Sorry, never heard of him mate.

There is a lot of talk about the importance of leadership in organisations today. Imagine my amazement when I went into an organisation recently and asked for a senior leader by name only to be told by the receptionist  on the front desk that he had ‘never heard of him’. Is he new here the guy asked me? No,  I replied he has been here for a good while. Let me check the online directory for you he said obligingly. A few minutes later he still could not find the location of the individual. I asked the receptionist if this happened often, oh yes mate came the reply –  we are always the last to know down here. He scratched his head and rang another receptionist on a different entrance to the building for some advice.  This time our luck was in and I was pointed in the right direction. A phone call was made, and I was on my way to the top floor to the executive suite.

It was immediately clear to me that this senior leader was invisible in his own organisation. How can this be I wondered? Ironically for me the purpose of the meeting was to introduce myself as his potential executive coach. I focused initially upon asking him about what he paid attention to during his day, and what took up his time.  It was quickly apparent to me that he never left the top floor –  spending his day in endless meetings, on the phone in conference calls and answering emails. He had no time to understand the workings of his own organisation, or to engage with colleagues who were delivering vital services on a daily basis. Instead he relied upon management information fed to him by his advisers, and gave instructions based upon the ‘facts’ presented to him. It took him a while to realise that the decisions that he made were flawed. Why? well the data that was fed up the line was fabricated along the way at each stage to make it ‘look ok’ for the boss at the next level in the chain. By the time it got to the executive suite it had no resemblance to reality. Nevertheless, this senior chap spent hours and hours in meetings, and on calls using the data presented to run his business.

Imagine the look on his face when we started to unpick the data he relied upon, and went out in to the work to understand what current performance actually looked like!

Only by understanding  your own leadership impact upon the system can you begin to intelligently start to change it. Getting knowledge about how the work happens in reality, and the impact of your leadership actions upon the system as a whole is vital if you are to bring about holistic change rather than tampering with the current operation from your ivory tower. In practice management tampering will always make things worse.

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