Mind the Leadership Gap

Poor Leadership often shows up as one of the top reasons that companies fail, but is poor leadership really leadership at all?

There are currently over 40,000 books on Amazon on the topic of Leadership. Universities and schools across the world invest millions into curricula and degrees dedicated to making people better leaders. Yet organizations continue to suffer because of Poor Leadership and it consistently comes up as one of the top reasons organizations fail.

How to be an effective leader is one of the keys to heaven that many people spend their entire careers searching for but much like self-help diet books, the industry of seeking out how to make people better leaders capitalizes on its own failure. Sufficient articles have been written on the distinction between Management and Leadership, yet why do so few managers recognize their own gaps in this area? Why does Poor Leadership continue to persist as a top reason for organizational failure when the cost-analysis and evidence is so blatant?

The cost of employee turnover can range between fifty to two hundred percent of the annual salary of employees. Alternatively, a Company that is offsetting the risk of lower revenues by “buying” highly paid talent can be equally misleading. All they are really doing is overcompensating for the lack of true Leadership or the ability to inspire loyalty. After all, anyone trying to “buy” loyalty, will find they are in fact buying nothing at all.

Leaders vs Managers

True Leadership marries accountability, authority and responsibility all the way to the top, the absolute very top. It is the integrity and self-awareness to recognize that a Company’s successes are credited to Management to equal proportions that it is responsible for the tiniest failures and faintest errors within its authority.

Diagnosing Poor Leadership as the cause for a company’s downfall is like submitting an incomplete answer. The Lack of Self-Awareness of Poor Leadership is the real reason companies fail.

In a void, many things like authority, wealth, aggressiveness, articulation, political savviness can easily masquerade as Leadership. After all, Leadership is neutral in morality, character and visibility. Great individual contributors, often driven by their own ambition, can be promoted into positions of authority before being formally trained on effective leadership. On the other hand, many qualified, responsible and able employees may easily lack the political awareness to rise up and effect a broader change.

Improper Panning, Lack of Market Differentiation, Toxic Corporate Culture, Inadequate Financial Management are all just offshoots of Poor Leadership. And this is where the debate between a Leader and  Boss comes into play. There are many easy simple representations highlighting the theoretical difference.

But in reality, people always want to reconcile that what they have or are has been earned even if it was disproportionately received. The most inept bosses will find a way to take credit for luck while blame others for their failures. The leadership gap is not wanting to accept that responsibility and authority go hand in hand. But while they fundamentally know that Leadership is based on conscientiousness, integrity and an ability to empower, they willfully ignore they lack these qualities.

Beware the Leadership Masquerade

The term “sour grapes” comes from an old children’s tale. Driven by hunger, a fox tried to reach some grapes hanging high on the vine but was unable to, although he leaped with all his strength. As he went away, the fox remarked ‘Oh, you aren’t even ripe yet! I don’t need any sour grapes.’

A disconnect between reality and ones own self-perception of value, competency and even desires, leads to frustration which must be resolved by either: coming up with a justification or a remedy. While remedies usually are drastic, typically rationalization or confirmation bias is the preferred route. While most people want to believe they follow a linear argument train of thought to come to their conclusions. The reality is that most people create their conclusions and they work backwards to justify them (ie. the fox can’t get the grapes and therefore rationalizes why he doesn’t want them).

A modern office environment take on the story is probably one that is not unfamiliar to most: Your boss decides to go forward with an action plan, despite everyone else’s concerns, that is ill-conceived and unclear on its merits or direction. It fails, creates poor morale and ends up being a financial loss. Your boss blames your poor execution, inability to warn him of the consequences or maybe claims bad luck. Maybe he even justifies it by saying: “We’re better off anyway!”

Self awareness is key

Ironically, of the reasons for organizational failure, Poor Leadership is the only one that has the authority to correct itself, and yet often there is no accountability to recognize itself. But ultimately there is no faking it. The company will either lose those who have true leadership qualities, the impostor will either be forced out or else he/she will manage the company off a cliff.

Although the impostor will continue to blame others for their failures under his regime, it will not change the fact that the company he was managing failed. That is why an organization must take a conscious, honest and consistent approach on reflecting on how to effectively measure and promote Leadership within itself.

Taking it one step further, measuring Leadership should start with measuring self-awareness and accountability. One would almost argue that measuring leadership starts with understanding by what means, why and how does Leadership ask for feedback, walking a fine line between arrogance and humility. It may not be a perfect measurement, but its a start.

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