He was on the fast track. Brought in to the organization to help turnaround a woefully ineffective department. His arrival was filled with high energy, creative ideas, and a level of brainpower not seen in that department before. Fundamental problems were tackled, poor performers were moved out, and a new team was born. Everything was on the right track.
Until it wasn't anymore.
Being Really Smart is Good
Our specialized world has seen the role of generalists fade into history. Whether we're talking about information technology, engineering, health care, human resources, or a host of other professions, it is rare to see someone who can jump from role to role and not only understand the details, but also create valuable work product.
When we find leaders that are bright enough to understand the details of a job and have the interpersonal skill set to bring the team along too it's terrific. This combination of brainpower and personality can make all the difference in the life of a team.
Being Unable to Understand Boundaries is Really Bad
We all struggle to work with people who are really bright, yet lack the leadership awareness to understand how crucial interpersonal skills are when leading others. How can this be? Perhaps the most important leadership skill of all is the ability to communicate effectively. So where have we failed the bright minds that can contribute so much, yet end up failing miserably because they can not interact with others?
Whether they are socializing too closely with their team members, participating in office gossip, or clearly showing who their "favorites" are, these leaders ultimately fail due to their inability to understand how important boundaries are in the workplace.
Should the organization tell new leaders that they aren't supposed to socialize with their direct reports? Is it a secret that playing favorites will ultimately bring down the leader, not the people who aren't on their favorites list? Isn't this obvious?
Being Humble is Really Necessary
So how does the leader attempt to salvage an almost impossible situation? The first step is understanding that they are wrong. Simply because they are smart and have a vision of how things are supposed to be means nothing.
Crossing the line with the team negates the innovative ideas, breakthrough thinking, and opportunities further down the line in their careers. Everything stops until self-awareness kicks in.
The second step, and most difficult of all, is to publicly acknowledge their failings. This is where most leaders bristle at the thought and fall short of the potential for turning their situation around. You see the world loves giving people second chances. We all watch as tearful apologies are aired over and over on television. Why do we watch? Because we get a level of satisfaction from knowing we were right, they were wrong, and now things can get back to normal. Right?
How About You
The long and painful process of recognizing personal failure is not easy to get through. The only real goal is to hope that through a sustained effort of publicly apologizing to the team, truly changing behavior, and improving one's interpersonal skill set that one day that leader will get to a level of neutral with the team. Neutral isn't sexy, but it beats the heck out of failure.
I'd love to hear from you.