September 2016

"Because I said so, that's why!"
Complacent leaders yield leadership at its worst

by Steve Alltop

The Captain of the ship ruling with an iron fist, the Platoon Sergeant kicking his troops into action, the CEO yelling at and berating those who accomplish the company's mission, Hollywood is not short of bad stereotypes when it comes to leadership. But in the real world, effective organizations rarely result from such command and control leadership. Those who wield their positions of authority by refusing to answer subordinate's questions or who resort to that old standby "Because I said so, that's why!" are neither practicing good leadership nor exhibiting characteristics of truly great leaders. Most likely, they have become complacent, relying on their position of authority rather than working at becoming a better leader.

Academy Leadership, contrary to the stereotypes surrounding our military backgrounds, does not promote that style of command and control leadership. On the contrary, those of us who have served in the military know that truly effective leaders rarely resort to such authoritarian antics. We know that effective leaders, military and civilian, understand that the mission is accomplished by people. A leader's effectiveness is, in large part, directly proportional to how well they understand those people, how well they communicate with them, and how well they create a motivational climate in which those people will thrive.

Unfortunately, it is all too easy to slip into the old ways of controlling instead of leading; rationalizing the bad behavior with thoughts like, "They just don't have the big picture." "Someone has to make the tough decisions." "They aren't responsible; I am, so they better do as I say." If you do that, the results will most likely be followers who will resist or ignore your efforts. Engagement will begin to erode and the quest to fulfill your vison will begin to slip away. Perhaps you'll notice the team begin to shrink as team members opt to leave, or that replacements are harder to come by. You'll notice that key performance indicators begin to slip and that it is becoming harder and harder to explain why. Maybe you'll see that your best ideas are not being embraced like they use to be or that good ideas from your folks are further and further apart. It won't happen all at once, but the symptoms will surely begin to appear. The sad part is that you will find yourself at the helm of a sinking ship and you may not notice the water line rising.

Safety experts know accident rates are inversely proportional to experience. As experience increases, accidents tend to decrease. However, there is a statistical spike in accidents when crews reach a certain experience level. This can be attributed to complacency brought on by familiarity. Perhaps this holds true for leaders as well. Over time they forget that leadership requires constant attention to detail and that followers, like vessels of all types, are unforgiving of complacency.

What will you do today to make sure your followers know that you aren't a complacent leader? What can you do to let them know you can't get along without them? Have you checked your personal leadership philosophy lately? Do you have one? Are you living it?

Steve Alltop is an Academy Leadership affiliate and co-founder of The Daedalus Group.