New leader lacks leadershipBy Joan Lloyd
Just before the holidays, our department lost its supervisor and our CEO has opted not to fill the position. The manager that was under this person is now in charge of the department and struggles with managing people and has a clear lack of leadership skills.
Since being left in charge, this manager has not yet made any effort to learn what any of their subordinates do. And without leadership and/or direction, the department is struggling.
When other members of the department try and offer assistance, the manager becomes defensive and sometimes hostile. We are a small department with a very large workload. I am concerned that the situation is going to drive people out of the company. Is there anything I can do to help remedy the situation?
This unfortunate situation doesn’t leave you with many options. Your new manager is resistant and defensive when others try to help, so it looks like he is walling himself off from the very thing that could save him.
I suspect he knows he isn’t doing well and doesn’t want anything jeopardizing his new job and his standing with the CEO. In some situations I’ve seen teams, who are grossly dissatisfied with their leader, go to the leader’s boss, but that can be dicey. If the CEO doesn’t receive the news well, or bungles the delivery of the information to your boss, your leader could either be a raging bull or a seething snake.
Similarly, if you go to HR you could get the same result. The HR manager will feel compelled to intervene and now the two leaders may even feel more upset because HR is now involved and the poor hiring selection has been exposed.
A savvy CEO or HR manager may be able to coach the new leader, or provide an executive coach from the outside. These approaches would probably be received as help as he learns his new role, if this is positioned properly. The coach (or HR coach) could lay out some pathways and techniques in a constructive way and position the coaching as leadership development.
I recommend that you assess the past record of the HR manager and/or the CEO and try to predict their reaction and approach. If you do talk with one of them, I suggest that you choose your words carefully. For example, “Tom is new in his leader role and some leadership development could really help him and the department. For instance, if you or an outside coach worked with him he may be more willing to learn what we do, provide some direction for us and be willing to hear our ideas. I’d hate to see a lot of turnover in the department, since we are so small and interdependent.”
Don’t be tempted to launch into a long list of his failings. Instead, be ready with one or two examples that illustrate the serious lack of skills. Provide a calm recital of the facts and avoid condemning generalities such as, “He’s a horrible leader!” “Everyone hates him!”
If you are afraid that this could backfire, you may have to keep trying to make upward suggestions. For instance, you might take the approach that you would benefit from a certain action. For example, “Since we are all so swamped with work, it would really help me if we could have a short one-on-one meeting each week, so I can bring in some questions and get direction on some tough cases.” Or, “I think it would really help me and the others if we could get together for an hour or so each week to discuss this project. I know you’re concerned about us delivering this project on time and I think it would help us get it done more efficiently.”
If all attempts fail, you will be back to your biggest concern—turnover. Once turnover starts, senior management may take a closer look at what is going on, but don’t count on it. Often, departing employees will cover the real reason in order to leave without burning a bridge. Hopefully, the CEO will get smart before it comes to that.