Are you a leadership lightweight?

2014

A "Lightweight", the Merriam-Webster Dictionary tells us, is "one of little consequence or ability". Thankfully, it’s quite uncommon for a leader or manager to be a lightweight in every aspect of their job. But none of us are perfect: all of us have blinds spots and areas where we need to raise the bar (sometimes a long way) to improve the quality and effectiveness of our work.

The first step in setting out to address these areas and becoming more relevant is to know what you don't know. So here are five common pitfalls that can keep you stuck in the lightweight division.

1. Blaming others for a lack of results

It's annoying, frustrating yet surprisingly common to hear leaders or managers complaining about and blaming external forces for their inability to deliver results. It might be the economy, the government, the weather, the competition, the time of year, the inventory, the shareholders or their boss, but it is invariably an excuse.

Assuming the role of victim or martyr is a convenient way to take the focus off your own failures, inefficiencies, lack of success and lack of strength and/or courage to step up.

The Antidote: Your internal decisions are what determine your success and effectiveness, not external forces. Better to look at one's face in the mirror than stare out a window. In reality, you can control about 80 per cent of what gets in your way and decide whether and how you will react and respond to it. So focus on the things you can control rather than the minority of factors that you aren’t able to influence.

You can control things like your attitude, work ethic, how and where you spend your time, effort and energy, and with whom you spend it. Equally, whether you approach and carry out everyday tasks honestly and responsibly is entirely up to you.

Until a leader or manager has mastered these aspects of their job (and their self) and moved out of the quicksand of martyrdom and victimhood, excuses (not reasons) will remain part of their DNA as lightweights.

2. Being reluctant to hold others accountable

Another thing you can control as a leader or manager is accountability - the key to creating the (healthy) pressure, energy or tension to perform the tasks required to sustain organizational culture and produce results.

The Antidote: One of the most fundamental tasks of any manager is having the courage and strength to set clear expectations and make sure they're stretching their employees (and themselves). Without clear expectations, holding people accountable for results is an impossible and often unpleasant experience for everyone involved.

It’s also important that there are consequences if established behavior and performance standards are not met. If there are no consequences for failing to meet defined goals and targets, you are simply perpetuating deficient behavior.

3. Making easy, popular, convenient (and wrong) decisions

Some managers would prefer to derailing their team or their entire organization rather than take difficult decisions that will prove unpopular or rock the boat. That can be a fatal weakness. If a leader or managers lacks the fortitude and the psycho/emotional strength to make hard choices, it may serve them, and others, well to consider moving out of their current position and explore opportunities that are more in sync with their skills and capacities.

The Antidote: Quality and excellence do not come as a result of making decisions because they're easy, popular or convenient. Excellence only comes about as a result of decisions being taken that are right, irrespective of whether they are costly, difficult, uncomfortable or inconvenient.

The more uncomfortable a decision feels and the more discomfort a leader or manager experiences in making a choice, the more likely and probable the potential is for actualization of growth. Spending valuable time hiding in denial or searching for ways to avoid the discomfort or pain of change is a lose-lose situation. Neither the individual nor the team or organization will experience real growth.

4. Being too self-reliant

No one is indispensable to their organization - no one! Relax, you may be good, but, you’re not that good! As General de Gaulle observed, "The graveyard is filled with indispensable men.” And I might add, "Remember the window-washer (on the high-rise building) who stepped back to admire his handiwork." Disaster.

The Antidote: The single biggest obstacle to building a healthy team or organization is ego. Few things will undermine a leader more quickly or more comprehensively. Managers with an inflated sense of their own importance often unknowingly or unconsciously perpetuate a cycle of psychopaths and sycophants. They create fear, stifle engagement, undermine morale and encourage the best and the brightest to lose interest and, worst of all, leave.

An effective leader is one who empowers others. They find ways to make their people less, not more, dependent on them. In fact, the greatest measure of a leader or manager's supervision is not how people perform while they're micro-managing their work, but how well folks perform when they're not around.

5. Keeping the wrong people for too long

Every manager will, from time to time, find themselves confronted by someone who is either so unsuited to their job or so incompetent that even if they do improve to a degree, they'll never reach the level of performance required from them.

It’s no good trying to make allowances in this situation or to try to make that employee not good, better or best, but just "not bad". Excellence can’t be achieved by mediocrity, by a group of people who are "not bad".

The Antidote: It’s a sad fact that if you continue to invest energy and resources in below-average individuals and see no real upturn in their performance, you're wasting your time. The situation isn’t just unhealthy for the manager, but it is giving the incompetent employee a false sense of security, hope and stability. You may also be robbing your high-potential people of the support and attention they need to move from already-good to ‘great’.

In these circumstances, you need to find a way to honestly, yet compassionately, cut your losses and redirect your resources to your current and potential solid performers.

Questions to Get you Started

While there are certainly more genes in the DNA of lightweight leaders, these five questions are a good starting point.

  • What outside conditions are you prone to blame for your organization or team's lack of results?
  • Whose behavior must you put into check with an effective coaching conversation (with consequences attached) to turn around poor performance? What are you waiting for to initiate this conversation? Do you need to have this conversation with yourself?
  • Which of your people have you made less dependent on you by broadening their latitude and discretion?
  • What more can you do to make people more capable while you free yourself up to spend more time on high-leverage tasks?
  • Do you have a "project" on your team who continues to hover at a below-average performance level with no sign of an upward trend? How much more time and money will you invest in this rescue mission? And why?

There is no crime in discovering or admitting that you’re a lightweight. The crime is the reluctance to do the work needed to move up into an altogether heavier class.

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About The Author

Peter Vajda
Peter Vajda

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a seminar leader, workshop facilitator and speaker. He is the founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.