How To Be a Terrible Leader

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You’ve probably watched a TED Talk video or two (or ten) at some point over the past several years. But have you ever been to a TED/TEDx event in person? It turns out there’s a huge—and important—difference between watching one or two TED videos and being immersed in a dozen or so TED Talks over the course of a single day.

In just under two weeks, I’ll be standing on stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver BC as the opening speaker of one of the largest TED events in the world, TEDxStanleyPark. And after me, a dozen more speakers will give their brilliant talks. And here’s the cool thing:

None of these talks have anything to do with each other.

Except they do.

What that is will be different for each of the 2,700 attendees. Because it’s all about connections.

Here’s what I mean.

One audience member will hear something in Talk #7 that reminds her of something in Talk #2—both of which are somehow related to something relevant to her world. Another audience member will tie elements of Talks 3, 9, and 12 to a current situation in his life.

The point is that neither of these audience members—nor any of the other 2,698—would see these connections if they only watched one Talk on video. Because it’s all about connecting dots, and if you only have one dot, there’s nothing to connect.

Simply put, the more dots you have, the more connections you can make.

But some leaders don’t seem to realize this. They are one-dot leaders. Which makes them terrible leaders.

A one-dot #leader is a terrible #leader. #Leadership Click To Tweet

I’m sorry, but it’s true. If you, as a leader, only look at your business, your industry, or your world through one dot, you’re a terrible leader.

And you might not even know it.

With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, here are some signs that you may be a one-dot leader:

  • Do you tend to get all your advice primarily from one person, to the exclusion of other, different voices?
  • Do you always hang around with the same people? (And do they tend to look like you, behave like you, and believe the same things you do?)
  • Do you tend to get all your news—business or otherwise—from the same source? Is it a source that simply reinforces your existing beliefs, as opposed to challenging them?
  • Do you confine your reading material to a narrow range of topics and genres?
  • Do you avoid hiring smart people who think differently than you?

I’m guessing that at least a few of those questions got a “Well…maybe…sometimes…” out of you. Does that make you a terrible leader? No—it makes you a human one. But it also shows that there are areas where you can improve.

If you see your world through one dot—or a limited number of dots—you’re robbing yourself, your team, your business, your industry, and your world of those connections that could lead to the next breakthrough.

Your next million—or billion—dollar idea might be just one dot away. But if you’re not open to that dot—if you think, “Hey, my little dot collection is just fine; I don’t need any other dots; different dots will only rock the boat”—then you’ll never see the connection. And that, quite simply, is terrible leadership.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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  • Mindy Mikami says:

    Hi Bill,

    I love Ted Talks and watch/listen often. Reading your thoughts about connecting the dots, I realized that I recently started looking for more dots when it comes to politics. I was always watching a particular news station that leaned a certain way, but now I make myself watch the station that tends to lean the other direction just so I can balance the information that I’m absorbing every day. Doing this better prepares me for political conversations I sometimes get trapped in with co-workers, friends, and family! I can’t wait to watch YOUR TedTalk, too.

    By the way, the “Here’s your sign” guy is not Jeff Foxworthy… it’s Bill Engvall. Although they are both part of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour.

    Thanks again for a great blog post.


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