Monday, November 12, 2012

Performance conversations: "Most Leaders are Wimps"

Not long ago I was having a conversation with a very experienced senior executive coach.  We were discussing common issues, one of which was a leader's unwillingness to confront under-performance.  As he said "I can't believe how wimpy so many leaders are".  For my international readers, "wimp" is a slang American English term used to describe a timid, cowardly or unadventurous person.

There's a recent Harvard Business Review blog with data to support this observation.  Over the last two years they have surveyed over 5400 upper level managers in the US, Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific.  46% of those surveyed are rated as "Too Little" when it comes to "Holds people accountable-Firm when they don't deliver".   As they say:

 "Remarkably, the result holds up no matter how you slice the data — by ratings from bosses, peers, or even subordinates. It holds up for C-level executives compared to directors and middle managers. It is about the same in different cultures too; although accountability is a bit more common in some countries than others, it is still the most neglected behavior within every region we have studied."

If I go back to the "Delivers Results, Values" matrix I introduced last week it would suggest there are a lot of people in the lower right hand corner of the matrix...Low Delivery, High Values.  It also might suggest why it is managers are so reluctant to confront the High Delivery, Low Values leader in the upper left quadrant....high delivery leaders are so rare it no one wants to really know the "how", even if they are suspicious of the means to achieve the result.

The HBR authors hypothesize a number of reasons this may occur.  In the end, no matter what the reason it leads to overall business under-performance and mediocrity.  In their words:

"The unfortunate consequence, however, is that no matter what short-term costs an upwardly ambitious manager avoids by not playing the sheriff, they are overshadowed in the long run by the creation of a culture of mediocrity and lackluster organizational performance. Add this up over time and across departments and business units and the aggregate costs of neglecting accountability can be staggering for everyone"

This is the time of year when many annual performance conversations take place.  In the best companies... the winners.... leaders will have the tough performance conversation.

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