The road to dysfunctional leadership

And recognising the need to change!

For years I?ve been amazed, amused and often astounded at the number of people in management positions who are doing a terrible job of leading a team?and I see them stay in their role for years! How did they get there in the first place?

I have a theory, which is, great leaders see potential in certain types of people. They put them forward for roles where, if they had the right support and guidance, would absolutely succeed?but their leaders get distracted and busy and often leave them to work it out on their own?and some do and some don?t. Let me take you through the two types of people I?m thinking about:

  • Type #1: The Nice Guy! They are personable and the team connect with them in a positive way. They manage their brand extremely well, which means they have the support of other leaders across the business. They have shown promise in their role and are looking for the next step. Everyone thinks they?d make a great leader.
  • Type #2: The Results Guy! They are extremely successful as individual contributors and know a lot about a lot. They are fixated on achievement and have a hunger to succeed and progress in the business. While they may have drive and motivation they can often lack self-awareness and therefore can be a little awkward around their peers. But, they are also supported by other leader who think they?d make great leaders.

Both types get promoted. They are put into their new leadership vehicle and instructed to drive?some are given a map, others are just given a vague set of instructions. At some point in their first few years of leadership they will come to a fork in the road?actually, it?s not a fork, it?s an onramp to a motorway. And these leaders can either choose to take the motorway or stay on the highway they?re on.

Leaders that choose the onramp and take the motorway, will develop structure, learn to collaborate and encourage their team to perform. Once they?ve worked out their rhythm they can set the cruise control and focus on their destination. The future is promising for these leaders.

Leaders that choose to remain on the highway will spend all of their time navigating slow traffic, fluctuating speed zones and being on high-alert for obstacles on the road. Because they invest all their energy just keeping their vehicle running they tend to lose site of their destination. Eventually exhaustion will kick in and these leaders will make another choice: to leave the organisation or stay. Leaders that stay will forget there?s an onramp to the motorway and continue along the highway. They become that annoying driver that slows traffic and doesn?t notice the other users on the road ? they become dysfunctional.

Dysfunctional leaders work hard instead of smart and eventually burn-out. And it?s not just junior leaders that suffer from this kind of burnout. As one HBR article on executive burnout explains “like generalised stress, burnout cuts across executive and managerial levels.? Through various study?s they have found ?that a special phenomenon occurs after people expend a great deal of effort, intense to the point of exhaustion, without visible results. People in these situations feel angry, helpless, trapped, and depleted: they are burned out. This experience is more intense than what is ordinarily referred to as stress. The major defining characteristic of burnout is that people can?t or won?t do again what they have been doing.?

How do dysfunctional leaders get on the motorway?

If you’re a leader who has slipped into this ?dysfunctional? space or you feel like you’re heading that way, here are four steps to get you to the onramp:

  • Recognise that you?re in control of where you are in your career and accept that you have a choice.
  • Consider, if there were no barriers, where you would be. What does your ideal future look like?
  • Identify areas where you?re working harder and could be working smarter.
  • Talk to someone about what?s going on and get their feedback. Sometimes just sharing your experience is enough to help you realise what action you need to take.
?When you do nothing, you are doing something. You are closing the door to an opportunity? ~ The Power of Small

We all make decisions about the roads we take throughout our career. Sometimes we take the wrong road and need to backtrack and that?s perfectly fine.

Those who ignore their situation or are too proud to ask for help are unlikely to ever reach their destination or get out of their dysfunctional rut?and this will jeopardise the success of your business!

Shelley Flett is a passionate leader with a keen focus on creating dynamic team environments through adaptable leadership. She is a leadership coach, trainer, facilitator, mentor and speaker who ignites vision and purpose in those she works with.

If you?d like to know more about how she can work with you, and your team, drop her an email


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