Leader Alert: Beware the Downside of Being the Big Cheese

One day you’re following direction and the next you’re giving it. Promotions to leadership positions are watershed moments.                    

If we’re not careful about how we wear our new leadership mantles, we’ll find ourselves isolated. 

The chilling effects of deference 

Employees try to figure you out as soon as you become the big cheese. 

New leaders, even when they’re colleagues we’ve known for years, are inevitably suspect. 

Most employees will likely play it safe until they understand how you will conduct yourself and deal with them in your new-found power position.    

The result is deference—submission to your requests and courteous yielding to your direction. 

Here’s how deference reveals itself: Your employees 

  • Wait for you to talk first
  • Ask, “What do you want?” questions
  • Tend to wait and see how you’re leaning before weighing in
  • Routinely check in with you before acting
  • Shut down the informal information pipeline to you
  • Are extra careful about what they say, holding back on input and feedback 

The consequences of deference may be elusive at first, but, in time, you’ll feel their sting when you realize you’re: 

  • Out of the loop with your employees because no one lets you in on the scuttlebutt
  • Unaware of the disruptions your decisions and direction have caused
  • Disconnected from the needs of your own employees
  • No longer considered a member of the team, even though you’re its leader
  • In this alone, that you’re employees have positioned you to hold the bag

Check yourself 

Deference will isolate you. That means you need to understand what you’re doing, consciously or subconsciously, to attract it. Then you need to undo it. 

Remember: You now have position power. Employees understand that you are expected by the business to act in its best interests which can, at times, be in conflict with theirs. 

Great leaders need to earn the trust and confidence of their employees through: 

  • Humility and openness
  • Consistently balanced and fair decision-making
  • Timely actions and ability to minimize obstacles
  • Respectful treatment of employees 

You can’t undo crippling deference until you understand what’s contributing to it. The major factor is fear: Your employees know that you can

  • Make or break their career progress
  • Impact their work assignments
  • Hurt them with your assessment of their performance; impact their salaries
  • Influence their stress levels, self-confidence, and self-esteem
  • Direct them to adopt work processes that are ineffective 

Smart employees are careful about how they treat their leaders because a lot is at stake. 

Break the pattern

Smart leaders recognize the signs of deference and take action. They: 

  • Ask employees for their ideas and concerns at meetings and privately, waiting for their answers, acknowledging and rewarding the value of counterpoint
  • Demonstrate trust by doing what they say they’re going to do
  • Communicate openly and regularly on all topics
  • Roll up their sleeves and engage with employees where they work, inquiring about their issues, needs, and frustrations
  • Involve employees in problem-solving by delegating responsibility and authority
  • Ask for ideas from employees before offering their own 

Slice the cheese 

Leadership is a balancing act. We need to understand that “good” power is about influence not about control or self-aggrandizement. Misuse of leadership power takes on a life of its own and deference can feed it negatively. 

Our job as leaders is to make sure that we keep everyone in the game. It’s essential to lead effectively so others want to follow, but not in silence. We need them to voicing their ideas and feedback without fear.

Every team needs a leader and every leader needs a team. When we give a little slice of influence to each player, we increase our collective chances of winning. 

Photo from The Wu’s Photo Land via Flickr

It’s Scandalous! Leaders Who Don’t Lead | Taking Issue

Why does this happen?  Career-minded people knock themselves out to achieve positions of leadership. But when they get there, they don’t lead or just get it very wrong. That’s the scandal!

We expect our leaders to lead, not just sit in their offices waiting to be addressed as Your Leadness!

Leadership isn’t a crown.  

There’s a big allure about “position power.” Why? Because it comes with more money, a better parking spot, a private office, and more employees. This makes us feel important. It’s like getting a spa treatment for our egos!

Our employees want to see how we’ll use our “power.” They’re waiting for their leaders to do things that will inspire them to dig deeper, perform better, excite creativity, protect and benefit them.

We want leaders who respect us as followers not treat us like subjects!

Leading is real work!

Leadership is the actual job! With or without a swanky title, when other people look to you for direction, then your job is to lead.

Considering all that’s been written about leadership, simply speaking, here’s what it takes to be a good leader:

Define reality for your employees—Explain the good, the bad, and the ugly about what’s impacting them from inside and outside the organization. Don’t sugar coat and don’t create panic either. Build balanced, fact-based understanding.

Remove obstacles—Listen to what employees say about impediments to their performance. Clear away that debris. Deflect outside requests that will interfere with their work, especially knee-jerk ideas from upper management that can throw things off course.

Be there—Show up. Learn your employee’s names and something about each one. Ask for their ideas. Participate periodically in group and individual dialogue.   Let them know you’re their ally, working for them!

Communicate relentlessly—Talk to employees about the challenges you’re dealing with, issues you’re trying to balance, information you’re trying to get a handle on. When employees understand how decisions evolve, they’re better able to accept changes that affect them.

Make decisions—Take a position, intervene, and resolve things expeditiously. Don’t waiver and don’t delay. Be willing to change your decision when you’re wrong. Leaders need to keep the ball rolling.

Good leaders are a gift. Bad ones are an albatross. If it were easy to be good, every leader would be.

How do you stack up?

If you want to know if you’re a good leader, look around. Are employees following you because they want to or because they’re stuck with you?

Here are a few leaders who missed the mark:

The new CEO of an intensely mission-focused, non-profit reorganized, displacing a number of employees. He took off for a global business trip one week before the affected employees were notified, making him unavailable for any questions. It was clear he didn’t intend to “be there” for his employees.

The vice president of a financially strapped, non-profit had been fully involved in decision-making with her CEO to save the agency. The VP typically hid in her office, avoiding interaction with her employees. When she had to communicate the changes, instead of owning them, she blamed the decisions solely on the CEO.  It didn’t take long for the truth to come out.

The senior leadership of a major corporation routinely promoted “favorite sons and daughters” to lofty positions. When their leadership didn’t deliver expected results, they pointed the finger at their department managers, making them scapegoats. This is all it takes to crush a band of followers!

Leadership is a moral obligation. 

If no one is following, you aren’t leading. It’s as simple as that! If you’ve never read, Leadership Is An Art by Max DePree, now’s the time. 

Taking the lead is a business fitness smart move—a public one. When you lead, everyone sees what you do and who you are. Let your legacy as a leader be an exemplary one and not scandal. Go on…make yourself proud!

What’s been the worst example of scandalous leadership that you’ve experienced? What was the outcome? Thanks for sharing, as always!


Clueless Leadership! Can You Bear It? | The Perils of Non-Communication

Do I have to say it too? “Communication is the backbone of good leadership.” Hasn’t it been said enough already? Aren’t there enough books, training programs, and speeches out there to drive home the point?

Then why are so many people in leadership positions clueless? Why don’t they communicate well, at the right time, and with the right message?

It must be faulty wiring.

There seem to be four extremes. Leaders who:

  • Have nothing to say
  • Don’t know what to say or how to say it
  • Talk but say nothing

It’s so frustrating. As employees we need and want information that positions us to do great work, make sound decisions, and support the company. It’s what builds our morale, loyalty, optimism, and willingness to do more.

Unfortunately, we often work for people who hoard what they know, believing that their value and influence are connected to their “insider” information.

When leaders are disconnected from us, they often have no idea about what information we find useful like:

  • The state of the business
  • The attitudes of customers
  • The competition
  • Our performance
  • Career opportunities
  • New products, equipment, and services
  • Processes and policies 

When these leaders aren’t tuned into us, we’re left out.

The light only comes on if you throw the switch. 

One day I got a call from a veterinarian with a large and small animal practice.  At the time I was doing a good bit of veterinary practice management consulting.

He told me that he thought he had a problem I could help him with.

“What’s your situation?” I asked.

“My associate veterinarian is leaving at the end of his one year contract,” he explained.

“I see. What’s unique about that?”

”He’s the tenth one to leave in ten years,” he replied.

“Do you know why?” I asked.

“No. That’s why I’m calling you.”

So I went and I watched and asked questions. It didn’t take long to see that the owner was a man who wanted no part of management. He just wanted to treat animals, particularly farm animals. He didn’t want to deal with employees, so he never engaged with them.

The silence of the lambs tells the story.

While conducting my practice walk-through, I saw the associate veterinarian and the technician in the operating room where they had delivered twin lambs by C-section. The ewe’s incision was being closed and the tech was on the floor trying to give CPR to the two lambs. She needed help.

I put down my papers and got down on the floor with her, taking one of the lambs and blowing into its nostrils, trying to get its lungs to work.

While the young veterinarian, the tech, and I were giving our all, the owner walked into the OR, looked at the ewe and at us. He then turned and walked out, never saying a word. No encouragement. No suggestions. No solace. Nothing.

In spite of our efforts, both lambs died. The ewe had been in labor too long. We were all distraught, though relieved that the ewe lived.

In my consulting report, I gave a straight-forward description of the factors that likely contributed to the departure of those ten associates. Ultimately, the owner closed his small animal practice to become a crop farmer, providing veterinary services to farm animals on his own. He realized his limitations and refocused on doing what he loved and did best.

It’s a pity when leaders don’t see how their inability to communicate negatively impacts their employees, themselves, and the business. So much time and energy are lost.

Follow the clues. Solve the mysteries.  

Poor communicators are costly to their companies. They waste time, cause errors, drive away good employees, and gum up the works. To be business fit we have to communicate effectively. It’s the backbone of staying connected, attracting a following, and taking the lead. When things aren’t going quite right for you, look at how you’re communicating. You’ll never regret it!

Have you had a clueless boss? Was communication his/her issue or something else? We’re dying to know!