Leadership Derailment Sneaks Up On Busy Leaders
Leadership derailment often comes as a blind-sided shock to leaders. But it shouldn’t. Postmortem explanations for the root causes of leaders going off the rails usually boils down to one or more commonly seen factors:
- Self-doubt and a drop in self-confidence causing poor thinking and analysis.
- Too much focus and worry about potential negative outcomes.
- Cognitive overload resulting from busy brain syndrome.
- Inability to handle distractions, resulting in poor focus.
Here is what leadership derailment feels like. One moment you are the person in charge with the undisputed voice of authority, the driver of results. And then, without warning and seemingly from out of the shadows appear little erosions and self-doubt in your leadership capabilities. At first, these go unnoticed. Then small, illuminating signs make their appearance on a gradually more frequent basis.
You start to question your decisions, and so do others (silently at first and then verbally). You become hesitant to make decisions that previously were routine. Postponing action, under the guise of waiting for more data, turns from an occasional occurrence into a habit.
You run around hurriedly getting lots of things done, but nothing strategic or of importance seems to get accomplished. Outcomes and results still show some progress but are not up to your expectations or those of your boss.
And then the big questions really hit home: are you cut out for this leadership thing? Or should you revert to the individual contributor role at which you previously excelled? Additionally, you start to wonder if your leadership role has become a title only, an empty shell unsupported by your actions, thoughts, and decisions.
Another leadership derailment illness occurs when leaders become disassociated with their team or individual direct reports. Symptoms of this kind of derailment include either isolation or heightened micromanaging, both of which create problems for professional working relationships. They also impact decision making and the outcomes produced by the team or individual team members.
In a March 2018 article in Harvard Business Review titled The Most Common Type of Incompetent Leader, Scott Gregory wrote, “The key determinant characteristics of bad managers are well documented and fall into three broad behavior categories: 1) moving away behaviors, 2) moving against behaviors, and 3) moving toward behaviors.”
Gregory writes that “moving away behaviors” create distance from others through hyper-emotionality, diminished communications, and skepticism that erodes trust. Behaviors that overpower and manipulate people while aggrandizing the self he labels as “moving against behaviors.” Lastly, the “moving toward behaviors” include being ingratiating, overly conforming, and a reluctance to take chances or stand up for one’s team.
All of these behavior categories are bad habits that leaders can easily fall into. I would advocate that the key causes of these derailment habits are workload pressures, multitasking, constant interruptions throughout the typical workday, and the resultant inability to spend sufficient time and focus on the important rather than the urgent. These are also the signs of being a mind full leader.
This article is excerpted from my recent book Better Decisions Better Thinking Better Outcomes: How to go from Mind Full to Mindful Leadership, available on Amazon in both paperback ($18.88) and Kindle ($7.88) formats.