one direct or indirect report to lunch promising them unrestricted freedom to be honest. Putting defenses and judgment aside, ask them the tough questions about your leadership.
  4. The Headlines Test: How would you feel if you made headlines tomorrow for your actions today?
  5. The 5-Minute Replay: At the end of each day, take 5-minutes to mentally replay your performance, interactions, and decisions. Are you happy with your actions and reactions? Would you be thrilled if your people behaved similarly?
  6. The 10-year-old Reality Check: Pretend your 10-year-old is following you into that meeting. Do you want them watching you, taking your actions and reactions to the playground? Your kids will parrot you, mimic your actions. How proud will that make you?

    Your Opportunity

    Unfortunately, there is no shortage of corrupt, duplicitous, egocentric, self-serving people in positions of power. Fortunately, there is an opportunity for you to intentionally redefine leadership, to influence others with your sincerity, veracity, commitment, and dedication, to lead intentionally instead of accidentally, and to make a difference where others fail.

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