Makarios Consulting Blog

The Achilles’ Heel of Superstar Leaders

leadership tipsSuppose you have a leader in your company who is a) extremely bright, b) extremely experienced, and c) extremely motivated. Beyond that, this leader has a strategic sense that is second to none. He or she can forecast what is going to happen, how the market is moving, and where opportunities are opening up with an uncanny accuracy that functions like a sixth sense. Finally, this leader knows exactly how to take advantage of what is happening and what is going to happen so that the business prospers.

With such a leader, what could possibly go wrong? This is an organizational superstar!

We don’t dispute such a leader’s superstar status. Individuals like this are rare, and they are indeed outstanding. You may be such a leader yourself. But everyone has an Achilles’ heel. For the superstar leader endowed with great strategic insight, weakness frequently manifests as a failure to come alongside and develop others.

How Superstar Leaders Trip Up

Here’s how this Achilles’ heel looks in action:

Richard, a Chief Marketing Officer, identifies a new target market and recognizes how to adapt and maximize the company’s key messages for this audience. He immediately turns to his direct reports and gives instructions. He doesn’t explain how he pinpointed the new target market. He doesn’t ask for input or collaboration on the key messages. He doesn’t invite questions on how to build the marketing campaigns. He knows the best way to act and therefore tells his team exactly what to do.

This approach weakens the business at multiple levels:

  • The leader fails to understand and develop the skills of the team members. Because of a lack of understanding, the leader has no way of knowing whom he can delegate matters to. Because of a lack of development, employees remain dependent on the leader for direction, rather than becoming empowered to act with confidence.
  • The leader neglects to leverage the skills, experience, and expertise of team members. Even superstar leaders don’t have all the insight, all the answers, or all the ideas. By failing to engage with team members, the leader misses out on potential innovations or enhancements to the proposed solution.
  • Employees become disengaged and demotivated working in such an environment. They make comments such as, “He’s not open to multiple viewpoints – everything has to be done his way,” “I feel shut down … that nothing I think or say has any value,” and “I have talent; I should be able to use that talent.”
  • New leaders are not nurtured to ensure the sustainable success of the business. Leaders are made, not born, and they are only made through the committed mentoring of other leaders. A lack of leadership development undercuts the current and future efficiency, scalability, and productivity of the business.

None of this is what the superstar leader wants or intends. But these consequences occur when leaders choose to go solo rather than engage and develop their team.

Applying Superstar Strengths to the Greatest Advantage

When we tell superstar leaders that they need to come alongside their direct reports and provide coaching and mentoring, they often resist changing their behaviors. The reason they give is simple: “I don’t have time for that. I know where this is headed and I know what we need to do. I have to get the job done.”

But, here’s the deal: yes, it is the leader’s job to solve problems, seize opportunities, and develop strategies. However, it is also their job to duplicate themselves by developing leaders who can bring value to the business. When a superstar leader duplicates himself or herself, the business explodes with energy, expertise, innovation, and insight. And, of course, the superstar leader is freed up to focus even more on the areas of business where they deliver the greatest value because they are now supported by an empowered team.

At the root of change is a new mindset. A superstar leader needs to recognize that their job is not simply “to get the task done.” Rather, it is “to develop others to get the task done.” This mindset completely transforms the necessary behaviors. For instance, instead of telling a team member what to do, the leader needs to ask the team member how they would suggest handling the situation. If there are deficiencies in the team member’s proposed solution, the leader should discuss them and coach the team member to refine the solution or action plan. Every interaction with a team member becomes a developmental opportunity.

Is this difficult for superstar leaders? Yes, it is. It requires slowing down and practicing patience. It demands time and effort. But in the long run, it brings an ROI that is well worth it – for the leader, for the employees, and for the business. After all, which is better – a single, solitary superstar leader … or an entire team of superstars who can take on the world?