The one mistake leaders keep making

Manley Hopkinson askes some key questions to shine a light on how leaders can get the best from their people

“You don’t fatten a pig by measuring it, you need to feed it.” Leaders tend to forget that. They spend so much time fretting and focusing on the outcome that the forget the one big thing, they make the one big mistake time and time again.

They detach leadership from outcome.

Let’s analyse what I mean by that and apply it holistically to all aspects of leadership impact. It does not matter if you are the CEO of a large multinational, the inspiration and driving force of a boutique start-up or a leader in the community. It’s the same. It is the consistent one mistake that leaders keep making – they detach their leadership from the outcome.

What about these scenarios? Six big statements of an unwanted nature. How could that have happened? What have they done wrong? How could they?

You’ve fallen off your numbers

It’s the back end of Q3 and it is becoming apparent that the hockey stick of optimistic forecasting has gone flat. So, what do they do? Panic. Tighten their belt. Batten down the hatches. Stop all travel and expenses. Bring it all in tighter to their chests. Measure the minutiae. Point the finger. Make excuses and blame the team.

But what about their leadership? Wasn’t it they that insisted on a stretched target?  Wasn’t it they that made the decisions in Q1 not to recruit? Wasn’t it under their leadership that this has happened?

They detach leadership from outcome.

Teams underperform when they are not empowered, when decisions go up but blame comes down

The team is under performing (again)

“Blast them”! “Again”? “Unbelievable. You just cannot get the staff nowadays”.

But why does a team underperform? The biggest single reason for poor performance is poor delegation. Teams underperform when they are not sure what they are meant to be doing and why, when there is a disparity of expectation and when there is confusion on direction. Teams underperform when they are not empowered, when decisions go up, but blame comes down and when the macro-leader becomes a micro-manager.

They detach leadership from outcome.

The new recruit just won’t fit in

The newbie looked good on paper. Cracking CV, top grades from the big school. Supports the right team too. They said they were a self-starter so why have they stalled?

But what is the culture they are coming into? Is it defined? Is it real? Is it compassionate – understanding with positive action? How was  their induction and their first day? Did they have the time to get to know the team and how it all works around here, or were they just thrown in the deep end? It’s a busy office after all!

They detach leadership from outcome.
They keep going off sick

“What, again”? “That’s more time lost to a doctor’s note”.

According to the Office for National Statistics, “An estimated 149.3 million working days were lost because of sickness or injury in the UK in 2021, equivalent to 4.6 days per worker”. But why? From the same report, “The most common reason for sickness absence in 2021 was “other””.

Accidents do happen of course, and illnesses are all part of normal life, but according to Professor Sheldon Cohen from Carnegie Mellon University, happiness and other positive emotions play an even more important role in health than previously thought.

Are the team happy? Do they all feel safe? Was being “sick” a convenient way to get the hell out of there?

They detach leadership from outcome.

I’ve given all the wellness stuff they need but it’s not working

Yoga at lunchtime. Meditation pods in the lobby. Massage whilst you masticate at mealtimes. Whale music in the washrooms and alfa-alfa energy balls on demand. We spend so much time and effort stretching sticky plasters over gaping wounds, rather than silencing the sharp tongues. We focus on the symptoms ignoring that we might be the source.

They detach leadership from outcome.

Argh, my attrition numbers are through the roof

“What’s wrong with them all”? “The grass is not greener on the other side you know”. “They should be thankful they have a job, the ungrateful ba***ds”!

But have you asked yourself why they are leaving? What culture have you created under your leadership? Did you care? Were you genuinely compassionate? Did you endeavour to secure the best for them or were you only trying to squeeze the best out of them?

They detach leadership from outcome.

And with all that noise going on, we don’t hear that lone voice, the plaintiff cry in the dark, the strangled rasp.

“Help. I’m struggling too.”

What about self-leadership?

In our desire to serve others we compromise ourselves first. Who among you get all the sleep you need, eat healthy rather than just grab a ready snack, bolt it and press on, hit the gym, the road, the pool? Who here spends the time they really want to on their own hobbies and interests? Who prioritises the time to kick the ball or read the bedtime story? Hmm? We don’t. It is easy to lose perspective and lose time; time that we will never get back. Before we know it, they have grown up, we have grown tired, and the fun has gone.

We have detached our self-leadership from our own life outcome. We owe it to the world we serve to lead ourselves first. To lead ourselves with compassion too.

So, let us not make that one mistake. Let’s drop the tape and let us and our teams eat like pigs in the trough of compassionate leadership. There is food for all. Dig in and let us fatten up!

Manley Hopkinson is the founder of The Compassionate Leadership Academy, and author of Compassionate Leadership

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