1. The leader has all the answers
Whether or not the leader has all of the answers is beside the point. A lot of leaders feel like they have to have all of the answers, regardless of whether or not they have any. Team members come to rely on the leader’s view, and common sense and just as they would rely on anyone in a social hierarchy. This is a fundamental problem because no one person can know everything, and the leader has to guide the course and direction or the organisation, forcing them into a position to constantly have to make decisions without all of the information. It works for a little while; however it wears the leader out and paints them into a corner creating dependency they can’t easily unwind. Eventually team members stop thinking for themselves, and the ones that do, provide support and nestle into a position of control under the leaders wing all the while undermining the health of the culture. A problem that can be difficult to resolve without the right people tools and structure.
2. The employee actually likes the conundrum of having someone else do the thinking for them
There is a paradigm I discovered a few years ago which illustrates a contradiction in how people operate on a day to day basis. This contradiction has an impact on people’s willingness to take instruction and produces resentment as an unfortunate side effect of being told what to do.
In a social hierarchy there is a pecking order that is established across an organisational culture. Now this might sound fluffy and tedious as the word culture, especially business culture is fundamentally misunderstood. A wise man once said to me when you have more than 2 people you have politics and I agree. So, in a nutshell the paradigm I discovered called the “School Teacher Paradigm”, basically says that people lose their enthusiasm toward receiving training, instruction or education as they go through the schooling system only to leave school and replace the teacher for an employer. That would be fine if they didn’t act like naughty school children when they didn’t get their own way, create parallel management structures in order to control the environment (including the resources you are paying for). The school teacher paradigm is a mode of operation that when unhitched, frees up an organisation to relate “cross silo’s”, and releases the possibility of the elusive state of peer accountability.
3. The leader equates success to the feeling of being needed
Whether we like it or not, the social currency for acceptance is approval and we all like to be approved of at some level. Gallup research showed in one study about nurses “employee engagement levels” in hospitals (a fairly challenging environment for motivation in any role) – discovered that employees that were regularly acknowledged had a significant improvement in engagement, and the other interesting finding from the study was the discovery that people that were reprimanded “a negative form of acknowledgement” also had a marginal increase in engagement greater than those that weren’t acknowledged at all.
What does this have to do with feeling needed? Well unfortunately a negative interaction with an unruly employee only worsens the problem, by inadvertently creating a sick kind of dependency from some destructive personalities in pivotal roles – creating a recurring cycle where they repeat destructive behaviours only to receive a reprimand then do it all over again. The lack of willingness for the leader to “cut the tie” renders them powerless to the situation.
At the first stage in a businesses’ evolution the leader needs to have co-dependent relationships in order to sustain and grow the business. As the leader’s skills and mindset grows, their ability to operate a fully-fledged business without co-dependency increases. While they still like the feeling of belonging and being needed, the co-dependency decreases, this can be disconcerting for some team members.
4. The leader doesn’t know what else to do, even if they were free of the organisation
Like all aspect of life, we form routines and those routines feel safe – even if they are counterproductive or aren’t fully producing a sustained result. I hear the old line in the background over and over… “well this is the way we’ve always done it”. I’d like a $20 note please (U.S Dollars) for every time I’ve heard that.
The world is changing, and people fear change. What team members, business owners and leaders don’t fully recognize is that their work has become their life and they wouldn’t know what to do if they weren’t shackled to it like a ball and chain. The truth of it is that with a little encouragement and support the younger generation are good business people. They don’t have the technical knowledge that the baby boomers have yet, that built their businesses with blood sweat and tears. Some leaders when given the option would rather hang around the business, than go play golf or read a novel.
5. Employees become addicted to the story, instead of enjoying the freedom taking responsibility will provide for them
One of my clients has a large privately-owned manufacturing firm and it makes me almost laugh out loud when they share their frustration, empathetically of course. The two owners go to China on regular occasion to look for new ideas and product. Their trips last for two to three weeks and during that time they say their team operate better while they’re unavailable to troubleshoot smaller problems. When they’re at work they’re constantly interrupted with people coming to them for answers on trivial matters that when the owners are absent, the staff solve themselves. The business is in good shape, having doubled in the last few years with a healthy margin in a very saturated market. I help companies in commoditized markets hone their core competency and create a point of difference they can leverage, so they are more profitable and gain a market leadership position.
6. The leader doesn’t know how to get the team to buy in to systems running the business
Often delegation by abdication is employed as a skill set to shift responsibility by the leader. Let’s face it, leadership training and education is very light and the subject while as old as the human race has had very little written about it until recently. A business will grow to the ability of the leader and when unsupported with insufficient context and understanding, the business will shrink back to the level of the leaders’ mindset.
That being said this is a double-edged sword, on one hand it means the leader is often the choke point in their organisation and on the other hand with a little bit of external intervention into the leaders mindset – significant improvements can happen very quickly. Leadership is one of the fastest levers to pull from a business development perspective.
Throwing a body at a problem is not a solution and neither is throwing money at it. A very successful business owner once told me “in order to solve the problem, you actually have to solve the problem”, he is on New Zealand’s Rich List and is my definition of a real entrepreneur, having successfully listed and exited a publicly listed company.
7. Good old manipulation through fear of loss (essentially blackmail)
The employee sets the leader up so the leader can’t ask for more from them, making it increasingly difficult to change things outside of the job description by blackmailing the leader with an implied threat of employment law.
Something that I walk people through in my “inside out – performance triangle” for producing ongoing change, is “interaction” (one side of the triangle). A company needs to make a shift from interacting reactively with people that exhibit passive/aggressive behaviours to a new protocol based on accountability/boundaries and performance. The net result is a transition from co-dependent – semi dependent – interdependent; interdependent being the optimal state.
In a co-dependent relationship between the employer and employee a significant factor in the construct is the implied threat in the background “if you don’t give me what I want, I’ll leave” and at the employer’s end “if you don’t do as I ask I’ll fire you”. Both of these arguments are fear based and leverage an implied threat of negative consequence. The problem here is that if the situation gets to the point where the consequence plays out it’s too late to reverse the damage.
We need to move the needle forward to becoming the fence at the top of the cliff, rather than the ambulance at the bottom. In other words construct a situation where there are redundant fall back positions that the leader can execute to shift bad behavior, or lack of accountability to the point where the employee has to make a decision to either get on board, or continue the behavior. The two separate issues are a) employment contract and b) performance within the organisation, including social interaction that leads toward performance and they need to be treated separately.
8. The leader doesn’t know how to implement boundaries and without consequences for minor breaches
Boundaries, boundaries and more boundaries. When a company has a vision and direction the majority subscribes to, actions outside of this direction stick out like a sore thumb. There is a very specific sequence to implement boundaries and the implementation of them is very important as boundaries create a delineation between people, including the employee and the boss. Boundaries and very misunderstood and the use of consequences is rife. When consequences are used correctly they stop manipulative behavior in its tracks – or expose destructive intention for what it really is. The common misunderstanding about boundaries is that the consequences are a form of threat, however the truth is quite the opposite. Manipulators and troublemakers reconstruct your attempts to implement boundaries as abusive behavior, when in fact their repetitive attempts to take over the organisations culture so they can control the resources is abusive.
People that are willing to work within boundaries are drawn toward an organisation with clear delineation between people, performance and accountability as they know delinquent peers won’t be tolerated there. Your business occurs to them as a safe haven where they can get on and do their best work without having to put up with a whole lot of nonsense. People used to this high functioning modus operandi know it takes this kind of structure to get things done, fast. People that try to reject boundaries consequences as malicious, re framing them as a counter attack – expose their lack of emotional intelligence as well as intent to gain control over the team and organisation. People with this kind of demeanor lower morale and undermine progress. Boundaries are a very useful tool to isolate troublemakers and force them to choose – on, or off the bus.
9. The leader becomes part of the problem and is outnumbered
It’s a numbers game and as an organisation grows, so do the number of people to manage. Structure becomes increasingly important as complexity increases, so do attempts to build silos within the organisation. Silo mentality always creeps in, so don’t be alarmed – the real trick is to master communication lines and build into each departments’ functional accountability structures. In other words develop KPI’s that are simple and visible as well as having the majority of people on board with a master plan. This is essential as it creates a future focus that provides a spirit of intent toward a common cause. People see their work as contributing to something greater than themselves.
In WWII one of the most demoralizing punishment they used in concentration camps was asking POW’s to move a pile of dirt from one end of the compound to another, then move it back again once finished. Conversely there’s an old proverb about a bricklayer who when asked one day, why day after day he continued to put bricks into the wall; he replied, “I’m building a temple”.
Please make sure your people aren’t moving piles of dirt.
10. Progress seems impossible
Yes, as a leader we can get wound up in the fishing line and every move seems to tighten the straight jacket we have found ourselves in. These forces are very real and there are many bodies of work to illustrate the paradox. We actually need to build a plan with steps, not just increasing market share, volume, or margin – but a plan to freedom with steps and milestones. Company’s get stuck at ceilings, or stall points and when this happens it can be very difficult to ascend to the next level without a road-map.
Business leaders I have come across that have done the exercise have a sense of exhilaration about them as they know when they’re going to exit, or how long it will take their new revenue stream to reach a break even point. Having a plan creates a sense of certainty and urgency to correlate actions with the goal. On three occasions my clients have increased sales (across very different industries) all in saturated markets by none less than 100% growth over 3 years. Now that might not seem a lot, however 40% growth in 12 months on top of $3 million in annual sales is a significant accomplishment. We need to get many aspects of the business working congruently in order to gain this kind of volume with margin – sustainably.