Are you watching those leadership traps?

They are sometimes concealed by common sense, logic and good intentions

A trap works because it is unseen and engineered into what seems to be safe ground. Leadership traps function the same way. The course is paved with common sense, and protected by the hedge of logic. However, ironically, sometimes focussing too hard on promoting approaches that seem to be supported by logic may cause that tumble down the abyss. It can be mystifying, if not crushing. How can bad come out of something good?

The efficiency trap

The efficiency trap is widely acknowledged as the most common leadership trap. It continues to be common, because it continues to entrap teams, despite sufficient knowledge about how it works.

Prof. Sunney Tharappan, founder-director, College for Leadership and Human Resource Development, narrates a story that educationist V.K.R.V. Rao (who was education minister at the Centre in the 1970s) is credited with.

“Expecting their subordinates to be like them is a trap team leaders can easily slip into. V.K.R.V. Rao would tell this story about how a principal asked a clerk to prepare a certificate. The clerk was all day about it, and even after 30 minutes, he had made little headway with the work. The angry principle made short work of the assignment, finishing it in three minutes flat, and bellowed at the clerk, ‘I did it in three minutes, and even 30 minutes isn’t sufficient for you!’ To this, the clerk would say, ‘If I could do it in three minutes, I would be in your place.’ A simple and powerful story. If everyone is just as efficient, what is the need for the leader?”

The experience trap

The leader has covered a lot of ground, and is keen on sharing all his experience with subordinates. He is clearly well-intentioned. The question: Does this approach help in all situations? His experience is certainly relevant. However, he may be offering too much of a good thing, if he does not possess the leadership intelligence to discern when his experience isn’t relevant.

“You achieve the highest level of knowledge only when it is crowned by humility. A leader should inhabit a paradoxical state: He should know he knows enough, but also know his knowledge isn’t complete. He should have those channels of communication open that would allow him to learn from his subordinates. We are operating in a business environment that is marked by VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), and the answers don’t always come easily. Having that openness will increase a leader’s chances of finding the right answers,” says K.S. Raja Rajasekar, Deputy General Manager — Human Resources, KONE Elevator India Pvt. Ltd.

The perfection trap

The perfect team is a figment of the imagination. Even carefully hand-picked and highly-competent teams can’t fire on all cylinders, all the time. Team India’s campaign in the 2019 ICC World Cup illustrates this. Yet, leaders can be obsessed with putting the “perfect team” in place.

Prof. Tharappan explains how to avoid this trap.

“A good leader is someone who has analysed the competence, intellectual content and attitude of all the members of the team, and created a matrix of the total resourcefulness available to him. He will base his plans on this resourcefulness, streaming and using it wherever and whenever necessary. The ordinary and the average will also have a place in this matrix, as it is well thought-out.”

In cricket, there is a term called “bits-and-pieces players”, who may never achieve legend-status in any area of specialisation, but will contribute in small but effective measures in all departments of the game. Any cricket captain would agree that their contribution, lower down the batting or bowling order, can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

The contrarian trap

An effective leader will encourage the contrarian view, and allow his subordinates to question his conclusions. However, discussions that encourage contrarian views from subordinates should come with a filter mechanism. Sometimes, it is a thin line that divides the expression of a contrarian view and the display of one-upmanship.

Says Prof. Tharappan, “Before inviting contrarian views, a leader should have done some reality checking, which is about being clear about the principles, values, situations, abilities and opportunities involved. He should know whether a contrarian view is in line with the company’s principles and values. Being aware of the team’s abilities will show him what view to entertain, and what not to.”

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 10:47:56 PM |

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