strategy+business Winter 2013 : Page 48

Kannan Ramaswamy KR@leading-worldwide.com is the William D. Hacker Chair Professor of Management at the Thunderbird School of Global Management and the founder/CEO of Lead-ing Worldwide, a leadership consultancy. William Youngdahl billyoungdahl@14falcons.com is an associate professor specializing in strategy imple-mentation and leadership de-velopment at the Thunderbird School of Global Management and the founder and CEO of a tech startup, 14falcons. The authors gratefully ac-knowledge Robert Herbold’s assistance in shaping their thinking on this article. Her-bold served as chief operating offi cer at Microsoft and is now managing director of the Her-bold Group LLC, a consulting business focused on executive training and profi tability. 48 People expect to fi nd bad bosses in failing com-panies. However, in surveys and interviews with more than 250 working professionals in 37 countries, we’ve found that 51 percent of employees across the full spec-trum of organizational performance believe initiatives tend to succeed despite, not because of, their leaders. All employees think that their bosses hinder their effective-ness from time to time. But the prevalence of this phe-nomenon even in successful organizations (as defi ned by respondents to our surveys) is eye-opening. It is hardly conceivable that the majority of bosses arrive at work each day with fresh ideas on how to ac-tively scuttle the efforts of their teams. Rather, they are lured into what we call the hindrance trap—a cognitive bubble in which leaders erroneously conclude that the success of their teams is a refl ection of their good leader-ship. As a result, organizations are settling for less than Exhibit 1: Leaders in Successful Organizations what they could achieve if they had more self-aware leaders throughout their hierarchies. The exact nature of the hindrance varies, but there are some common el-ements. They include a lack of clarity on purpose and direction, failure to consider the organization’s capacity, and useless policies ( see Exhibit 1 ). Our research also indicates that leaders’ hindrance, left unaddressed, will eventually exact a stiff toll on employee engagement and morale, no matter how strong the latest quarterly report. To make matters worse, a pattern of hindrance will drive up the rate of churn among the highest performers. The average performers might silently suf-fer the consequences of a boss stuck in the hindrance trap, but high performers can hardly be expected to be as patient. The good news is that any leader can escape the hindrance trap—or perhaps even avoid it altogether. It’s a process that begins with recognizing that hindrance is a real organizational disease, one with a set of specifi c symptoms you can diagnose. Only with an honest as-sessment can you plot your cure. How Hindrance Takes Root 77% 64% Don’t consider organizational capacity when rolling out new initiatives Don’t set and maintain useful policies Source: Kannan Ramaswamy and William Youngdahl strategy+business issue 73 feature organizations & people 51% 44% Hinder more than help Don’t clearly communicate purpose and direction Falling into the hindrance trap is frequently a subcon-scious process. The trouble starts with the socialization of becoming a leader. As managers move up the ranks, they are encouraged to think big and leave the details to others. The result is often a disconnect between strategy conception and implementation. Some ideas that seem feasible in the C-suite simply do not work on the ground. Leaders compound the problem when they fail to encourage honest, complete feedback from their em-ployees. Such bosses believe they are helping because

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