Out of Reach (and Out of Touch) Leaders

The number one question I am asked when working with mid-levels in leadership development programs is, “Has my manager been through this?”  That’s a sad indictment on the state of leadership within an organization.  Essentially, what employees are saying is that, “Boy, I wish my management lived these values and behaved in this ideal way!”  How is it possible that so many managers can be so clueless and far removed from the realities of the work and the people that they manage?

Organizations whose structures promote power distance are actually building “out-of-reach leadership” within themselves. Such organizations usually end up struggling with alignment due to misshapen communications, murky clarity of focus and low levels of trust.  Organizations with such symptoms would expect to end up with caustic environments, fear-based cultures and widespread negative results.

Such atmospheres are typical of leadership practices that are out of reach with key stakeholder groups, such as customers and employees – the people that consume the products or services of the organization, and the people that actually produce those products and services for consumption.

Out-of-Reach leadership isolates themselves from customer-focused, mission-driving data, instead choosing to focus on those things that confirm their paradigms of power, prestige or self-centered agendas of promotion and organizational notoriety.  Unfortunately, such notoriety is achieved, often infamously within the organization, but not of the positive flavor that most would desire.  Leaders founded on the opinions of others or appearances of control, in turn lock themselves away from the realities of the business even more, driving top-down communication, creating “Holy-We” management archetypes and seizing position and authority as if personal property.

When leaders become out-of-reach from customers, they become out-of-touch with customer needs and thus find themselves unable to align the organization to meet those needs, even if they truly wanted the organization to succeed.

Out-of-Reach leaders also become out of touch with employees and the realities of the cultures they are shaping by virtue of behavior and position. Such leaders make devastating mistakes that create massive withdrawals of trust and undercut their credibility, poignantly illuminating their own incompetence for leadership and management. Unfortunately, such leaders often continue to parade along, either deniably oblivious or cathartically too prideful to confront a self-awareness that points them out as the chief contributor of folly.

It is not uncommon for such out-of-touch and out-of-reach leaders to churn through humans as “resources” to implement their pet projects, citing “lack of skill”, “lack of fit” or simply “unsupportive” as reasons for the fallout, rather than confronting the reality of disengagement that out of touch leadership not only creates, but drives. Projects often go unfinished or under-perform in relation to desired results, mostly due to a lack of connection with the realities of stakeholder needs and organizational capabilities.

In a 2012 survey of 167 companies, Bain and Company found a gaping difference between the C-level and management / front line employees when it came to organizational perceptions.  Using Net Promoter® score, asking how likely they were to recommend their company as a place of work to a friend or colleague, the results showed that C-level members showed an NPS of +20.3% vs. a -5.1% and -4.6% from Managers and Front-line employees, respectively.

So, how do leadership teams stay in-reach and in-touch with their internal and external environments?  It’s more simple that you might expect, and much more difficult to pull off than it sounds: Leaders get clear on their deep, articulated values, and live them.

Leaders that are self-aware, in-touch with their values and the values of those around them, tend to be more open to feedback and more aware of the needs of others. This awareness allows leaders to become “teachable” rather than “all-knowing”, and accept leadership as a process of individual and dyadic, personal and interpersonal development.

What’s more is that leaders and leadership teams that hold to core values are more open to including other value sets in their practices that help drive purpose, mission and vision. Leaders that incorporate in-reach and in-touch values will obviously tend to demonstrate those values in action more than leaders that do not pay attention to such values.

Out-of-reach leaders lose touch with the very people who gave them leadership in the first place. As they learn to focus on creating value for key stakeholder groups, such value demands will inherently draw them nearer to the action where value is created, bringing them in-touch again with environmental, customer and employee realities.

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One thought on “Out of Reach (and Out of Touch) Leaders

  1. Outstanding article and it’s true I wrote an article on Writerbeat.com on this same subject and it’s true that now a days managers are just not taking their place as true leaders. It’s more driven towards them making a name for themself and the face of a company. I wrote this in my article that my manager actually tells me, “My job is help you expand your skills so you don’t have to be in the same position 10 years from now.” I always close after quoting my manager by saying many managers can learn from this. Business Management was actually my major in college and I really enjoyed learning these principals. Great article I hope to see more of them.

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