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Six Leadership Challenges and Warning Signs


Does your team miss deadlines?  No matter how many times you tell them exactly what you need and when you need it, through no apparent fault of your own, they come up short. You’ve given them all the resources to get things done and they’re the best in the business; yet they fall short. Maybe your leadership is part of the challenge after all.

Missed deadlines are one of the six warning signs that even though you think you’resix leadership challenges and warning signs doing things right as a leader, you’re not.  The six leadership challenges warning signs are:

  1. Missed deadlines
  2. Low quality work
  3. Low morale and high turnover
  4. Emotional outbursts
  5. Chronic complaining
  6. Lack of communication

Each of these symptoms could indicate that your leadership is not working.  This blog series will explore the signs and symptoms that your leadership may be contributing to the difficulties that you experience on your team and in your organization.

In addition, this series will offer solutions to help you create a more robust culture.

Let’s start with the first: missed deadlines.  Recently I worked with a manager who demonstrated this perfectly well.  As the plant manager of a manufacturing facility, Bill did everything by the book.  He followed all the rules, crossed all his ‘T’s and dotted his ‘I’s.  He worked hard and expected the same from his team. After all, his hard work and attention to detail had helped him climb from the front line where he started to the management position he now holds, overseeing the entire plant. 

Bill was dismayed to find that no matter how perfectly he executed the tasks of his job, his team consistently missed its deadlines.  The cost was tremendous on the organization and customers began to lose faith.  Bill tried every tactic with his team that he could come up with: he demanded, explained, put the hammer down, but his team still faltered when it came to meeting deadlines. 

Since nobody was following Bill, it was clear he was having leadership challenges.  Answering a few key questions helped him to become more effective.

Question:  Why do people miss deadlines?

Answer:  Skill or will

Bill discovered that the reasons his staff missed their deadlines fell into two buckets, skill or will; either they didn’t have the expertise and resources or they just plain didn’t want to do it.  Both skill and will are factors that a leader can influence.

In our coaching sessions, Bill admitted that his plant was state of the art, and his team had the all of the resources it needed, including time.  And, the team members were the best in the business; he had no shortage of skill on his team.  If it wasn’t skill, it had to be will.

Once Bill took a new look at what really motivates people he began to understand why there was a lack of will to follow through on tasks; his employees were reacting negatively to his leadership.

Question: Why would a team member willfully resist your instruction?

Answer:  Limbic hijack!  

Scientists have discovered a series of networks in the brain that when activated send us into an emotional tailspin also known as a limbic hijack.  Think of them as six buckets that hold our feelings of connectedness, fairness, importance, clarity, control, and competence.  When the bucket is full, no problem -- we go about our lives normally, actively engaged in the tasks of our work.  When a bucket is empty, the brain reacts, firing up the limbic system, the caveman brain within each of us.   When the caveman is in charge, we don’t make logical, rational decisions; we’re driven by emotion.  This is one reason why employees resist our initiatives and was the case with Bill’s team.

Bill recognized that when he felt under the gun and commanded his staff on what to do, they ended up feeling unimportant and without any control.   Two important buckets were empty and the result showed itself in missed deadlines.  Now that he understood why, Bill was set up to do something about it.  But what?

Question:  What do you do when your leadership is the problem?

Answer:  Lead like Google

A recent study at Google found that one of the most important qualities in great leadership is employee empowerment; the opposite of micromanagement.  They attribute the absence of micromanagement, in part, to their 24% growth in 2011.

This plays into what we know about the brain -- micromanaged employees are likely to feel unimportant and a loss of control.  When this happens, the caveman brain takes over; it’s a scientific fact.  Yet, even seasoned leaders, when under duress, can begin to micromanage; to tell people what to do and how to do it.  Upon reflection, Bill recognized that this was exactly how his employees felt.  As a result, they resisted his initiatives and missed deadlines.

Action Steps to Eliminate Missed Deadlines

  • Understand why the deadline was missed -- was it skill or will?
  • If it is an issue of employees willfully missing the deadlines, consider how your leadership is perceived and why they are resisting.
  • Do not micromanage.  Instead, give them ownership for the task at hand and let them know that you trust them.  You’ll be surprised at the results you receive.

By paying attention to the warning signs that your leadership has challenges, you can develop leadership strategies that will take your team to the next level. 

Look for the next blog in this series to overcome low quality work.  Until then, lead like you want them to follow. 


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