All Articles Leadership Management How to become an extraordinary leader

How to become an extraordinary leader

4 min read


The leaders I know and love are successful and well-meaning. However, they have the potential to be even more successful if they pay attention to seemingly good behaviors that can have unintended consequences.

They want to help others, and they’re dedicated to the success of their organizations. But sometimes their good intentions can go awry because of well-meaning behaviors toward others that are causing problems within the organization.

These nuanced behaviors seem like the right things to do, but there is a fine line between helping others and causing confusion, fear, anger and disengagement. Some examples of this overly helpful behavior and its unintended consequences can include:

  • Over-explaining in communication, causing confusion with key messages that are lost.
  • Asking too many questions that are advice in disguise (“Have you thought about XYZ?” or “What did you do about ABC?”), resulting in team members feeling interrogated and micromanaged.
  • Trusting people to get things done when they aren’t equipped with the skills to do them — things don’t get done or they’re poorly executed.
  • Trying to make the “right” decision to please everyone, causing goals to be drawn out or nonexistent.
  • Being overly inclusive in communication or projects, causing execution delays.
  • Personally taking on the work that should be done by direct reports because they are overwhelmed, causing personal burnout and frustrated employees.
  • Being so focused on their organization’s mission and employees that the key relationships outside of the organization don’t get attention and the wider view of the larger organizational system aren’t realized.

These are real examples you may have seen, too. In each of those cases and others that are similar, the leader was trying to be helpful. In each situation, the leader was was respected by superiors and others in the organization.

If you’re a successful leader who exhibits one these behaviors, the truth is that you could be even more effective if you are aware of the unintended consequences of your good intentions and adjust your behavior.

These nuances in behavior can be so imperceptible that they can be overlooked. When problems occur in your organization, they may often be blamed on something or someone else. These blind spots can unknowingly harm your relationships and sidetrack projects. Deadlines can be missed and poor results result.

The good news is that when these behaviors are mitigated, you can become a better leader for your organization, and the goals and results you are trying to achieve will become easier.

The best ways to discover if you have any of these behaviors is to:

  • Observe yourself as you go about your day. What behaviors might you exhibit that can have a negative impact on others’ abilities to be at their best? Are you doing things that slow the team down? Are you overly helpful, causing hardship for your employees or the results you want to achieve?
  • Observe others’ reactions when you communicate with them. Are your seasoned employees confused about the direction they need to take? Are they unwilling to speak up? Is morale down when you simultaneously feel energized by the work at hand?
  • Get feedback from your stakeholders. Ask specific questions, and you’ll get answers that you can act on, like: What am doing that is interfering with your ability to be at your best? What should I do less/more of? How can I be the best leader possible for you and this organization?
  • Take steps to change the nuanced behaviors that are keeping you from being extraordinary. Hire a coach if you don’t know how to move forward; they’re experienced in processes to assist you in figuring out how to proceed from being good to becoming great.

It’s so often the things you do that are overly helpful that can prevent you from being amazing. Pay attention, get feedback, and create a plan to become extraordinary.

Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 12 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages Fortune 500 corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader.