The Absent Leader

While most people identify micromanagement as the worst leadership style, there is another type of boss who is equally destructive to an organization, the absent leader.

This is the type of boss who is distant, aloof, or so busy that they don’t perform the basic duties of a leader. Leadership is about being present. It’s about setting the direction for your team and accomplishing goals. It’s also about resolving issues and conflicts when they arise.

When a leader isn’t present and isn’t carrying out these critical duties, chaos reigns.

Absent leaders create a situation where each employee does what they think is best for the organization. Most people care about their company and they want it to succeed but, when the leader steps away, there is not one person guiding the organization. Everybody decides what’s best to do. In the absence of clear direction, the organization will drift further from its mission.

The other problem is that one individual might choose to go one way and another person goes in a different way. This results in the organization getting pulled in many different directions. This creates internal conflict, unnecessary debate, and arguments which wastes precious time and resources.

When there is no leader, or when the leader is silent, chaos takes over.

Another example of this is rumors. When a leader doesn’t adequately explain what’s happening in an organization, especially during times of change, rumors will begin to get started. People will speculate on what’s going to happen. These rumors will run through an organization and do nothing but create worry and waste time, energy, and resources.

Rumors happen when leaders aren’t leading.

There are three ways to avoid becoming an absent leader.

Be present. Be there for your team. Listen to what’s going on in the organization. Walk around the workplace and be seen. Be alert for rumors and internal debates. Understand where people may be wasting energy and where divisiveness exists.

Lead the organization. Set the vision and the objectives. Establish clear boundaries and expectations. Let your team know what the priorities are. Be there to resolve conflicts and make hard decisions. Don’t shy away from your responsibilities.

Don’t stand for chaos. It’s the leader’s job to build a stable, smooth-running business. Chaos should always be the exception and not the rule. It’s good to have debate and discussion but allowing constant infighting and arguments only wastes the time and energy of an organization. It does not put you closer towards your goal. Take a look at your organization and see what’s going on. If there is chaos and confusion, you are not doing your job. You are an absent leader. You might have the leadership title. You might have the corner office. But you are not leading your team and that can be devastating to your organization.

Reach out to me on Twitter and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you.

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Too Busy to Lead?

“The managers of this company just don’t care.” That was the feedback I received from one of the production workers and I was trying to process it. I had worked hard with my leadership team to get them to engage with employees. I couldn’t understand why we weren’t seeing better results.

The feedback had come during my monthly roundtable meeting. Each month, I met with a different group of employees to get their thoughts on how the business was going. They were called “birthday meetings.” Employees who had a birthday in that month were invited. I was the plant manager of a small manufacturing operation with 130 employees.  Each meeting had about 10-15 employees. This month’s feedback was hard to swallow.

I pushed for more details. I wanted to understand why this employee thought our managers didn’t care. He talked specifically about one of the managers, “every time I see him, his head is down or he is rushing to another meeting.” The person he was talking about was my best manager. He cared deeply for his team and the factory overall. He was a good leader. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“Often he who does too much does too little.” – Italian Proverb

Later that day, I spoke to that manager. I wanted to get his perspective and what he said was equally eye-opening. He told me that he is very busy. So busy, in fact, that he keeps his head down when walking through the plant. He told me, “I don’t want to get distracted or get pulled into a long conversation. I have a lot to do and I want to get it all done.” To my surprise, I realized that my leadership team was so busy, they didn’t have time to lead.

“I’m busy, busy, dreadfully busy. You’ve no idea what I have to do. Busy, busy, shockingly busy. Much, much too busy for you.” – Veggie Tales

This happens far too often in organizations. Leaders with good intentions take on far too many activities. They fail to properly delegate tasks and, in the end, they fail to lead their teams properly. They are too busy and employees feel like they don’t care.

If you feel like you are too busy to lead, step back and conduct this simple exercise:

Track what you do each day. Keep a notebook of your daily activities for a week and see where you are spending your time. In most cases, you will be surprised by the results.

Identify those things that only you can do as a leader. Look through your daily activities and mark those that only you can do. These are critical tasks like planning, directing, evaluating and interacting with employees.

Identify activities that you can delegate. Determine which activities can be delegated. These are actions that can be done by others. They are time-consuming tasks that others are more suited to complete.

Often times we confuse busyness with usefulness or effectiveness. In the case of leaders, being busy can actually be detrimental to our most important role. Leadership is the act of influencing a group of people to accomplish a goal. If we spend all our time completing tasks, we miss out on the important job of influencing. While you are rushing to a meeting or spending all day on e-mails, you are missing out on the opportunity to interact with your team. And worse yet, they think you don’t care.

The simple truth is, when you find ways to stop being so busy, you will become a better leader.

Reach out to me on Twitter and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you.

Do you want to be a better leader?  Sign up for my free leadership newsletter where I share important leadership tips and I don’t waste your time. 

Deployed for Christmas

“I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams” – Bing Crosby

I never liked eggnog. As a young man, I hadn’t really developed the taste for it. Even though it was always around during the holidays in my family, it just wasn’t my thing.

That is until I spent my first Christmas deployed.

I was a junior officer stationed aboard the nuclear submarine USS Tennessee near the end of the Cold War. When we left port, we were gone for months at a time with very little personal contact with the outside world. On this particular patrol, our deployment included both Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Strategic deterrence was a 24/7 business and these holidays were just another day for us to “keep the peace.”

I knew our Supply Officer had planned a special meal for Christmas and I understood our families had packed us small gifts to open but I remember thinking how strange it would be to be so far away from my family at this time of the year. I wondered what it would be like to spend Christmas in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on one of the most powerful warships in the world.

About two weeks before Christmas, one of the officers put up Christmas lights around the wardroom. I was surprised by my emotional response to the multicolored lights. I was both excited and depressed at the thought of being deployed for Christmas. Excited to celebrate the holiday with all my shipmates and sad that I would not be with my family.

I had another emotion as well. I felt proud. I felt honored to be a part of something bigger than myself. I knew our boat’s mission was important and necessary. I also knew I wanted to be here with my shipmates. Since our country’s founding, men and women of the military have stepped forward to protect America’s interests around the world. I was just another sailor in a long line of mariners who had come before me. It was my turn. I had the watch.

Christmas day was just like every other day at sea. I stood my six-hour watch in the engine room and then went to the mess decks to see what was going on. I was surprised to see the meal that was prepared for us. We had been at sea for well over a month and the meals had become somewhat routine and predictable but today was special. There was a variety of food and desserts being served which had been carefully stowed away and prepared for this occasion. The cooks even roasted an entire hog for the crew in the ship’s tiny galley. To this day, I’m still not sure how they pulled that off.

After our Christmas meal, the officers all met in the wardroom where we opened gifts from our families and talked about our Christmas traditions back home. We were a diverse group from all over the country and from every socioeconomic background. In a way, we represented all of America.

While we enjoyed apple and pumpkin pie that was almost as good as Grandma’s, the thing that really stood out was the eggnog. Our supply officer had managed to hide several cases of eggnog in our ship’s freezer for this occasion. At this point in our deployment, we had run out of fresh fruits and vegetables and the milk was long gone. We drank mostly coffee, water, “bug juice” (Kool-Aid) and an occasional soft drink that we had squirreled away in our personal lockers. The last thing we expected to see on this patrol was eggnog.

They say that the sense of smell is most closely linked to our memories. For me, the smell of eggnog was what brought me back home. When I closed my eyes and took in the spicy scent, I wasn’t in the middle of the Atlantic ocean some 500 feet below the ocean’s surface, I was home for Christmas. The aroma and flavor seemed to be the sweetest thing I had ever tasted. It tasted like home.

This Christmas, hundreds of men and women in our military will be deployed for Christmas. For most, this will be their first Christmas away from home. While each unit will do their best to make Christmas special, there is no substitute for being home for the holidays. Being deployed for Christmas is just another sacrifice our military men and women have to endure to keep our country free and safe.

I hope this Christmas, you will join me in raising a glass to our military and the sacrifices they make daily on our behalf. Our Christmas gift to them should be to never forget the importance of what they have done and what they continue to do for this country.

Photo: U.S. Navy released by Commander Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet