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 leaders 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 and makes sense for a time, however in a funny way the leader paints themselves into a corner creating dependency they can’t easily unwind. In the end team members stop thinking for themselves, and the ones that do provide support nestle into a position of control under the leaders wing all the while undermining the health of the culture, occasionally pretending to exhibit leadership qualities. A problem that can be difficult to resolve without the right people tools and structure (see www.nickmuller.co.nz to download the “Same Page Blueprint to start getting people on the same page).
See Video explaining people problems and behaviors - Click here
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 like the word culture, as business culture especially 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 is called the “School Teacher Paradigm”, and basically it says that people lose their enthusiasm toward receiving training, or education as they go through the schooling system only to leave school and replace the teacher for an employer. That would be find if they didn’t act like naughty school children when they didn’t get their own way, also creating 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 when unhitched, frees up an organisation to relate “cross silo’s”, and the elusive state of peer accountability across the organisation is now possible.
3. The leader likes 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) – that employees that were regularly positively 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 behaviors 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.
4. The leader doesn’t know what else to do, even if they were free of the organisation
Like all aspects of life, we form routines and those routines feel safe – even if they are counter productive. I hear the old line in the background “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.
In many cases, especially a lot I’ve seen recently – the world is changing and people don’t like 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 didn’t have it shackled to them like a ball and chain. Its a little bit like the elephan that grows up in the circus with their tail tied to the post. A fully grown elephant could likely pull down the whole tent if it really wanted to, but it doesn't as its accustomed to the comfort of its routine - swaying back and forth obediently.
The truth of it is the younger generation are good business people even though they don't have the technical knowledge yet, like those that built the business with blood sweat and tears – given an exit plan the baby boomers want to hang around for a little while longer just in case. Golf and spending extended periods of time at the batch (beach house) isn’t a completely compelling option.
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 the problems themselves. The business is in good shape, growing by over 45% on a healthy margin over the last few years in a very commoditized market, I help companies in commoditized markets hone their core competency and create a point of difference they can leverage, mostly this works very well in the manufacturing sector and for reseller/distributors.
6. The leader doesn’t know how to get the team to buy in to using systems to run the business.
Often delegation by abdication is employed as a skill set to transfer responsibility to the employee. Lets 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 has a double edge to it, 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.
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 with good reason.
Take the time to slow down and onboard people with the system that will support the function, so it can reliably and repetitively occur, again and again to produce a sustainable result.
7. 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, approach” for producing ongoing change, is interaction. A company needs to make a shift from interacting reactively with people that exhibit passive/aggressive behaviour 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 relationships 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 employers 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 its 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 become obvious. There is a very specific sequence to implement boundaries and they are 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 behaviour 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. People that are willing to work within boundaries are drawn to organisations with clear delineation between people, performance and accountability. People used to this high functioning modus operandi know that it takes this kind of structure to get things done, fast. People that try to reject boundaries consequences as malicious, reframing them as a counter attack to their destructive behavior – expose their lack of emotional intelligence as well as intent to gain control over the organisation. People with this kind of demeanour 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 does the number of people to manage. Structure becomes increasingly important as complexity increases, so do attempts to build silos within the organisation. This is always going to happen, so don’t be alarmed – the real trick is to master communication lines and build into each department functional accountability structures. What I mean by that are KPI’s that are simple and visible as well as having the majority 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.
In world war II one of the most demoralising punishments used in concentration camps was to get the prisoners to move a pile of dirt from one end of the compound to another. People did the minimum possible not to be punished, conversely there’s an old proverb about a bricklayer when asked one day, why day after day he continues to put bricks into the wall; he answered “I’m building a temple”.
Please make sure you 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. Business leaders I have come across that have done the exercise have a sense of exhilaration about them as they know when and how they’re going to exit, or when their new revenue streams should reach break even, or how they’re going to enter untapped marketplaces. 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 commoditized markets by none less than 40% growth. Now that might not seem a lot, however 40% growth in a year on $5million dollars turnover is a significant accomplishment. We need to get many aspects of the business working congruently in order to gain that kind of volume with margin – sustainably.
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