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Thanks, But Your Leadership Isn’t Helping March 31, 2014

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Communication, Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics.
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It’s become a standard and recurring theme in modern, enlightened human resource management: we want to identify and encourage leadership throughout the organization. There are a limited number of management positions in any business, and although may we expect some measure of leadership from managers, you certainly don’t have to be a manager to be a leader.

Sounds great, but what happens when a person assumes leadership and then turns out to be a lousy leader? When we encourage everyone to be leaders, expecting that the organization will be transformed into a powerful new high-performance engine, we shouldn’t be surprised when it turns out that not everyone is good at it. What do we do with people who are trying to be leaders, but aren’t really helping?

I can imagine two possibilities here: (1) this person is fundamentally a good leader, but they’re leading in the wrong direction (based on strategic priorities), or (2) despite their enthusiasm for the role, they’re just not a good leader. The former is relatively easy to fix, assuming this person can be re-aligned and re-oriented in the right direction. Perhaps they were well-meaning and simply misunderstood the strategy or priorities. If there’s a true disagreement about the strategy, then that will have to be a separate conversation about whether the strategy itself should change, or whether the leader can support the strategy (in which case this may turn into a performance management situation).

If this person is fundamentally a lousy leader, that’s a bit harder. After encouraging people to step up and touting the benefits of leadership up-and-down the org chart, you can’t exactly tell the ineffective leaders to sit down and be quiet. This reminds me of one of the axioms in political campaigns: you never turn away a volunteer. They’ve answered the call, now you have to find a way to channel that energy to productive ends.

I’m sure there are hundreds of training programs out there promising to help anyone become a strong and effective leader, and I’m sure some of those work for some people, but who has the time (or, possibly, money) for that? If you encourage people to lead, then you’d better be committed to ongoing feedback and coaching at the individual level. Some people may ultimately decide on their own that they’re not cut out for leadership, but the organization really will be better off with more leaders. Just don’t under-invest in their development.

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