My Leaders Aren’t Leading… What’s up with that??

It’s frustrating. We put people in charge of departments, functions, shifts… in charge of people.

Then, nothing.

Of course, I don’t really mean “nothing,” as that would make the decision a bit easier. What I mean, of course, is nothing much. They may handle some perfunctory management tasks, maybe some rudimentary (and elementary) supervision of people who don’t really need much. They probably even take care of most of their own personal performance responsibilities.

But, they just aren’t leading.

Why is that??

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again… I’m a simple guy. Occam’s Razor is my guide for most decisions – simplest is usually the best. If you hear hoof beats, it’s probably horses. Not zebras.

In that vein, here goes: When leaders don’t lead, there can be only three potential causes:

1. They don’t want to. Maybe we mismatched or misplaced them when we promoted someone who (a) didn’t really want it, or (b) doesn’t really believe that they are a leader. In the former, we frequently take our best operator (accountant, technician, sales rep, etc.) and “promote” them into leadership, thereby losing our best performer and gaining our worst leader. Bad juju.

If the latter, it can be caused by a leader leading friends, or people they’ve known and worked with for a long time, and they just can’t fully grasp their new leadership responsibilities. It’s time to educate them. Spell out specific expectations, then manage to those expectations. Performance management 101.

2. You won’t let them. Maybe you’re a micro-manager (see related article), or even worse, a micro meddler, creating drive-by crises then moving along to your next unsuspecting victim.

Perhaps the organization – intentionally or not – has created a structure that just doesn’t allow the freedom for others to lead. Too much oversight with too little accountability can create this situation.

3. They don’t know how. Remember, without formal development, most of us learn leadership like we learn a lot of things – osmosis, watching, listening, and emulating others. Sometimes that’s a good thing, other times not so much. Frankly, it’s a crap-shoot. A great method for reinforcing, but a lousy way for learning.

If you really want your leaders to know what they are doing, teach them exactly that. Build their skills on the foundations and competencies that you need in your organization and make sure their leadership values (not necessarily style) are consistent. I can think of no better way to create leaders that succeed in your organization.

This isn’t really difficult stuff. I’ll say again that leadership practices, concepts and theory – and most applications – haven’t changed much in a couple thousand years. Let’s not complicate it unnecessarily.

But that’s just me…


Kevin Berchelmann

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