Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Getting to Neutral

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.

No Excuses.



  1. Jay,

    I think that you bring up a great point, personally I honestly believe there is a changing of the guard happening right now, as older leaders are leaving the workforce, a new generation of leaders has come about bringing with it a new form of interaction with their teams. These leaders are pushing the limits and breaking boundaries. I think that is great thing, and it has led to creation of dynamic teams in many different fields. Although the I think it's safe to say, as with anything new their is a learning curve. This new leadership style is no different and we begin to see where several people pushed too far.

    However, these failures should be used as lessons to the many others, not to instill fear of failure, but to raise a new level of awareness. I would think that you would agree...pushing against established boundaries can be constructive, and although their is a risk, leaders should be able to judge just how far they can go...and once the dust settles...hopefully they would have created a new limit to be achieved.


    1. Thanks for your comment Ernie. I agree...keep pushing the boundaries of an open leadership style!!