Sunday, January 13, 2013

Leaders risk being misunderstood

If a “leader” is the one with the vision and must stay in front of the team, can they ever really be understood by their “manager”?  We are at performance review time at many legacy companies and it is a valid question.

I was asked this question in a coaching session the other day.  The logic was that leaders are typically misunderstood because they see a future others cannot.  Often the case, leaders visualize the work being accomplished in ways their peers and bosses cannot comprehend.  If this is true and if their manager bosses are conducting the performance review, isn’t it better to conform to the legacy company norms and reduce risk?

This is probably the biggest risk a leader faces when in a legacy company.  Many years ago I completed my master degree thesis on a very simple hypothesis, “Do managers know the difference between management and leadership and do they promote leaders or people like themselves?” (CSULB 1987)  The statistical significant result of the research was not good news for leaders.  Managers knew the difference and promoted those like themself.  After years of reflection, the great equalizer became superior communication skills.  A leader has to articulate their vision and approach far more than a manager following direction.

Have you seen leaders at risk due to not being understood?  What coaching have you given them?

6 comments:

Tom Donnelly said...


Ahhh performance review time. Love it not.

Your question awakens a memory to a time when I was in fact asked the question: What is it that you do do?

I was fulfilling the role of commodity manager, strategic thinking, planning, looking ahead. Just finished a very significant and high impact $10m project with this LEAN guru. After the project, I guess he felt comfortable enough to talk.

He came over and said, I sit near you, I see you answer the phone at 8:00 every day, and bam, you are off and running all day long, solving problems, getting I don't know what done.

So, he asks, what is it that you really do do?

Here is the crux John.
My reply, "you see, I solve tomorrows problems today".
I look forward and 'see' a very significant problem within the supply chain that can take your organization out at the knees. I endeavor to circumvent the problem, ensuring little disruption within the chain.

And sir, if my team members are really truly successful, If we are able to catch the problem soon enough that we can prevent it from ever reaching the production floor......

You will never know that that problem ever existed!

Therefore, within the confines of absolute success, to you and within your eyes, "I do nothing".

Very good question John, can leaders, doers, mentors, if successful, can they ever be understood?

I think, it takes a visionary manager, to have the sight to see the value that employees bring, or do not bring to the table. In business, it is not all x's and o's, zero's and ones.

J Wong said...

John when you say “A leader has to articulate their vision and approach far more than a manager following direction.” This true but the real successful leaders are able to accurately communicate their vision in a way everyone can understand it and be motivated to follow it. It is up to the leaders to get teams motivated to move in the direction of the vision you set forth. This means peers, bosses and those direct reports. Sometimes the really smart leaders who are leading the pack may not be articulating the message in a way that motivates or connects the people to their day to day activities. The Leaders who are skilled at this will succeed anywhere. Hopefully the companies that hire these talented leaders see the talent they bring to the table and embrace the diversity in approaches. If the company norms are the right ones then it should be moving the company in the right direction but if there is some updating or enhancements that need to happen to the company norms then that may be the reason why they bring on a leader who is able to articulate a vision and to take the company in an “enhanced” direction.

PS I would like to read your thesis some time.

Resort Management said...

Some time for sure conditions are like such that leadership risk can some what be miss understood. But in the long run people are yet to realize their mistakes and make decisions for correcting wrong decisions.

Katherina said...

I believe that one of the drawbacks of being a leader is the risk of being misunderstood. As a leader, you are a visionary, you must be aware of what is realistic and achievable given the existing resources you have as compared to what is impossible. To illustrate, if you are envisioning your company to overcome the competition but wouldn't want to invest on technology then you will surely run the risk of not getting the approval of our employees.

Another cause of being misunderstood as a leader is poor communication. As a leader you must make sure that your goals are communicated and explained well to your managers, and employ a feedback mechanism to ensure that your subordinates are given the opportunity to speak for what is actually happening in the workplace.

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Eshan said...
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