Lukewarm Leadership: Knowledge without Practice

A surprising condition among those in leadershipLukewarm positions is a tendency to avoid taking or deferring action when various business challenges or crisis occur. This might be a difficult or complex organization issue, supporting an ambitious new product plan, standing up for the organization to senior management or the board, or engaging in a difficult customer relationship.

A leader operating from the sidelines normally has adequate training and education to deal with the circumstance but, when called upon to take action, they take a sideline position. This might be described as having “knowledge but not practicing it” or what I call – lukewarm leadership.

The Lukewarm Leader
A lukewarm leader is goes through the motions in performing their responsibilities. They pride themselves in making decisions and involvement in what they describe as their core responsibilities when, in fact, they are “safe” or “low risk” decisions and activities. They are more focused on having the leadership title than working the leadership issues they are responsible for.

Lukewarm leaders are slow to admit that a “problem” exists. This may be an ineffective policy, process or a poor performing employee. Various methods of denial are used to deflect the significance of the problem and, which effectively places the responsibility on the “complainer” to substantiate that the problem exists, to provide evidence and examples that are irrefutable before they will commit resources to handle their claim.

The end result is that the complainer will often stand down they find the time and effort required to overcome the barriers that have been raised jeopardizes their own performance. Consequently, the “leader” can maintain that the integrity and reputation of their operation has been substantiated since nothing wrong can be documented. This is a bad situation if it is an employee in the company but even worse if it is a customer.

What Makes a Lukewarm Leader?
A lukewarm leader might be someone who is over their head (peter principle) but in many cases, that I have observed, they have reasonable experience and education in their field. They have been promoted into senior positions more on their political attributes than their true contribution to the bottom line and effectiveness leading an organization. They have mastered the ability to look good to upper management, who may not have taken the time to measure the performance of middle managers as leaders before promoting them into senior leadership positions.

The absence of effective annual performance reviews, quarterly planning reviews where accomplishments versus plan are reviewed, and mentoring relationships with mature leaders eliminate accountability from the leadership process. Consequently, it is possible for lukewarm talent to operate below the radar and with the right massaging of accomplishments appear qualified for senior responsibility.

How to Avoid a Lukewarm Leader
Avoiding a lukewarm leader begins with the recruiting process. The candidate needs to be examined in their ability to develop an organization, mentor subordinates, and focus on process and policies that result in improved profitability and creating a competitive customer experience.

References provided by the candidate should be interviewed as well as any previous employees, supervisors or possibly customers to validate their credentials. Peers to the position should be involved to develop various perspectives on how this person will lead and their ability to support their integration into the organization.

A strong recruiting process is good but needs to be reinforced by an aggressive management review process. Each position should be measured on a periodic basis – monthly, quarterly and annually. Core quantitative measurements (profit, margin, quality, cost, etc.) along with appropriate qualitative results, such as, people development, development of peer relationships, decision-making process and team work, and customer reviews.

The tone for demonstrating leadership comes from the top leader – owner, CEO, or general manager. If an organization is known for its “lukewarm” leadership, then the problem is at the top. An effective senior leader will regularly examine his next level and their subordinates to identify if anyone is drifting into a lukewarm style of leadership.

If a lukewarm leader is identified then a corrective action plan is established. A period of time of 90 days (or less in some cases) might be appropriate to determine if the individual is correcting their leadership style. If the problem still exists then that person may need to be working elsewhere in the organization or with another company.

Are You a Lukewarm Leader?
If you are in a leadership position and you wonder where you rank then score your self on the following questions:

  1. Have you established a vision and strategy for your group that incorporates the values and principles of the organizations?.
  2. Do you regularly evaluate your operations to make sure they are meeting or exceeding objectives?
  3. Are you aware of circumstances where you knew you were qualified and had the means to deal with a situation but for some reason you deferred?
  4. Do you study other leaders and how they create “success” and also deal with and recover from “failure?”
  5. Do you direct your employees to serve others in their group, who they work with on a peer basis and, of course, customers, as they would want to be served?
  6. Do you make yourself available to employees that work for you?
  7. Do you assist employees in seeking assistance form the company or public agencies when they are facing or experiencing personal circumstances?
  8. Are you recognized by your peers and senior management (or board) as someone who creates a can do atmosphere?
  9. Do you examine your subordinates for “lukewarm” performers?
  10. Do other employees seeking leadership roles approach you to be their mentor?

If you find that you are less than satisfied with your answers to the 10 questions above then you have an opportunity to improve your leadership style and effectiveness. Identify what areas need work first, have someone work with you on an accountability basis and then measure yourself in a reasonable period of time. Improving and working on your leadership style and ability is a continuous process and rarely done in a vacuum.

If you are called to a leadership role. do what you are called to do – lead. Rely on your experience and training to squarely face and deal with what you are unfamiliar with. Seek a mentor to guide you and give you perspective on areas where you can improve. Take criticism as a learning opportunity. Put what you learn into practice.

A leadership role is an important and significant responsibility. A successful leader runs hot and is easily recognized as guiding a successful organization. An unsuccessful leader runs cold and is easily recognized for losing control of their organization. It is those who select opportunities to appear to run hot, but in many important situations they run cold – the result of this blend is lukewarm leadership.

Are lukewarm managers untrained or inexperienced? No! In my experience it is a matter of putting their knowledge – education, training, observations, mentoring, networking – of leadership into practice.

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