Why Organisations Fail: Leadership Part 1

A leader failing to listen to their staff & customers alike is plotting a one-way course to disaster.

The failures of leadership is a dense topic, and in acknowledgement of this,I’m going to be breaking it up into a series of pieces coming very soon. In today’s piece, however, I’m going to focus on one of the most prevalent behaviours I see leaders exhibit in their organisations which despite their intentions, ultimately works against the best interests of the organisation.

I’d hazard a guess that you’ve seen this take place in one, if not many of the organisations you’ve worked in previously. We’re talking of course about those leaders that believe that everything they say is gospel, and they’re always right.

This is particularly the case when we’re talking about the founder and CEO-type, that can often behave like an irrational overbearing parent. Some people might not subscribe to this logic, however, from my experience having worked alongside hundreds, if not thousands of organisations, leaders need to realise that they’re not always the smartest person in the room. Furthermore, a good leader leans on their staff and empowers them along the way- this has a raft of benefits like increasing the culture and trust in your organisation.

‘Leaders need to realise they’re not always the smartest person in the room- and they’re not always right.’

The one thing that I find gets in the way of this most often is simple: ego. Some leaders in organisations don’t want to be seen as ‘succumbing’ to help from their staff, as it’s a sign of weakness. Organisations like these are almost certainly doomed in the face of market disruption, as it’s unlikely that the leader is an all-encompassing figure with an ear to the ground; your staff can prove invaluable when it comes to anticipating a disruption or noticing a competitor with a new, innovative product or service that threatens yours.

This was noted by MBA, Robert Tanner, in his piece ‘Seven Habits of Ineffective Leaders and Managers’, where he makes specific mention of the fact that overbearing leadership “makes employees feel as if they don’t have any ownership over their job, thereby decreasing productivity. It also makes the manager stressed and on edge as everything rests upon his [and her] performance.”

It’s particularly frustrating to see leaders that have hired a specialist, only to dismiss their ideas. I’ve seen this happen for a number of reasons, everything from a lack of trust, a personal disagreement or quite simply the fact they don’t like the findings of that employee. Sometimes, a leader’s ego will cloud their judgement, and they can often act against the best interests of the organisation as a whole. This problem is compounded with the founder-CEO-type, whose figurative baby is now being taken care of by multiple ‘parents’ in the form of department managers that have come onboard later on in the process. I’m not saying those leaders need to shake off any sense of ownership - that would be ridiculous - but they do need to be aware of the fact that being in this situation can make objective decision making and planning extremely difficult. Perhaps a much-needed pivot for the organisation wasn’t part of the founder’s original vision, and they’re reluctant to make a decision that in reality needs to be made.

‘A good leader will take their hands off the steering wheel, at times letting their staff drive instead.’

A lot of what we’re talking about here centers on the topic of listening to your staff and your customers alike. The type of leader that I’m targeting in this piece is often the manager or CEO sitting behind a closed-door, or the micro-manager-type that doesn’t encourage independence or an empowering culture in their organisation. While this in the short term might give their ego a boost, in the long-term, it’s detrimental to the overall culture of the business, which will become tangible in more tangible forms like a lack of efficiency and profitability.

It’s a shame to see some leaders exhibit this counter-productive behaviour when it’s such an avoidable and easily-reversible behaviour. When talking about egos, it’s difficult, no doubt to get a change overnight, but from what I’ve witnessed consulting with organisations, the leaders that adjust their style to be more supportive rather than oppressive have seen the results pay dividends. Sometimes, a leader won’t even realise they’re behaving like this because they’ve become so engrossed in the organisation’s inner-workings, and they feel as though they’re acting in the best interests of the organisation. Often, a simple step-back and receiving feedback from employees can get the message across effectively.

Remember, while the groundwork of an organisation is often laid by one person, they can very rarely build the structure with the belief that only they are capable of making every decision. Elon Musk, while no doubt one of the world’s brightest brains needs to rely on a team that specialises in something he doesn’t. Leaders need to recognise the fact that the ultimate goal with an organisation is to build a well-oiled machine that can serve customers an impeccable product or service, and can adapt to sudden changes to the market. It’s equally important to acknowledge our shortfalls as human beings, and very rarely can you be absolutely on top of every aspect of your organisation. Once you or the leader has recognised this, you can begin to empower the people in the team to work toward a common goal- unthreatened by a micromanaging, overbearing and unproductive boss that thinks they know it all.

Often, they don’t.

We'll continue on our thread of leadership failures, and ways in which you can address the damage in a piece coming soon.

As always, thanks for your time,

Kobi Simmat.

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