The Absentee Leader

leader leadershipDoes this sound familiar? This is the leader that has the title but doesn’t bother with any sort of execution whatsoever. According to a great article in the Harvard Business Review this is the most common type of incompetent leader there is.

The author also describes the most discussed behaviors of managers that are considered ineffective and I would wager a bet that we have all seen these displayed in the workplace:

  1. “Moving away behaviors” – these create distance from others through hyper-emotionality, diminished communication, and skepticism that erodes trust
  2. “Moving against behaviors” – these include overpowering and manipulating people while aggrandizing the self
  3. “Moving toward behaviors” – these include being ingratiating, overly conforming, and reluctant to take chances or stand up for one’s team

While all of these are not good, the worst is still the mentally absent, yet physically present manager. This is the leader who is there but completely abdicates his or her role. Either through complete lack of interest, incompetence or insecurity. This is the leader that tells you everything is fine when everyone knows it is not. We can never be our best when not given the real and true feedback we need.

One of the reasons we see this so often in entrepreneurs is that they didn’t start a business to be a leader – or necessarily lead an organization intentionally. They had an idea for a product or service and wanted to see it happen and people came with it. Everyone assumes that leading is easy and managing is even easier. Both are equally untrue. It takes work, it takes learning, it takes patience and so much more. For the hard-charging entrepreneur who wants everything yesterday, this is doubly hard.

Asking for help is what good leaders do. Abdicating the role is what absentee leaders do. Missing in plain sight. For employees, knowing that a leader is present in physical form only is maddening. It would almost be better if the absentee leader were actually not in the building because some form of leadership would show up. Having the leader there but not assume the role, prevents anyone else from doing the right thing.

As the leader, it’s your job to take inventory of your own leadership skills and those of your managers. Who is absent on the job? In some cases, they have been promoted into incompetence (as discussed in the article). In others, they don’t care so just take the pay, the title and the perks and leave the rest to the team, assuming credit for everything the team does well and blaming the team for what does not go well. A 360 of the direct reports to the leaders will tell you immediately whether you have an absentee leader. It will also tell you if your managers are deploying any of the 3 most common bad management behaviors. Make a stark assessment and make some adjustments. Don’t be THAT absentee leader of your organization.

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