In The Absence Of Leadership

In The Absence Of Leadership

The funny thing about leadership is that it’s more noticeable when it’s missing than when it’s present. Consider the people you are exposed to. How many of them stand out as leaders? Does the thought even occur to you?

Now, how many of them shine as poor, ineffective, even damaging managers? The bad ones are easy to spot. They tend to tear people down instead of build them up. They are usually poor communicators and micromanagers.

Employees expect certain things from their leaders. They expect integrity, positive reinforcement as well as constructive criticism, support, and guidance. They also expect their leaders to believe in them and to help them realize success. The good leaders realize this. The bad ones – or as we’ll call them, the ‘non-leaders’ – fail to consider how they are being perceived by those around them. Too often they don’t think before they act or speak. And once done or said it’s a bell they can’t un-ring.

So how does this happen? How do ‘non-leaders’ obtain leadership positions? Often times they are promoted beyond their effectiveness. This is the man or woman who was really good at what they were doing. So, management/ownership decided they’d be the right choice to lead their department. The problem is this – if they don’t have leadership skills, or can’t learn them – they will not only be ineffective, they’ll be damaging. And chances are they’ll be miserable. The other group of ‘non-leaders’ are those who talk their way into a leadership position. They interview their way in. While good talkers, the reality is that although they know what to SAY, they don’t know what to DO.

The employees usually identify these imposters immediately. At first blush they can tell that the ‘leader’ is really a ‘non-leader’ and incapable of taking the department where it needs to go. This is where it gets dangerous. The employees lose faith in the upper management/ownership because they see them making bad decisions. After all, they have the right to expect the ownership or upper management to provide them with resources and tools (read as managers/leaders) that will help them be successful. When the upper management/ownership fails to do this, in effect they are telling their staff that they don’t care about their success. It’s a bad message to send and it can ruin an otherwise good company.

The good, motivated, productive employees who want and expect good leadership will leave. They know they deserve good leaders and will explore until they find the fit for them. Once found, they will exceed even their own expectations of themselves. The mediocre employees will learn how to function within the environment and do the bare minimum to get by. The unproductive employees, if there are any, will continue to skate under the radar. They’ll find ways to deflect attention off of themselves and onto the ‘non-leader’ creating a crippled environment. Productivity suffers, morale decreases, and ultimately the customer is the biggest loser.

While this happens more frequently than it should, there are ways to safeguard against it. A key step is for the ownership/upper management to keep their eye on the culture they’ve established and wish to keep in their company. Every staff member needs to fit into that vision.

When interviewing from the outside, culture becomes even more important. Bringing in someone who doesn’t fit with your corporate culture can destroy your business. Go with your gut. If the candidate says all the right things, but something nags at you – you’re right. Don’t hire them. You know the saying – a rising tide lifts all boats. You want to hire someone who is going to raise your people up. Someone they will be able to get behind and work with. It’s worth the time and effort to pick the right person.

You may want to solicit the assistance of an outside individual who knows you, your company, and your vision. They can often see things you can’t because they aren’t as invested in the outcome as you are. Have them sit in on the interview to observe. They will most likely pick up on things you’ll miss.

You may even want the candidate to meet the staff – as a possible addition to the team. In this way you can see how they interact with the employees. You may see characteristics you hadn’t noticed in the interview. Just as valuable, you’ll see how your employees respond to the candidate. Staying in tune to how it ‘feels’ is just as important as how their resume looks.

When thinking about promoting someone, you should clearly evaluate that decision. When promoting to a leadership position, interview them carefully to determine if they will be successful. Watch them interact with their co-workers and get their co-workers involved in the decision making process. They usually have the best read on each other. Moreover, if people are honest with themselves, they will know whether they can be successful leaders. If they know it’s okay to stay right where they are, they’ll be honest about whether they feel it would be a good move.

You may want to give them a probationary period where you work with them. In this way you have the opportunity to make sure this new ‘leader’ knows what your goals, beliefs, and vision are. Both of you will have the chance to see if the position is a good fit for them. If not, allow them to resume their old position. In the end, you don’t want to lose a good person because you tried something with them.

By John Benson

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