Leaders who don’t plan: Herculean efforts are not always heroic

by Jill Malleck, MA, PCC
HerculesMaster Integral Coach

There is a skill gap in leaders which is most annoying for their direct reports and peers, but is sometimes well-hidden from their bosses. Unnoticed, that is, until you can see talented subordinates are exiting, or important peers get uncooperative. The gap is a leader’s inability to prepare the execution of a plan, and their reliance instead on passion and a vigorous last-minute “rally-of-the-troops” to get things done.  How do you know if one of your leaders has this fatal flaw?  Pay attention to how many Herculean efforts they pull off.

Overwhelmed leaders hunker down and pay close attention to what’s right in front of them. In true survival mode, they often prioritize with keen political acumen – responding quickly and energetically to whatever is uppermost in the minds of the boss and key clients. These Hercules fail to plan the best way to get things done. They don’t stop, and scan the future to logically plot the pre-emptive activity they should assign or get support for today. They don’t make time to coordinate and engage with the people they will need to implement solutions they author.

The end result is an over- reliance on their formal authority or personal charisma. They ask (or demand) that people stay late, come in early, work extra time and generally run flat-out to make their promises happen. They bargain favours with peers. Eventually, smart employees wonder why they aren’t given ample time to prepare, and why once again they find themselves in a scramble to deliver quality on short-notice. The same employees may also be inclined to keep their complaints quiet.  After all, who wants to be labelled as uncommitted or worse, unable to keep up the pace? Over time, discouraged employees will just give up. Many will leave the team, some will simply try to rest-up between the heroics.

It’s true that even the best leaders are caught off-guard and blindsided by events, and that teams who can converge in a crisis are a joy to be on. If, however, you have been impressed by the number of Herculean efforts from a particular team, you may want to dig a little deeper.  Why aren’t better plans in place? Was there really an unexpected crisis – or was it a lack of planning? Pay particular attention to leaders who have recently been promoted or given a wider scope. Perhaps he or she is overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of the role.  In other cases, where the team is lean or dealing with vacancies, the supervisor may be too hands-on to find time to plan.

In any case, you can help close the skill gap. Training and situational coaching can develop the skills the leader is lacking – whether it be time management, attention to detail, multiple- perspective taking, planning or delegation. This month, instead of rewarding all Herculean efforts, stop leaders’ self-inflicted crisis and become a real hero to the team.

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