Why The Latest 'Leadership Trend' Can Actually HURT Your Professional Growth

At the start of each new year, popular publications love to announce their list of popular leadership trends that are officially “out” and which new leadership trends are officially “in.”

I, for one, dislike those lists. They send the wrong message.

Why? Because those lists imply that the powerful insights and key concepts you spent time investing in last year were ultimately a waste of your time.

Lists like that imply that last year’s leadership concepts were never really impactful and, worst of all, that they should be discarded in favor of the latest, greatest shiny new idea.

This is a huge mistake.

While I understand that leadership concepts evolve with the times, the truth remains that the valid techniques and approaches we embraced over recent years were never meant to be “trends” (no matter how much people were buzzing about them in the moment).

They were always meant to be tools — something to add to your comprehensive toolbox of leadership skills to pull from as needed in each unique situation and leadership challenge you face.

Think about it: You wouldn’t throw out your best screwdriver just because you bought a new hammer. You need both to build something effectively.

You also wouldn’t toss out your favorite putter because you just purchased a new nine iron. You need both to successfully navigate a challenging golf course.

Don’t abandon the leadership ideas, concepts and strategies you’ve already learned — and are still slowly-but-surely mastering  simply because a new idea is trending.

Also, don’t grab onto any single new idea thinking it alone will solve every one of your leadership challenges.

No one leadership tool is the holy grail, one-size-fits-all solution.

Here is an example of why relying on one “leadership trend” is a bad idea that can hurt your professional growth:

“Leaders as coaches” was a popular concept in 2017. Hundreds of articles were published on the topic, teams were trained on the concept, books were written and read, and it was absolutely an idea worth everyone’s time and consideration.

That said, “coaching” is not the only thing your team needs to resolve every challenge.

Last year, I worked with a smart, dedicated leader who had a ‘problem employee’ on his team. The leader wanted to leverage coaching techniques to address this employee’s performance (and attitude) issues.

But, as we dug in deeper and looked at the situation from multiple perspectives, the truth emerged  the problem employee’s issues were actually a frustrating but entirely fairresponse to larger problems within the team’s dynamic.

The employee was being unfairly used as a scapegoat in that situation.

So, coaching that one employee was not going to resolve the core problem.

The real issue was that communication about expectations and priorities from the leader on down was not clear. Constant confusion was causing unnecessary conflict among the team members.

That particular ‘problem employee’ was just being a bit more vocal and “annoying” in reacting to the problem than the others.

As we fleshed out the larger context of what was really happening, the leader realized he needed to use another tool first to address the situation  self-awareness  to understand how he, as the leader, had a hand in the creating the problem.

Then, he had to pull out a few other leadership tools to clean up communication, ease tensions, restore trust and get the team back on track again.

Coaching would definitely have a place in the solution further down the list, but to truly resolve the real issue, the leader needed to pull from a diverse and well-stocked toolbox of skills and strategies (that he’d accumulated across his years as a leader) to address the situation comprehensively.

So, regarding those leadership trends that you’ll likely see on someone’s “out” list this year, let me reassure you:

  • ‘Leaders as coaches’ is still relevant.
  • The importance of stress management and ‘mindfulness’ is still relevant.
  • Learning how to ‘lead in complex environments’ is still relevant.
  • ‘Servant leadership’ is absolutely still relevant.

Keep practicing those leadership skills. Keep cultivating them to the best of your ability.

Keep them (and the rest of your leadership tools) in tip-top shape.

And this year, sure … let’s see what new, well-researched leadership wisdom the experts reveal.

If there is a new concept or approach that comes out, lean into it. Read up on it. Practice it a bit. See where it does (and does not) serve your specific goals as an ethical and effective people leader.

By all means, add it to your toolbox.

But, be sure to also keep all of those other powerful and effective tools you learned last year (and across all the years of your career) close at hand.

* This article originally published on Forbes.com

Categories: Career Growth, Leadership

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