How to Avoid Watered- Down Leadership

Leaders are not people pleasers by nature. There is a difference between pleasing and growing. There is a difference between pleasing and knowing a new direction is needed in order to experience progress on your goals and objectives. Yet, in the face of a need for political correctness, when employees learn to work the system and become untouchable and human resources seem to come to their rescue, leaders may be tempted to dilute their leadership strength or efforts. Their guidance takes on a watered-down approach. Their direction becomes so subtle, many don’t get it. This leadership then appears weak, extending beyond compromise and inhibiting achievement. Committed most commonly by managers and leaders strongly averse to conflict or criticism, watered-down leadership prevents the very growth, development, or even removal, of those obstructing progress. But, how does a leader avoid getting trapped in the need to remain professional while also taking bold risks without this watered-down effect? Here are three such suggestions and steps.

Be Impervious
Love him or hate him, it is hard to deny the accuracy of what one author calls the current U.S. President. In a recent Lincoln Day Dinner of the Republican Party, Dinesh D’Souza referred to President Trump as “one strange cat.” Equally difficult to deny is that despite slings and arrows daily from opponents and supporters alike, President Trump seems impervious to such criticism and oblivious to what many refer to as a need for political correctness. What would you do in the face of that kind of criticism? It’s been said that you must stand for something or you’ll fall for anything, but many a leader falls like a leaf the moment someone shares a dissenting opinion. Your leadership will become rapidly diluted and lacking in the strength to lead in times of  change, or even crisis, if at the first sign of lesser support, you dissolve into a puddle of hurt feelings or begin to acquiesce. Be impervious to mere disagreement or even vehement signs that your ideas are not immediately garnering support, provided you are confident, certain, and assured in the validity of your direction for the team or your organization.

Focus on Priorities
Hundreds have written advice on how to stay focused. Books fill the shelves by the dozens on topics like time management and staying away from time consuming tasks that are not on target, not important, or not cogent to your desired results. No matter the steps you take, focus requires discipline, along with the knowledge of how one does it. One way in which those you lead, who are resistant to your way of leading or style of leadership, will attempt to lessen your impact is through distractions – tasks that take you off track or tasks that mire you in administrative tasks they suspect you will be unwilling to delegate. Stay focused. Exercise discipline. Even ignore those intended distractions until they absolutely demand your attention. If you’re certain of what needs to happen, an increase in sales or decrease in expenses, or removal of clearly unfit team members, focus on the actions needed to achieve your results. If you’re uncertain of the direction
needed, your wavering will indicate to all a crack in your confidence and the watering-down  effect will not only happen, but will be reinforced by the onslaught of employees attempting to help in this effort.

Clarify Risks
Leaders charged with the effort of leading through a major change, merger, acquisition, or even restructuring, are well served by clarifying the risks that could be forthcoming. Leaders in a tough situation need not be Pollyanna or the one leading the sugar coating. Be honest. Be forthright. Share what you know might happen or what you suspect is on the horizon. People unite over shared risks or shared impending danger. They tend to huddle and desire to be in it together. Give them that opportunity. You’re leading and whether you’re going into battle or merely upgrading systems, sharing risks helps employees believe in your judgment and ability to lead them through what is about to happen. Recognize as well that preparation meetings held at a senior leader level rarely produce public knowledge or transparent communication to the front-line employee level. Missing information creates gossip. Gossip creates insecurity.  insecurity may provoke sabotage-like efforts. Save yourself tremendous time and damage by sharing openly your fears, concerns, risks, and possible benefits of the upcoming changes. The open communication will allow you to then continue leading with strength, avoiding the need for
watered-down messages or efforts.

Watered-down leadership is what happens when you’re not sure of the direction in which you’re leading. It happens when the leader lacks confidence or has not put forth the effort to gather enough information, or support, around their intended direction. Either spend more time becoming sure of the need for a goal or initiative, or risk being merely a manager easily swayed by public opinion. The latter is likely not the reason for which you got promoted.


Monica Wofford, CSP is a leadership development specialist. Through her firm Contagious Companies, managers receive coaching and training on how to not only be promoted, but also prepared, for leadership. To learn more, call 1-866-382-0121 or visit: www. ContagiousCompanies.com, www.MonicaWofford.com.


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