Leadership Disconnect = Career Failure

an article by John Agno and Barb McEwen

A lack of interpersonal skills is the main cause of leadership failure.

Interpersonal skills include the leader's ability to build strong relationships internally and externally, and to motivate others. The most effective leaders adjust their behavior to reflect the needs of the situation and the people they are working with.

There continues to be a disconnect between how managers see themselves and how their staff see them.

In a 2007 survey by the Tracom Group of Highlands Ranch, CO, 166 executives, 337 managers and 377 staff were asked a series of questions about organizational performance. Over half of the managers who participated thought interpersonal skills were one of their greatest strengths, yet 55% of staff said their bosses could improve those skills. This lack of personal objectivity is part of human nature and speaks to the need for increased self-awareness by the manager.

Ineffective communication can cause more than misunderstandings. Nearly 82 percent of managers and 87 percent of staff believe that poor communication within or across work teams is a cause of poor productivity in the workplace. Nearly 73 percent of executives indicated that a common reason for executive-level leaders to fail or become derailed in their careers is ineffective communication with all levels of employees.

Executives are promoted for their abilities to "bring in the numbers," take tough stands and create strategic plans. But when they bomb, it is usually because of lousy people skills.

While most firms have become adept at defining financial and operational success, most find that the softer side of people performance is often the hardest to quantify. Yet, employees represent the largest cost in most enterprises. Measurement typically is focused on what was accomplished ... but how things are accomplished within a company is important.

Executives often fail for a few common reasons:

  • unclear or outsized expectations,
  • failure to build partnerships with key stakeholders,
  • failure to learn the company, industry or the job itself fast enough,
  • failure to determine the process for gaining commitments from direct reports, and
  • failure to recognize and manage the impact of change on people.

To become successful, a manager must be adept at handling all sorts of complex, touchy interpersonal dynamics, at sizing up a situation quickly and dealing with a wide range of personalities. Good listening skills are critical.

Many executives are promoted for their technical skills but could use more help developing leadership skills. First-time leaders, in particular, feel poorly prepared for their roles and struggle with the transition. The higher up you go in a company's hierarchy, the value of your technical skills decline while the value of your interpersonal skills increase.

When in school, many of us were "athletes" and we learned to win the game. Playing the game, in business, is still very much misunderstood by women. A significant number still unwittingly shoot themselves in the foot.

When men entered the work world, many became "warriors" and focused singularly on how to achieve the goals set before them. However, when they were promoted or recruited for a management position, no one told them that they needed to change their perspective from a warrior to a "leader"... so they could adapt to working through people in whatever situation they faced.

Leadership development is self-development.

Learning not to micromanage, not to be overly concrete, not to fail to explicitly state expectations and other unproductive interpersonal behavior only happens through the increased self-awareness gained best in a personal coaching or mentoring relationship.