FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
Anemia occurs when you don’t have enough healthy, red blood cells to carry oxygen to all the parts of your body. Anemia takes time to develop. In the beginning, you may not have any signs or they may be mild. But as it gets worse, symptoms become noticeable. The most common are: fatigue and weakness.
This brings me to our topic--there’s an epidemic of anemic leadership in this country.
Bruce Tulgan, founder and president of Rainmaker Thinking, a U.S. consulting and training firm, dubs this contagion under management. His research is based on more than 10,000 personal interviews with managers and 700 client companies during a 12-year period. The upshot?
“[M]anagers don’t manage, leaders don’t lead, supervisors don’t supervise. There is just such a shocking lack of guidance, direction and support in the workplace. …[S]how me just about any problem and I’ll show you a case of under management. Just follow the problem. … Go behind the scenes and you’ll realize everything is somebody’s job. And everybody’s got a boss. And it’s the boss’s job to make sure things go right.”
Causes of Anemic Leadership
Tulgan has identified four leading causes of anemic leadership.
Lack of time and resources: Everyone is being asked to do more with less, including supervisors. Many supervisors struggle to balance their supervision responsibilities with their other job tasks. This would seem especially true in small police departments. Most general-purpose, local police departments are small, with 81% employing fewer than 25 full-time, sworn officers and 42% employing fewer than five officers. With tightening budgets, supervisors have less flexibility with resources.
False Good Guy Syndrome: Many supervisors want to empower officers but often think that means that direct reports own their work and make their own decisions. This false understanding of empowerment keeps anemic leaders from acknowledging, asserting and enforcing their authority. They hesitate to make clear statements about performance requirements, SOPs, direction, feedback (praise and criticism), guidelines for improvement or the distribution of consequences (rewards and penalties).
Lack of skill: Many police supervisors receive inadequate training in effective supervision. Consequently, they develop an ad hoc and less-than-optimal repertoire of management techniques that become ingrained habits over time.
Fear: Most police supervisors, like most officers in this country, have amazing physical courage through character and training. And, they face the vilest profanity in the streets. However, many of these same supervisors are afraid of being disliked by officers or being called micro-managers. They fear the difficult conversations that true leadership can bring. They also fear that if they provide stand-up leadership, officers might impose expectations on them they’re unwilling or unable to meet.
Symptoms of Anemic Leadership
Anemic leaders fail to provide their direct reports with what Rainmaker Thinking defines as the five basics of supervision:
- Clear statements of what is expected of each officer;
- Explicit and measurable goals and deadlines;
- Clear monitoring, evaluation and documentation of each officer’s performance;
- Clear feedback with guidance for improvement; and
- Fair meting out of rewards and penalties.
Based on a sample of more than 500 managers as well as ongoing surveys and interviews since 1993:
- 90% of supervisors fail to provide every direct report with all five supervision basics at least once a week;
- 75% fail this every month; and
- 35% fail to provide the basics even once a year.
Generational Differences Compound the Problem
Compounding the gaps of anemic leadership are the generational differences in today’s workplace.
Traditionalists (b. 1922–1945) have no problems with a command and control, pyramid, hierarchical model of leadership. This worked great in the Industrial Age, when the goal was to do the same thing over and over as efficiently as possible.
This is not what I mean by stand-up leadership. Moreover, the generations that grew up in the fast-changing Information Age won’t be ruled by the dinosaur pyramid model. They’re looking for a coach who will cheer and bench them as circumstances dictate, as well as provide feedback on how to improve.
Many Baby Boomer supervisors (b. 1946–1964) who came of age with the ″question authority″ motto have swung too far in abdicating it. Evidence of this can be found in the TV commercials that reassure them it’s not hypocritical to tell their kids not to use drugs just because they used them as a kid.
Gen X parents (b. 1965–1980) are similarly offered assurances that it’s actually OK to exercise authority over their children by the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, which soothingly advises: Parents can help. Ask: Who? What? Where? When? Remember: It’s not pestering. It’s parenting.
Consequences of Anemic Leadership
The anemic supervisor isn’t informed about his officers’ needs and is, therefore, unable to help with resources and problem-solving. This supervisor can’t judge what expectations are reasonable and therefore is unable to set goals and deadlines that are ambitious but achievable. Anemic supervisors spend too much time solving problems that could’ve been avoided with stand-up leadership.
Anemically led officers struggle because their supervisors aren’t sufficiently engaged to provide them the direction and support they need. Work groups with false good guy, anemic leaders are less successful, have lower productivity, lower quality, lower morale, lower retention rates and attract mediocre employees.
There’s a Cure
The good news is there’s a cure for anemic leadership. It’s not a reversion to a command-and-control model. It’s not micromanaging. And it’s achievable with some step-by-step, specific, practical stand-up leadership techniques that provide officers real empowerment without abdicating the leader’s power. We’ll look at that next month.