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Leadership follies: Keeping your ego in line

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

The longer Scott Berkun works as a shaman in leadership circles, the greater the danger he’ll start believing his own PR and acting like one of those annoying gurus who talk as if everybody else is too stupid to do in a year what he could do in a day.

“I hate those people,” he says. Yet … slowly, inexorably, he knows he is becoming one.

To keep Scott and his fellow know-it-alls from falling for their own malarkey, he makes the following suggestions for keeping “experts” in line. Consider asking your followers to use these countermeasures so that you, too, will have some protection against your own ego:

1. Ask good questions.
Push them to call you on your nonsense. Promise not to get mad and keep your promise.

2. Request recent examples. Many leaders haven’t been practitioners in a long time. It’s easy to lose sight of how technology changes things, and even easier to forget the difference between giving advice on how to do something and actually doing it.

3. Pounce on squishy evidence, such as “studies show,” “I have seen” and “leading experts say.” Ask: What studies? Tell me where you saw this. Which experts?

4. Point out that nothing works all the time. Ask for alternatives, fallback positions and conditions under which an alternate route might work.

5. Request stories of mistakes or failures. People who never admit they’re wrong can be dangerous.

6. Remember mountains and molehills. When someone goes crazy over a typo, it shows a certain lack of judgment. Is what you’re complaining about a matter of style or substance? If you’re harping on an employee, it’s your duty to talk about the problem directly with that person and take corrective action.

7. Invite constructive criticism. If tearing something down is needed to build a theory, fine. But people who love tearing things down often forget about that second part. In the end, leaders achieve rock-star genius status only when they make things better.

 — Adapted from “Keep Me Honest: How to call bullshit on a guru,” Scott Berkun, The Conference Board Review.

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