4 Things Good Leaders Do When Facing Obstacles That Bad Leaders Don’t


Effective leaders put aside their expertise to get the best out of colleagues. They heighten the collective genius of those in their organizations. And in doing so their teams overcome obstacles that, at first glance, seemed insurmountable.

Ineffective leaders, on the other hand, flex their expertise in the moment. They feel good about their decisions, while their colleagues feel isolated, unheard, and undervalued. And as a result, their organizations whither away in response to challenges.

To understand the tactics of effective leaders in high-functioning organizations during difficult times, I caught up with Dr. Richard Winters, author of You’re the Leader. Now What?: Leadership Lessons from Mayo Clinic.

I asked Dr. Winters what he has seen as an emergency physician, executive coach, and director for leadership development as the most effective tactics of the leaders he advises.

Dr. Winters noted four specific things effective leaders do (and less effective leaders don’t do) as they face obstacles.

1. Effective leaders map their decisions.

Ineffective leaders make decisions based on reflexes behind blind spots. They jump to options and ways forward before clearly understanding the problem. They amplify the voices of the powerful few, and silence others.  And they fail to identify the best process for decisions. This leaves colleagues disengaged and confused.

Effective leaders use a decision-making process that best fits each decision’s domain. For example, when challenges are clear and predictable, they leverage best practice and common sense. When problems are complicated and expert advice is required, they seek the advice of specialists. And when situations are complex with emotions running high, they unite colleagues to create shared reality before deciding on how to proceed.

2. Effective leaders are coaches, not mentors.

Ineffective leaders mentor. They counsel colleagues based on their own experience. While their intent may be honorable, they dispense advice that ignores the differences of their colleague’s situation.

“Effective leaders coach,” said Dr. Winters. “They view colleagues as experts of their own experience and they challenge and support their colleague’s thinking.” Additionally, they ask open-ended questions. They help each colleague make sense of the world so they may plot effective action from their own unique perspective.

3. Effective leaders shine a light on fears and worries.

“Ineffective leaders ignore the fears and worries of colleagues. They ignore the resistance. They hope it will go away. But it won’t,” shared Dr. Winters. 

Effective leaders shine a light on fears and worries. They acknowledge the resistance and face it head-on. Then, they work with colleagues to figure out how together they might mitigate fears and worries as they move forward.

4. Effective leaders embody organizational values.

Ineffective leaders speak of organizational values, but do the opposite. They promote teamwork but make decisions alone. They talk of respect but speak over colleagues. They champion stewardship but spend their way out of challenges.

“Effective leaders embody organizational values. Their behaviors reflect their values. They walk the talk, even when things are difficult,” stated Dr. Winters, reflecting what I also have seen lacking in the leaders that I coach.

Effective leadership isn’t easy. It means putting aside your expertise, discovering discomfort, and facilitating the best in others. But those leaders who can bring out the best in others, bring out the best in their organizations. “These are the leaders who elevate exceptional organizations,” said Dr. Winters.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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