The Distracted Leader...
I hope this story resonates with leaders – this is a real story about a leader I have worked with. I felt her pain and her struggle… we worked together with her team and I was so excited to see her turn it around. She just needed the right advice, that light bulb moment to realise what she needed to to do in order to get the results she needed to see.
These are my observations...
“There’s just always so much to do and not enough time to do it. I feel like I am never at my desk, even though I am the last to leave the office every night”. This was something that Jessica regularly exclaimed as she raced around the office, en route to her next meeting, phone in hand checking her emails. Jessica, is a well-known and well regarded COO of a successful organisation that, with her driving force, grew from one office (3 employees) to six site offices and over 30 employees. Highly entrepreneurial and achievement oriented, Jessica runs on all cylinders, all the time and really can do more in one day than some people can do in a week.
As she led the organisation into growth, opening up more and more site offices, employing more and more staff, Jessica started to run into problems when the team wasn’t performing to her expectations. With operations being her forte, she started to write and implement procedures, processes and strict guidelines for staff to follow in the hope that this would make it easier for everyone. She also ran training for her employees, gave them feedback and helped by picking up slack when team members were falling behind or making mistakes (Jessica was also known to jump onto the phones or reception when it was busy). After a couple of months of doing this, she wasn’t seeing results in her team. She felt her team were letting her down. How was she supposed to keep growing the business and expand to even more site offices if her team couldn’t keep up? Jessica couldn’t understand - surely it wasn’t that hard?
To help the situation, Jessica decided to introduce new procedures and change the scope of roles. She regularly sent her staff ideas to boost sales and improve their customer service. In the other areas, Jessica would make suggestions to the marketing team with new tips on how to change / advance their projects. To Jessica, it felt like she was doing everyone else’s job… she’s grown the business, she’s been in these roles, she knows how it all works. All she is trying to do is help them by providing them with her suggestions to make things better. Now, it was taking its toll on Jessica – she worked non-stop, constantly on her phone, computer and email at all hours of the day and responded to things the moment they came up.
The problem got worse. Jessica found her staff were just running around aimlessly behind her and followed her every move. They had become incapable of making their own decisions and would seek Jessica’s approval before doing anything. There were a few key staff who baffled Jessica… the change was obvious. They started off as good employees, extremely competent at what they did and highly engaged – this had all slipped and their performance had dropped so badly that one of them had left and she was on the verge of performance management for the others. What was going on?
Jessica didn’t understand where it was falling apart, she couldn’t risk losing more staff. The business was at a tipping point. She needed help.
- Thinking the problem was with managing workload, Jessica invested in a new project management system to manage tasks.
- This only caused more struggle and stress in staff…
- Thinking that the problem was with motivation / feeling stale in their role, Jessica got a motivational speaker (a sporting legend) in to talk about dreams and inspiration to achieve.
- Not all staff were able to attend and those who did were distracted – the staff were bogged in day to day tasks and couldn’t appreciate the bigger picture the speaker was describing…
- Thinking that the problem was stress and working too long hours, Jessica took all the staff on an overnight retreat to a beachside hotel to say ‘thank you’.
- The relaxed vibe barely lasted a week before staff were stressed again…
- Thinking that the problem was with budgeting, Jessica invested in a top tier accounting firm to come in and audit and completely re-do the company finances.
- This only added to Jessica’s feeling of stress and cost the company a large fee for no significant changes
Jessica was looking for a silver-bullet, obvious, solution that would fix the under-performance of her staff… but seemingly no matter what she tried, none of these fixes worked for Jessica – the stress, strain, pressure and overall enormity of the business was beginning to overwhelm her.
There were so many ideas, solutions and concepts Jessica was trying to do in such quick succession to fix mistakes, scale and increase performance that her team couldn’t keep up. Jessica’s focus was split between so many different things, she started to become splintered in her thinking. She would sometimes forget what she requested of her team, give them new orders or backflip on a concept idea. Her fragmented thinking was leading to reactive behaviour. This caused her staff to get overwhelmed with the information Jessica was throwing at them, confused with changes in direction and unsure of what to do next. When her staff felt like this, it caused them to back off… not perform to expectations… and this is what Jessica was noticing as it was showing in their results.
It was at this point Jessica stumbled upon the Left Field Co. quiz and thought she would do it and see if it had anything in it that might help her. While she was taking the quiz, Jessica came to the realisation that it wasn’t the systems and processes that were affecting her staff performance, it was something much bigger. It was her.
By looking at herself, a once confident, in control leader… she could see how by being distracted, her behaviour was starting to affect her team. She was overwhelmed and this had caused her to become unsure of herself, lose her confidence and start to slip out of control.
Does this story make sense to you? Have you seen similar things in your own leadership or team? Things like…
- You are always the last to leave the office
- Any signs of underperformance in your team
- You have trouble sleeping because your brain just won’t switch off
There are many causes of distraction in today’s workplace that cause not only our staff, but ourselves, to become overwhelmed, stressed and underperform. While most leaders concentrate on what their staff are doing wrong, or what systems and processes aren’t working – I look at the leader to see what’s going on. After all, your team are taking cues from you. This is not a scary realisation… it actually is liberating. Because by recognising you need to change it means you are empowered. That kind of self-awareness proves you want to be a leader everyone wants to work for.
Do you want to take my quiz to see if your leadership is suffering from a Distracted Mind? At the end of the quiz, I give you a verdict and also include some implementation tips you can try in your own workplace to reduce your overwhelm and take back control of your leadership and become the leader who everyone wants to work for.