Why Leaders Underperform: The Leadership Default is to Find Fault
I was coaching James a new leader who had three direct reports. After about 6 months he was given another team of four to supervise. I talked to James about meeting with them individually and getting to know them, their work challenges and strengths. Then encouraged him to have a team meeting to go over his expectations, theirs and develop team norms.
It seemed like an easy task to do. Week after week when I checked in with him he hadn’t done it yet because he was a “working manager” with his own tasks and assignments which always took precedent over these leadership tasks. It became embarrassing for each of us as he always started off each coaching sessions with an apology that he hadn’t had these meeting yet. He was too busy with his own work. He was technically very sound and a nice guy but some of the basic emotional intelligent competencies, such as assertiveness, empathy, confidence, teamwork and collaboration, and emotional expressiveness were not utilized enough
As to be expected his new team became frustrated with him that he didn’t understand their jobs and they felt ignored. They complained to James’ boss. His credibility as a manager was tarnished and he had an uphill battle to gain just some of it back.
Why did this happen to James and cause him to underperform?
How come he didn’t have these supposedly easy meetings?
Was it skill or will or something else?
We all know about work life balance but many leaders fail at “work leadership balance.”
Now we know why. Scientist led by Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland Ohio reported in NeuroImage that the brain has a built in neural constraint that stops us from thinking analytically and empathically at the same time This causes a leadership dilemma, because what takes precedence daily is analysis or problem solving over leadership actions.
Tasks such as trying understand the direct reports perspective, listening versus telling, being empathic or knowing how to communicate in a way that the direct report truly gets are on a different neural channel that doesn’t get tuned in easily. The leadership tasks are either unknown or they get relegated to do at a later time, like James did. Theses leadership tasks or checklist aren’t urgent and thus take back seat to the business deadline driven and analytical problems.
There are many reasons for the ignored or relegated leadership checklist as the chart below demonstrates:
Work Checklist Leadership Checklist
Urgent Not urgent
Significant experience Lmited experience
Usually trained Usually untrained
Easy to do Hard to do
Brain friendly Brain threat
Immediate reinforcement Long term
Immediate consequence Delayed
The key work tasks for a leader are on their calendar, but are your vital few leadership tasks on the calendar? The good news is your leadership tasks can take 5 minutes to 2 hours, but not all day long, you just have make sure you turn that channel on during the day.
Leaders’ Daily Checklist
So what should be on your leadership checklist to counteract your analysis default.
In Leading with Emotional Intelligence there are over 100 strategies that leaders can do to increase and sustain their performance. A few micro initiatives can have a macro impact.