How many of us have worked for a boss that he or she had no conception of what it takes to actually get the group’s work done? I have heard from employee groups time and again that their supervisor has no idea what resources, time, or effort is needed to reach the unit’s goals and more importantly the information is not of great interest even. Some employees describe the leader as someone that if he or she says it, then it should magically appear. On those occasions when magic does not occur, it is usually assumed to be the fault of the employees and their own inadequacies instead of a lack of planning, resources, or guidance. Most of us find this leadership characteristic at the very least annoying and many times unbearable.
The analogy that I like to give is to think of when you get in the car before your morning commute. Once you turn the car on, you have completed one key element of the process and you are part of the way to work. However, there is a lot that has to happen after turning the ignition to actually get to work. Think how ridiculous it would be if you told your boss that you tried to get there, but nothing happened after you started the car.
What causes this lack of reality? More often than not, a few common leadership misperceptions pertaining to how things actually happen are at the core. Sadly, most of us acquire these misperceptions from leaders we work for and only emulate them later in our own careers. The most common ones are as follows:
- Execution Happens
- Do As I Say, Not as I Do
- One Size Fits All
Some leaders only adopt one of these misperceptions, but there is a tendency for them to stick together in our minds.
“Execution happens” relates to the tendency to make the assumption that all that being a leader requires is giving instructions and letting things happen. Movies, books, and even media reports describe famous leaders as individuals that almost spoke great actions into being. However, reality is more complicated. Employees function more efficiently and effectively when they understand:
- reason for their actions;
- how to accomplish the assigned actions;
- expected outcomes; and
- how the actions fit into the overall unit or organizational goals.
Do As I Say, Not as I Do
Leadership is about being the one that people can and want to follow. Think back to your own development and how much influence the leaders you worked for had on your growth and even the practices that you use today. However, the idea of being the one that sets the standard in the workplace has diminished in the last few decades. Shockingly, I have even worked with manager groups that claim they don’t need to lead by example any more since people should know what to do.
One Size fits Every Situation
For decades in most societal venues, we worked under the assumption that most people are the same. Entertainment, food, clothing, and even jobs were tied to a specific set of expectations that were assumed to apply to every consumer as well as employee. As human resource professionals, we designed standard compensation, benefits, and development programs hoping to satisfy the greatest number of employees with the least cost. Not just business, but government also assumed that there were basic things that we all needed and little variation in preference existed between us. However, over the last two decades, we have found that human beings are much more complicated than thought and want most things their own way. Today, most of us are actually insulted when an organization does not provide at least minimal level of customization to our experience with them. Leaders who forget this human characteristic will never realize the full potential of their employees without tapping into this need.
Leaders must be involved and do more than give orders. True leaders provide guidance, inspiration, and customization to their teams. We all want to feel that we do something important that will be recognized by our supervisors as well as those that we serve. In the absence of these feelings, it is hard for employees to feel adequately led.
Ross Perot said it very well:
Lead and inspire people. Don’t try to manage and manipulate people. Inventories can be managed but people must be lead.