Small businesses to the Fortune 100 organizations share this elephant in the room, failed leadership, as they look forward to business growth. From my own corporate experiences to those working with clients for the last 16 years, failed leadership is usually ignored for a variety of reasons including:
- Viewed as a soft skill instead of a hard, skill
- Misdiagnose of symptoms for real problems
- Fear of being viewed as a “bad” leader
When organizations grow, the internal and external dynamics change. What leadership skills required in the “startup” or “turned on” phase are quite different than the skills needed for business growth within the transitional and transformational phases.
Additionally, there is rarely a separation between self-leadership and leadership. This is a big mistake because if one cannot lead oneself (self-leadership) leading others becomes far more difficult. When organizational leadership development is imposed without knowing each individual has strong self-leadership skills, then this is very much like a house of cards, just waiting to collapse.
Recognising failed leadership
So the question arises, how do I know if my small business, department or organization has failed leadership? Here are some issues as noted in the book, Fail-Safe Leadership, that may help answer that question:
- Far too much consensus-driven decision making (cover your backend mentality)
- Kick the can mentality
- Communication problems
- Unacceptable results
- Reactive rather than proactive thinking
- Time management
- High staff turnover
- Unmotivated employees
- Difficulty in motivating employees
- Poor or inconsistent sales, quality, etc.
Tackling isolated symptoms
When these isolated symptoms are present, many organizational consultants, talent management specialists to even executive coaches will ignore the elephant in the room, failed leadership, and focus on tackling each of these symptoms separately. Then what happens is one issue is solved and another one is worsened. Long-term sustainable solutions do not happen because causation does not mean correlation.
Solving failed leadership
By accepting the organization may have a leadership problem is the first step. The next step is demonstrating that reality to the rest of the organization. One simple exercise is to ask everyone to write down his or her favorite leader and then list three leadership characteristics. Next on a flip chart record the characteristics of those leaders.
Do you believe you will have exactly the same leadership qualities or will the qualities differ?
This leads to the conclusion that competencies for leadership will vary depending on the person and the situation. So possibly, to solve the leadership problems is to begin by employing a results-based model. This change in paradigm works with all the noted symptoms while supporting both organizational alignment and behavioral change. For example, if everyone knows the desired results, then this improves communication as well as other symptoms such as time management to reactive versus proactive thinking.
Of course, until executive management becomes truly forward thinking and recognizes that failed leadership is the elephant in the room, they will continue to squander their limited resources of time, energy, money, and emotion on quick-fix solutions that are not sustainable in the long term.