The Principle of the Leadership Lid

The principle of the leadership lid is simple, if not simplistic: An organization can move no higher than the leadership qualities of the leader. Like any so-called principle, the leadership lid certainly has exceptions. It is not an ironclad rule. But it does merit consideration.

This principle does suggest, for example, if the leader has character deficiencies, the organization will suffer. Or if he or she has a work ethic problem, the organization does not reach its potential. It is also possible, even likely in many situations, that the leader does not and cannot possess key leadership skills. Again, the organization is weaker because of a weak leader.

Every leader should consider this principle whether the leadership responsibility is over a few or thousands. What, then, are some basic steps in evaluating oneself in light of the leadership lid? Let us consider three as a starting point. These three are likely in reverse chronological order, but let's begin with the most difficult question first.

Am I the Right Leader for My Organization?

This question is the toughest for most leaders. We often assume that, if we have been given or assigned a leadership position, then we must be qualified for it. But the reality, of course, is that many leaders are ill-suited for their current position of leadership. Regardless of the circumstances that brought them to the position, a number of leaders soon discover their deficiencies for the task outweigh their strengths.

It takes a courageous leader to come to this point of awareness and response. It certainly is not a reflection on his or her character that the position does not fit the person. And it does not mean that the leader cannot contribute elsewhere. It just means that this assignment does not fit the leader.

In simple terms, the options are twofold for a leader who answers the "Am I the right leader?" negatively. Oftentimes the best response is the toughest. Not many leaders have sufficient courage and faith to step down. A second response for some leaders is to make some challenging adjustments.

Can I Make the Necessary Adjustments?

In some situations, the leader can make the necessary adjustments. It may be something as basic as additional education or coaching. Or it could be that the organizational alignment is not optimal. Perhaps the leader is not a detailed person, and he needs someone to compensate for that deficiency. If the leader has the luxury of realigning team members, then adjustments can be made.

There are challenges making adjustments. Not all leaders have the resources of getting additional education or coaching. Many do not have other people who can compensate for the leader's deficiencies. Some leaders simply struggle changing. And, even more difficult, a number of leaders are not even aware that they need to make changes. The problem is called lack of self-awareness.

Do You Have Sufficient Self-awareness?

It seems that I think I have good self-awareness until someone brings something to my attention that makes me realize I'm not nearly as self-aware as I thought I was. If we are in denial about our deficiencies, then how can we know that we have those deficiencies?

Again, an outside coach or consultant can be a great help, but not everyone has the luxury of such resources. Good leaders, though, find people who will shoot straight with them, who will let them know where they may be succeeding or failing as a leader. Admittedly, such honest and straightforward friends are hard to find. And even if a leader finds such a person, the leader must have the willingness and courage to listen and respond to the tough facts.

The Lid and the Bus

I continue to be a big fan of Jim Collins' classic book, Good to Great. One of the best illustrations he uses is the metaphor of the bus. All great organizations make certain they get the right people on the bus. In other words, they bring the right people into the organization. He then says we must get the right people into the right seats on the bus. We can have great people in our organization who prove ineffective because they are not in the right roles or, as Collins puts it, the right seats on the bus.

One of the great dangers of any organization is having a leader who is in the wrong seat on the bus. That leader, with whatever deficiencies he or she brings, is like a lid on the organization. The organization is limited because of the limitations of the leader.

Honest and humble leaders find ways to increase self-awareness. Good leaders are willing to make both personal and organizational changes to remove the lid they are bringing to the organization. In some cases, they make the most dramatic change, and step down from their leadership role. And that decision may very well be one of the most courageous decisions a leader can make.