Lose the Big Head and Go on the Leadership Diet

by Alli Polin on April 23, 2013

Leaders With Big Heads Need to Go On a Diet

The best leaders engage people not only with their stunningly smart ideas and heroic experiences but also, and quite simply, showing up as who they are.  Unfortunately, for many leaders, the “who” is buried under years of reinforcement from poor role models that push the overuse of leadership muscles that are seriously outdated.

Do you:

  • Decide on a course of action prior to brainstorming sessions and work to manipulate the discussion to support your desired outcomes?
  • Believe that all hands meetings are not the right time for impromptu Q&A but instead are only for getting information out to the masses.
  • Notice that none of the ideas thrown out in brainstorming are as good as your own?
  • Call people out in meetings because you are a strong supporter of open dialog and don’t believe in the need for closed doors?
  • Keep the strategic work for yourself and delegate only the operational pieces to others?

If you found yourself nodding along, you may be bloated and fat with self-important ideas about leadership and it’s time for a big-time diet.

How do you shrink your big head and grow your leadership heart?  Follow this leadership diet:

SWAP: Fako-Bako Listening for Being Open Minded

Truth: You’re not really listening if you already know what you want to say and are checking your emails as you nod and say “uh huh” while actually waiting for a break the conversation to jump in with the answers.  That’s Fako-Bako listening; it looks like you’re listening but you don’t need to hear a word to share your response.  Open-minded listening requires you to truly listen to what the other person has to say without the constant focus on your own internal dialog.

How To:  Ask questions, listen, reflect, playback, learn and hopefully co-create solutions.

REPLACE: One Way Communication with Conversation

Communication is an important leadership tool that helps to keep everyone on the same path towards the shared vision and mission.  However, communicating out, without an opening for conversation, gives the impression that leadership (and smarts) only comes from the top.  Instead of  spending time crafting and worrying about messaging, throw messaging out the door and opt for conversation.

How To: If you don’t know the answer to a question that’s asked, or it’s not the right time to share, just say it and make a commitment to circle back with more information in the near future.

TOSS: Insensitivity in the Name of Honesty

A desire for an open work environment, where there are no secrets, is not an excuse to chastise someone in front of their peers.  You can’t build trust or team spirit if there is fear of being publicly called out for ideas or motivations.  People will quickly start to play small and safe and that does not benefit the individual, team or organization.

How To:  If you have negative feedback for someone, talk to them in private and in support of their growth and development.

MOVE MORE: Off of Your Plate

Ever wonder why you’re working 12+ hours every day and many people on your team leave well before you even think about going home for dinner?  You’re hoarding the work.  News flash: You have smart, driven, passionate people on your team, tap into them!

How To: Delegate!  Give other people a chance to stretch into their own leadership by empowering them to run with strategic initiatives while you remain involved as their advocate, supporter, mentor and personal road-block remover.

INCREASE: Your Intake of Ideas

Despite your diverse and significant career experience, never forget that leaders that stop learning, stop leading.  Diversity of thought takes the power of one and multiplies it exponentially.

How To: Read books and blogs.  Attend conferences for networking and attend diverse sessions.  Most importantly, talk to people, ask questions and always be curious.

DECREASE: The Number of Meetings You Attend

How are you supposed to collaborate with people on your teams, get any work done or have time to think if your day is filled with back-to-back meetings?

How To: Pick one or two regular meetings and ask someone else to attend the meeting and be the voice of the team.  Keep the time blocked on your calendar to avoid another meeting slotting in its place.

CELEBRATE: People, Milestones, and Small Wins

Leadership is not just about accomplishing big things… it’s accomplishing big things together.

How To: Celebrate people and progress to keep up momentum and build engagement.  Hint: “Thank you” goes a long way.

Today’s organization has leaders at all levels that are willing to speak up AND listen, spark thinking AND empower others to follow-through, inform AND engage, manage AND lead.  What about you?  Is it time for a diet with a little more AND, and a lot less OR?

Anything else you’d add to this diet plan for leaders that want to be and do their best?  Please share in the comments below. 

(Photo credit)

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Mertz April 23, 2013 at 7:01 am

This is a great list on how to empower more and be less self-centered in the way to lead! At times, leaders use the “brainstorm” as a way to validate their ideas. At other times, they “think” they are enabling but they are really holding the ingenuity of others back.

Tossing and replacing habits that are non-leader-like will free up leaders to do more of what will power teams and organizations forward in positive ways. A great diet plan here, Alli!


Alli Polin April 23, 2013 at 7:41 am

Jon, I’ve been in too many meetings with leaders that do just that – call it brainstorming but it’s really 60 minutes that we all could have had back in our day if the leader had just been upfront with their intentions. Thanks for adding your insights!


John Thurlbeck April 23, 2013 at 7:16 am

Alli – absolutely fabulous post ~ Fako-Bako Listening and Toss were my favourites, as for me communication is everything! I love this so much I am going to scoop it, tweet and whatever other digital media approaches I can use!

Kind regards



Alli Polin April 23, 2013 at 7:39 am

Many thanks, John! Communication isn’t only the words we use but, what we don’t say, what we do, how we engage… I agree with you! Greatly appreciate your support.


Lalita Raman April 23, 2013 at 7:18 am

Alli, you hit the nail on the head. Many people call meetings and it is z complete Fako-Bako listening. I find that most people who pretend to be busy and have nothing much to day invariably engage in Fako-Bako listening. I love that word Fako-Bako :). I use Fako quite often but Fako-Bako is a new word I learnt today :).

Employee engagement comes when you make a person valued and that involves not humiliating them in public.

Good post Alli.


Alli Polin April 23, 2013 at 7:38 am

Thanks, Lalita! Yes! If leaders want engaged employees, they have to be engaged too. Also, there is no place for humiliation at work.

I say Fako Bako all the time. Don’t know where I picked it up but happy to add to your lexicon!


Amanda April 23, 2013 at 8:50 am

Terrific article Alli! Great guidance for anyone currently in a leadership role, or working towards a leadership role. I sure miss your daily guidance!!


Alli Polin April 23, 2013 at 8:53 am

Thanks so much, Amanda! You always taught me a TON! You are the epitome of the people-focused leader!


Terri Klass April 23, 2013 at 9:53 am

Love your leadership diet suggestions, Alli! I sometimes feel leaders do not take the time to look at what is actually happening on their team. I especially liked the need for delegation as it is often what gets leaders into a severe time trap where deadlines are missed. If delegated with authority and trust, team members can learn so much from the experience and enrich their current roles. Delegations is actually a great way to cultivate future leaders. Thanks for your terrific insights!


Alli Polin April 23, 2013 at 10:04 pm

Terri – Too many leaders think that they’re delegating when all they’re doing is getting admin off of their plate so they can focus on meaty strategic work. Yes, it’s important for leaders to be involved with strategy but delegating authority and trust to others that can move significant pieces forward is a big part of what creates a great place to work. When leaders hoard the interesting work and delegate the rest, why would anyone want to work there? How will they grow and stretch their skills and become future leaders?

Greatly appreciate your insights and that you stopped here to share your experience!


Alice Chan April 23, 2013 at 4:36 pm

Great advice, Alli! You really laid our well what leaders need to do to trust and empower others. These really are the traits of a confident leader who’s comfortable in his/her own skin and thus able to really be open to listening, conversing and celebrating with the team. You outlined great “how tos” as well to help us get there. Thank you!


Alli Polin April 23, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Alice – That’s exactly what it comes down to… trust and empowerment. Leaders do not and can not and should not do it alone! Great point that the first step for leaders, even before going on this “diet” is to get comfortable with who they are and find the confidence and courage to let go. Many thanks, Alice!


Johann Gauthier April 23, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Powerful post Alli !
What a thought-provoking style. One-two punch with tips !
Thanks for being who you are. You’ve said it to me many times. You lead by example all the time !
Take care.


Alli Polin April 23, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Thanks so much, Johann! My hope is that leaders that say “yeah, sounds good but how do I do that?!” can look at the tips and give it a try to see the difference it can make. Appreciate you!!


Mike Brown April 24, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Nice list, Alli… One thing I would add to the leadership diet plan is Talking… As leaders, we need to talk less and listen more… It is important for our people to have the opportunity to express themselves in a safe environment – with the encouragement of their managers/leaders… By zipping the lip – and listening more – we are honoring our people and allowing them to develop…


Alli Polin April 24, 2013 at 11:38 pm

Thanks, Mike! GREAT addition! Listen more, talk less is an important lesson for all leaders. Perfect way to say it: Zip the lip! Many thanks!


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