The Long Way Home 4.7.23

This week I’d like to make some observations on the state of leadership. 

I’ve been fortunate to be an employee (some say team member, but that title is BS) and an employer and manager with more than one business on my resume. I learned a great deal in those roles, but the employer experience gives me a critical eye for leadership today.

I blame Garrison Keilor for some of the problems employers face. His mythical Minnesota paradise was the place where, “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” That fictional achievement has caused many employers to pronounce their employees “the best there is.” Above average if you will. 

My friend Don told me that even our county board of commissioners here in God’s country proclaim their staffers to be the best there is. Above average I guess.

That is impossible. County staff are like employees everywhere. Some are average, some are better than that, and a number of them reside below. Proper management of any organization is about raising averages, not pronouncing all employees “above average.”  

Management of any organization is about setting appropriate policies and procedures, making sure employees know and understand them, and dealing promptly with deviations. Another way of saying leadership.

After 50 years in organizations as diverse as an elementary school PTA, several businesses, and even a statewide political party, I can tell you that dealing with the deviations is where most employers struggle.

Helping below average employees improve their performance and find their unique position in an organization is rarely a priority. 

Terminating the employee that won’t ever be able to perform, or stop disrupting the workplace, is postponed until the organization is near to breaking. One statement I hear from business people when they finally terminate a problem employee is, “I wish I’d have done it sooner.” 

We all tend to postpone the tough things we have to do. Procrastination. In leadership roles it was the one vice I struggled with most.

True leaders avoid procrastination. They recognize the pain of doing the right thing now is better than the long term pain, and loss of sleep, that comes with procrastination. 

True leaders approach challenges head on. They are skeptical of so-called experts. They make tough decisions. Right or wrong they make them quickly. If it’s wrong, they accept responsibility and change it.

Real leaders recognize that employees are unique individuals who need to fill roles that they are truly qualified for. They recognize the poseurs, the resume builders, and the deadbeats and  move away from them quickly.

Observing organizations of all kinds over the years, a habit I’d like to break someday, it is evident that real leaders are above average, and far too rare.