Is your leadership in a holding pattern while your team runs out of gas?


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At one point in my career I traveled a great deal spending four nights per week away from home. I lived in North Canton, Ohio so a number of my flights were small commuter airplanes to major hub cities. You learn to accept the slow baggage claim, fueling delays, and needing to run through the hub airport to make your connection. However one aggravation I never seemed to get used to was the plane going into a holding pattern as we approached the Akron Canton airport. If you fly a great deal as I did you know how long it should take to fly from Cincinnati or Charlotte, it was predictable. You know that a flight from Cincinnati should take just under an hour and when you notice you have been in the air for 80 minutes you become anxious. You look out the window and you can often see the runway lights, and then the moon, and the moon again, and again. Why? When will we land? I have flown this flight plan for years and now I do not know what to expect and I am getting frustrated. Eventually the pilot announces “we are cleared for landing, please put your tray tables up and your seats in an upright position…” and we land.

I had a phone conversation with a midlevel executive this week who was very frustrated and his emotion reminded me of the feelings I experienced when planes I was on went into holding patterns. He said that deals that the executives have historically signed are no longer being signed. His competitors are making a run at his key accounts, and management seems to be in a “holding pattern” not knowing what to do, so we are doing nothing.

When I wrote Attention leaders: Don’t look now but your lack of market knowledge is showing… I discussed how employees are more fearful now than ever before. They want to follow leaders they believe will lead their team out of this current situation and come out on the other side positioned to be a market leader. However I am hearing executive doubt in their leadership teams who have their business in a holding pattern. Employees, like me on my flight into the Akron airport are frustrated. They want to make decisions that add value however their leadership teams are stuck in a state of indecision. These mid level leaders just want to know the plan. (Or that there is a plan)

The Strategic Sourceror blog they discuss: Indecision is not an acceptable decision. The author points out “In every business decision situation, whether organizational, tactical, or strategic, there are two acceptable answers; Yes and No. Indecision is the cornerstone of faulty, short-sighted, C.Y.A. management philosophy. It’s the prized virtue of the mediocre and a tattered safety blanket for the incompetent.” Yet some large and small businesses are choosing to be in holding patterns today and their teams are growing more frustrated each day.

Why do you find leaders chose to be in a holding pattern? The above blog sites two main reasons;

 

There’s Not Enough Information

 

Happy Enough with the Status Quo

 

Next I went to the Bible, I was curious what advice it had regarding a lack of leadership and what could occur if a holding pattern lasts for too long…

 

“In the days with no King of Israel; everyone did what was right in their own eyes

                                                     Judges 17:6

When everyone does what is right in his own eyes, before long moral conditions sink

                                                     Judges 19:25

 

If leaders choose not to lead, their teams will do what they feel is right. If left unchecked, employees doing what they feel is right will erode the core values of what’s left of your culture.

 

Indecision is a tool of the incompetent leader. Determine what you know. Do you know what you don’t know? Admit what you don’t know and put a plan in place to gain the knowledge you require. Your team is counting on you to take them out of this holding pattern and have a flight plan that leads to a future landing as a market leader.

 

Does your senior leadership team have your team in a holding pattern, a let’s wait and see, plan?

 

Have you experienced your company’s indecision hurting your relationship with loyal customers?

 

Do you find senior leaders or mid level managers with more indecision today? Why?

 

Is a holding pattern ever a safe strategy?

 

Is a bad decision worst than indecision?

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5 thoughts on “Is your leadership in a holding pattern while your team runs out of gas?

  1. mark – great post. but i wonder how you feel about an alternate definition of effective leadership, which in my view is “how your team does when you’re not around.”

    people doing what they think is right is absolutely ok if there’s clear direction from the leadership (which i think is your real point here anyway) that provides goals, strategy and accountability metrics for the organization.

    leaders can get out of the “holding pattern” mentality by simply re-examining those key factors and what’s most likely to make their business successful. then they need to tell their people, explain why, re-emphasize how all contribute and how all will be measured (and rewarded for achievement of the goals), and then get out of the way and let people do what they think is right … in pursuit of those very clear objectives.

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