5 Dysfunctions of a Leader

Last week I was running a Leadership course in California, working with a huge global networking company whose turnover was nearly $12 billion last quarter.  I’ve worked with this client for nearly 15 years, so I know the culture pretty well.  They employ some amazing people, and it always gives me a buzz to be with them.

During this three day foundation  course we covered a huge amount of ground, and it was a real wake up call for all of us.  The company makes a huge amount of money and is seen by many as a bellwether for the state of the economy, but despite that there are some dysfunctions which came shining through during these three days.  The average length of service of the people in the room was 8 years, so these are people who have become somewhat acclimatised to the culture and whose behaviour might reasonably be assumed to be representative of those around them.

Here’s a summary of what I think were the top 5 behavioural dysfunctions which inhibit the achievement of the full potential of the business.   We discussed each of them at length during the course, so I hope any participants reading this will recognise the list. As you read it, ask yourself whether you can relate to them.

1.  Jumping out of the helicopter and working out how to open the parachute on the way down.  Over several separate exercises this habit became clear:  a tendency to get started too quickly without thinking through WHAT we are supposed to do, or HOW best to go about it.  Leading to outputs which were not expected or in line with customer expectations.  In short, doing the Wrong thing Wrong.

2.  Jumping to conclusions too quickly.  Particularly apparent when coaching each other, the habit of coming up with the answer rather than finding out more first, or indeed letting the other person work out the answer.  Leading to solutions which are not owned by the other person, and a Parent-Child relationship.

3.  Asking Closed Questions.  And thus not finding out the real truth behind the situation.  Probably a habit borne of being in too much of a hurry, knowing too much, working in a technical environment, and believing that innocent 8-year old type questions  (especially “Why?”) make you look  stupid.

4.  Thinking that Leadership means telling and directing.  As opposed to involving, collaborating, leaving things open, seeking creative solutions.  Thus leaving others feeling uninvolved, disconnected and  searching for meaning.

5.  Taking things too literally, and thinking too low level.  When faced with information, being sucked in by it and not seeing the real meaning, the implication, the bigger picture.  Because they are good with numbers and data, a tendency to poke around with it at low level as opposed to seeking to use it to inform a strategy.  Basically missing the point, and being easily distracted when in the comfort zone of FACTS!

It was interesting also to note that this group of 10 people, all of whom had been identified as having strong Leadership potential, was made up of 70% Myers Briggs ESTJ or ISTJ profiles.  This means that their “Temperament” (the lens through which they see the world) is that of “Guardian“.  This can be summarized as:

“Trust the past, tradition and authority. Want security, stability and to belong.”  How does that square with acting as a change agent, inspiring others, setting the direction, and so on?

I think the participants found this a really useful wake up call:  a reminder that there may be some basic behaviours which they display which inhibit their contribution as leaders, and that there are others around them who also do the same.  The great news is that they could all see if for what it is, and made a commitment to doing something about it.  Easier said then done, but they have all now made a start.

I wonder how many of these you recognise, and what you can do to compensate for them?

As a postscript to my previous posts about in-flight conflict resolution, you might like to know what happened to me on the return journey.  I had anticipated that as I was again in seat 28D I might be asked to relocate, and so I was ready and waiting with my “IF” gun.  Sure enough, once we’d taken off I was approached.

MR STRESSED:  “Excuse me, sir, would you mind swapping seats with my wife?  We have an infant and would like to be able to use the Cot facility.”

MR COLLABORATIVE (ME): “IF you can find me a seat with the same legroom, I’d be happy to help you.”

MR STRESSED: “Sure, my wife’s window seat has even more legroom than yours, as there is no seat in front of it.”

ME:  “It’s a deal.”

Because I wasn’t caught off guard (sometimes known as the Amygdala Hijack) – because I had thought it through in advance – I was able to access the logical bit of my brain and weigh up the situation quickly.  It was a clear Win/Win.

Smiles and thanks all round.  Seat 29A has indeed no seat in front of it, so I could stretch out without being whacked by drinks trollies, or being  disturbed by having to pass drinks and trays etc for others.  It doesn’t get any better, in Economy at least.  I donned my noise cancelling headphones and slept the sleep of the righteous until they woke me for breakfast.  (A personal first, by miles).  Lesson:  if you’re a natural Accommodator like me, and you want to Collaborate, it can help to plan it and rehearse your response to a conflict situation in advance.

About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at www.hownot2.com
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10 Responses to 5 Dysfunctions of a Leader

  1. Naomi Chavez Peters says:

    What a great summary to some keen observations! Thanks so much for summarizing this so well, Michael. I’ve shared it this morning on my Chatter post within salesforce.com. It’s good to have a gut-check every now and again!


  2. It’s too bad this kind of leadership training isn’t being used in all businesses and in government ministries. Or how about in the school system? It seems like our most dysfunctional people get promoted just to keep them out of trouble. That needs to be changed.


    • Not sure I’d agree that promotion is a way to keep dysfunctional people out of trouble, although it’s an intriguing thought!. I do think plenty of people are promoted because they are good at Job A, without having established that they can Manage effectively, let alone Lead. Too many people expect managers to know intuitively how to do it, and don;t give them the support they need to develop the capability.

      And yes, it should start in schools!!! No one should choose a higher education topic without knowing their Myers Briggs profile, in my view. And they should definitely know their spouse’s profile before they get married (said he, happily
      married 31 years to someone with a 100% opposite profile!)


      • Opposites attract. My husband saves, I spend (not too much though). He’s a thinker and I’m a bit impulsive. Without me he’d never have any fun, and without him I’d never have any money. We also have a long history so I agree with your “opposites assessment.”


  3. MysteryCoach says:

    As to number 4, never mind those who work with them feeling devalued and under appreciated. Personally, I think in “some” cases leaders have this greater than thou complex where they’re not open to others input. Which, of course, does nothing for the group or enhancing communication or team building strategies at all. My .02 🙂


  4. Hi Michael

    I liked this a lot – and wonder if there is another important dimension to your findings with this client?

    As well as working to change behaviours of existing staffers – something with which they’re likely to need consistent support, there are implications for their recruitment processes too. Finding new staff with less “guardianship” in their personalities might be useful. However, I’m reminded of something said to me when I addressed a national meeting of Independent Chairs of Local Safeguarding Children Boards (itself a bit of a mouthful). One of the more knowledgeable attendees said “When you’re working closely with a local authority department it is very easy to lose some of your independence. I reckon that much above two years – some of your value as a truly independent chair has already been compromised”.

    David Parkinson & Associates


    • Hi David

      Interesting thought. How long does it take us to “conform”, especially when the culture is really well defined, as was the case last week. I expect there’s some robust research on this somewhere. Can anyone help?

      Thanks for dropping by.


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