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Boss-zilla: How to Not Suck as a Leader

Updated: Feb 18, 2019

I love monster movies. The bigger and meaner the monster, the better the movie.

Alien. Predator. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

But when it comes to on-screen destruction, the undisputed heavyweight champ and model for all monsters that followed is undoubtedly Godzilla.

Behind the cheesy effects and ridiculous rubber monster suits of the 1950’s and 60’s movies, there was a deep commentary on the tenuous nature of life in the atomic age.

Godzilla’s origin story has varied a bit over the years, but it’s usually a nuclear accident or improperly handled radioactive waste that turns an ordinary lizard into a savage beast.

The message of Godzilla was that, with great power comes great responsibility. Use nuclear science wisely, and it powers a nation. Use these abilities poorly and they just might destroy us all.

What does this have to do with leadership? Well, hang on to your popcorn.

Like the radioactive waters that turned a common lizard into a Tokyo-stomping terror, there are environmental factors in the workplace that can turn a would-be Mother Teresa into Maleficent or a nascent Winston Churchill into Genghis Khan.

It doesn’t matter if you run a hotdog stand or manage an investment firm, the dangers are the same.

All leaders are prone to four common thinking-errors. These errors are bred by the mix of stress, responsibility, and allure of power that comes with all positions of influence.

If you are in a position of leadership, allow me to be your Katsuhiko Ishibashi – warning the powerful of impending calamity. I can only hope that in this case, you will heed the warnings before it’s too late.

Don’t become Boss-zilla.

As you plow your way up the org-chart, if you find yourself turning green, growing scales, and developing a strange urge to annihilate a coastal city, you’ve likely been contaminated with one or more of these common and radioactive thinking errors:

1. You’re taking yourself too seriously.

Seriously, you’re not that important. Sure, no one wants to work for the Big Lebowski or this guy. However, people don’t want to work for Napoleon either.

This is an area of leadership that takes practice and maybe even a little Zen-like perspective and insight. What’s the sound of one hand clapping? I have no idea. I do know that well-balanced leaders take their work seriously and themselves lightly.

Be sure to spend quality time with people who do not work for you and don’t care what you do for a living. Two decades into my career, my two older brothers still ask me, “What is it exactly that you do?”

I give the same answer every time. The fact of the matter is, they don’t remember because they really don’t care. They just want to spend time with their little brother. That’s actually a good thing. Whoever those people are in your life, spend more time with them.

2. You’re over-estimating your impact.

Competent and quality leadership is essential to any well-functioning organization. Try not to wreck the place, but also trust that your organization is likely a lot more resilient than you might think.

Leaders come and go. Some are great, most are pretty good, and a few rare ones really suck. Try not to suck. Either way, life goes on and most organizations survive.

Even when you’re not at your best, most organizations have other people ready and willing to fill the gaps, plug the holes, and keep things afloat. That’s why you have a team and not just yourself.

Trust your team and learn to lean on them when you know it’s time to take a break and regain some perspective.

3. You’re working out your personal issues at work.

We all have issues. Many of these issues will play out at work on some level. That’s only natural.

However, you can’t fix your trust issues with your spouse by over-monitoring your employees. If your parents didn’t give you the support and attention you truly deserved as a child, that’s painful. But it’s not your staff’s job to fill that hole.

In other words, try not to use your organization as your own personal therapy-theater; replaying dramas from your personal life over-and-over again while hoping for a different result.

Get a good counselor. If you want unconditional love on demand, I recommend getting a German Shepherd. I love mine and she is always happy to see me. (Did I just lift a Gordon Gekko quote?)

Remember, a big part of the elusive work/life balance is the line dividing those two words. Take full responsibility for each and don’t over-mix the two.

4. You’re substituting control for vision.

I know… Everything would be great if people would just follow all of your instructions and advice. Most leaders love solving problems. It’s one of our defining characteristics.

But if you’re not careful, you might start thinking that every problem is yours to solve. Or worse, you might start believing that your solutions are the only right solutions.

Leaders who insist on controlling and micro-managing the small details of people’s day-to-day work can debilitate an organization by short-circuiting learning and development.

Just like you, your staff need the freedom to make mistakes. They also need the freedom to try out their own ideas. If you’re lucky like me, your staff will prove themselves to be smarter than you.

Instead of dispensing answers, help others to develop competencies. Instead of trying to control small details, set a clear and compelling vision and let your staff pursue it in their own unique ways. You just might learn a few things from them.

Be daring. Be bold. Be confident. But also heed these warnings. Don’t become a radioactive beast. Tokyo is a really great city. Let’s keep it intact.

Check out the Leading Conflict store for practical and hard-hitting resources that will help you put these ideas into action.

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