Leadership Apathy

Leadership Apathy: The Influenza of Modern Day Business

Is your organisation suffering from Leadership Apathy: task oriented managers and lack lustre leadership? If you answered yes, then your business is at serious risk.

Globalisation and technological disruption are two of the primary drivers of this modern-day influenza, as organisations strive to do more with less, be the first to market or the biggest in the market.

Now whilst these are not new business imperatives, the speed at which they occur here as led to an increase in Leadership Apathy, as leaders become increasingly focussed on managing tasks in an attempt to be agile.

Leadership Apathy is common in both government and private sectors, but particularly common in matrixed organisations. If not treated it leads to increased conflict, disengaged employees, decreased productivity and turnover.


Symptoms & Cures 

Leader's focus on the task at hand rather than the individual for team

"The project is due next week"... "We must deliver on time"... "We can worry about team building later - meeting the deadline comes first"... "Management expect this yesterday - everything else can wait"... "I don't have time for coaching"... "We can send them for training later"... "It's quicker if I do it myself"...

These are just some of the common reasons excuses we hear from leaders on a daily basis. 

What causes this problem? In the vast majority of cases it is because the organisation does not place enough emphasis  measuring management and leadership competencies, as it is much easier to measure numbers.

What's the solution? Organisations need to equip their leaders with the tools required to effectively manage and lead. Leaders need to be measured against their ability to:

  • Task: Achieve the team’s goal
  • Team: Develop and build the team
  • Individual: Help individuals to develop

John Adair's Action Centered Leadership provides a blueprint for the effective leadership and management of a team.

Check Out: Action Centered Leadership


Leader's report on performance instead of managing performance

It's that time of the year again... Appraisal time... You're excited about the prospect of getting a promotion as the year has gone quite smoothly and to the best of your knowledge you have performed quite well. Then the bombshell drops, "I cannot put you up for a promotion this year as you have not performed well enough. Furthermore, I have to inform you that you are in the bottom 10% of performers. What do you have to say for yourself?"

How would you feel if you were the person on the receiving end? Sadly, this is an all too common situation.

What causes this problem? In most cases this is the result of a week performance culture, where the organisation treats appraisals as a time consuming paper exercise and tool for justifying who does and does not get a promotion.

What's the solution? There is no definitive best practice guide for managing performance in today’s business context, but here are some of the common elements that many world-class organisations have already implemented or are starting to implement:

  • Feedback should be regular and timely. If a project is running behind schedule, there’s no point giving feedback after the horse has bolted.
  • Feedback should come from various sources, including; direct reports, managers and peers. This allows for a more holistic review.
  • Employees should be able to request feedback from their direct reports managers and peers when they believe they need it.
  • Bonuses and promotions should not be tied to feedback, and there should be a separate process for their review.
  • Leaders need to learn how to give effective feedback with an emphasis on feedforward.

Organisations need to move from ranking people against their peers to encouraging people for their performance and helping to get them back on track.

Check Out: Performance Reviews: Out with the old. In with the new.


Leader's focus on the destination rather than the journey

Volkswagen fined $2.8bn in US diesel emission scandal... Pregnant woman fired for performance reasons... Turing Pharmaceuticals increases price of Daraprim from $13.50 per tablet to $750 per tablet overnight... 'We Blew It': Nike Admits to Mistakes Over Child Labor... Employees forced to work overtime or lose their job... Attorney General sued for discrimination..

These are just some examples of poor leadership brought about by weak corporate values.

What causes this problem? There are various triggers that lead to this type of leadership behaviour, most of which revolve around values. It's these values that often give way to more pressing priorities.

What's the solution? Do corporate values really mean something, or are they just a bunch of words on the wall of the office? Leaders need to talk the walk and walk the talk. They need to lead by example, and be held accountable for their behaviour. There needs to be checks and balances!

If being bold is a corporate value, then how should we deal with an employee who makes a mistake as a result of being bold? If leveraging diversity is a corporate value, how is the organisation doing it? Organisations need to rethink what their corporate values mean, and how employees should be recognised and rewarded for promoting such values.

More on corporate values later!


There are three examples of Leadership Apathy... If you think your organisation is suffering from this modern day infliction, then you need to seriously compare the benefits of effective leadership against the cost of poor leadership.