When top leaders “abandon the podium” and work at the wrong level (WAWL), there are a host of undesirable consequences. Top executives end up doing managerial work and neglect their strategic and organization capability building work, putting the organization at risk.
When your boss dives into your work and makes the decisions you should be making, the opportunity to stretch and gain experience to lead at the next level is taken away. Not only is competency not developed, leaders whose higher-ups meddle in their work end up feeling disempowered, distrusted and diminished. This is leadership and decision compression, and it results in unclear decision rights and role confusion. It leads to excessive rework, commonly called the “checkers checking checkers syndrome” and stagnation of leadership development. Worse, when those who should focus on the future of the organization don’t, not only is talent not developed, market and competitive trends can be missed, innovation doesn’t thrive, a performance culture isn’t established or strengthened and the business begins to run out of ways to grow organically and sustainably.
There are three accompaniments to leadership and decision compression: perspective compression, information compression and authority compression.
When leaders work at too low an altitude for extended periods they literally lose their perspective – the vantage point – required by their role. There are three distortions of perspective that can be quite damaging to an organization. The first is loss of a comprehensive systems view, which results in narrow, insular thinking and decision-making. Second, the long-term view can be overshadowed by the short term, undermining the business’ ability to develop longer-term strategies. Third, and possibly most damaging, is the loss of pattern recognition, where leaders fail to see important patterns from outside the business – from customers, competitors, regulators or the board) – or from geographic or functional requirements inside the organization.
The ability to see and orchestrate all the pieces of an organization is unique to senior leadership roles. An organization’s top leaders have the unique temporal view necessary to look up and out toward the strategic priorities three to five years down the road. Stepping away from the podium and abandoning this perspective is a high-risk and potentially costly mistake for leaders, organizations and investors.
Next week, we’ll talk about the next two types of compression.
Ron Carucci and Eric Hansen are the co-founders of Navalent, an organizational and leadership consulting firm building executable solutions that result in transformational change in organizations. Their latest book, “Rising to Power: The Journey of Exceptional Executives,” features Carucci and Hansen's 10-year longitudinal study of 2,600 executives from the Fortune 1000 in combination with in-depth surveys of executives who recently transitioned into an executive role.