4 Leadership Struggles I Had to Overcome

Many leaders act as if the point they’ve reached in their careers was easy to reach. This week on the Killer Innovations show, I will be discussing the various struggles all leaders face and how to counteract them.


From my perspective, as I progressed throughout my career, I ran into many different struggles. These struggles are some that I believe every leader will encounter. Rather than hiding these struggles from you, I will be putting them out in the sunlight for all of you to see. I have come to realize that all leaders are alike. As much as we think we are different, we are not as unique as we believe. We all share the same struggles.

The first leadership struggle I’ve encountered is lonely leadership. As you progress through an organization, it gets harder to find people that understand you. It’s a must for great leaders to be transparent. Share things with others around you. While transparency holds importance, is it always the answer? Transparency is only vital to a point. Reserve some things that you don’t need to share.

Lonely Leadership

You should never be transparent about your self-doubt. Being open about your struggles with employees can cause them concern about your organization. Secondly, never be transparent about your opinion of others. Especially key stakeholders. They will find out. My philosophy is never to burn a bridge no matter what. This decision has come back to benefit me throughout my career.

Thirdly, never be transparent about confidential information shared with you. I’ve seen may promising leaders sidelined because of issues of integrity and trust. Building a reputation for integrity as a leader is crucial. Just one wrong decision can break a reputation. Don’t make that mistake. Making a mistake will shatter your career. Being a leader is lonely. Who can you share these things? Your spouse? Not always.

I remember when I was at Teligent, and we were the hottest new thing. We were on the cover of Business Week, Forbes, WSJ, NY Times, etc. My wife was at her hairdresser one day, and the hairdresser was drilling her about the information on Teligent. He assumed she had access to confidential information and was getting aggressive. After that, my wife and I agreed to protect her. I do not share any confidential information with her. Never. She doesn’t want to be in that position.

Can you be transparent with anyone? Your coach or mentor. Let your board/shareholders know that you have a coach or mentor. If you’re going to share confidential information with someone, they should sign a non-disclosure agreement. All of this said you would be lonely as a leader. It comes with the position. Can you be transparent with someone?

What Got You Here Won’t Keep You Here

Will the skills that helped you reach your position keep you there? These things will not keep you here or progress you in your career. Look at me, for instance. My specialty is technical work. I have not touched technical work in 15 years. I had to learn new skills to advance. How did I learn those different skills? Right out of college, my mentor Bob told me that to find success; I had to broaden my playing fields. I knew my specialty very well, but I needed to have a variety of experiences.

What did I do? I rotated in marketing, sales, finance, IT, etc. I did everything. While these experiences broadened my knowledge, it wasn’t enough.

What were the skillsets that brought me to success?

  • Organization design – How do you structure a team? You have to be willing to adjust to create a robust organizational structure.
  • People Reading – Each person is unique, and you have to commit to learning them.
  • Consensus Building Learn the individuals and their objectives. I do one on one calls with each member of my board before meetings. Calls help me to get a better grasp of the thoughts and feelings of each member.
  • Objective Setting – How do you set good targets? Use OKR’s/make sure they are clear and measurable. Grant autonomy letting your experts use their skills to achieve ultimate success. 

Consequences of Ideas and Statements

Ideas and statements made as a leader have effects. Things will get taken out of context and all of a sudden, they become the “new law.” When I was CEO at Cable Labs, I told my team that the most common statement they would hear was, “Phil said.” In many cases, what I said was misinterpreted or misused. The best proof point of this in my career is press coverage. If you google my name and read the articles on the first 16 pages of google, not a single item got the situation 100% correct.

At Cable Labs, we had issues with the press pushing out false information. The articles caused employees to start worrying about the longevity of our Colorado office. I had to call a meeting with all my employees to address this issue. I committed my staff that day that they would hear from me first, and not the press. The announcement created a new culture at Cable Labs called the “no-surprise rule” to remind my employees of this always. Why do I do this? Because ideas and statements can be a disaster. You need to be hyper-vigilant about what you say, how you say it, and how you operate. Are you conveying statements the right way?

Creative Self-Doubt

What is the number leadership skill you are expected to have? Creativity/ ingenuity leading to product, service, and operational innovation. Many leaders get promoted to a leadership role because of their credited innovation. Look at Nobel Laureates. There is a trend of peaks seen from the recipients of Nobel awards. One in their mid-twenties and one in their mid-fifties. The question comes down to this. Do you still have your creativity?

What type of innovator are you?

Conceptual Innovators – “Think outside the box,” challenging conventional wisdom and suddenly coming up with new ideas. Conceptual innovators tend to peak early in their careers.

Experimental Innovators – Accumulate knowledge through their careers and find groundbreaking ways to analyze, interpret, and synthesize that information into new ways of understanding. The long periods of trial and error required for important experimental innovations make them tend to occur late in a Nobel laureate’s career. Success comes from recognizing that as an innovator, we need to shift from the conceptual to the experimental.


Let’s connect; I am on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. If we do connect, drop me a note and let me know. The email address is feedback@philmckinney.com, or you can go to PhilMcKinney.com and drop me a note there. If you are looking for innovation support, go to TheInnovators.Network or want to be challenged to develop the next big idea, check out our Disruptive Ideation Workshops. Don’t forget to join our Innovators Community to enjoy more conversations around innovation.

To learn about overcoming leadership struggles, listen to this week's show: 4 Leadership Struggles I Had to Overcome.


RELATED:   Subscribe To The Killer Innovations Podcast
Zoom - 2017 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Meeting Solutions - Is a sponsor of the Killer Innovations Show

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.