Absentee leadership is rarely discussed, but it is perhaps the most destructive of all poor leadership types. It can do more to compromise employee engagement, morale, and productivity than other faulty leadership styles.
Unfortunately, it is also the most difficult of the styles to detect, which means you may have one on your team right now.
How can you detect whether you have this element in the executive circle? And what can you do about it?
Also called an emotionally disengaged leader, an Absentee leads in title only. They are people who are perhaps promoted into management because they did great work in their previous position, and they enjoy the perks and rewards of their current elevated status. However, they do not put in the hard work of engaging with their team to provide direction and support. You might say that they deplete the organization’s value because they are taking from it, but not investing back into it.
This affects the teams and individuals in their area of responsibility in a much more insidious way because absentee leadership behaviors can cause confusion in roles, conflict between staff, and increased stress leading to work and health problems.
Symptoms that you have an Absentee on your team can include:
End runs for answers.
Do you have employees from a specific area within the organization that continue to come to you for answers? Ask yourself why. Allowing or even supporting this disempowers their leader and crowds your calendar. If you have not encouraged this dynamic, it may be that these employees are not getting answers from the person who should be supporting them. Don’t fall into the trap of giving a quick and easy response to these queries; instead, make time to sit with the leader who should be supplying answers and share what you are noticing. The goal of this exercise is not to punish the employees, but to explore why they are not getting answers. Deep dive on this one.
Increased conflict or interpersonal problems.
Do you have employees or an area within the organization that cyclically erupts? This is a reflection of unmanaged emotions and a lack of ability to negotiate relationships. If this is a trend, it is a reflection of someone allowing this to continue. I would call this an Absentee leader, since the leader is either aware of the situation but steps back from confronting, or they are unaware, which is worse. Again, this requires a conversation and some coaching around expectations. You’ll need to stick closely to the Absentee during a corrective period to monitor their progress. Absentees can disappear easily in the company crowd. They are generally nice people who don’t make noise, which allows them to hide behind other more evident company challenges.
Team grumbling or low performance.
When conducting employee forums or interdepartmental meetings, do you notice that dissatisfaction is expressed from the same corners every time? Is there a team that is known for its compromised performance? A chronic poor attitude or behavior in either individuals or team is a clear sign that someone is not present for their team, providing coaching, corrective feedback, and upholding expectations. Again, your approach would be the same – to sit with your Absentee and outline what you are observing, how it is impacting others and the company, and to define clearly what you want to see. Monitor, monitor, monitor.
This topic is worth careful study if you want highest ROI from your executive team.
The impact of absentee leadership on job satisfaction outlasts the impact of both constructive and overtly destructive forms of leadership. This costs your company not only now, but in future, since best efforts to turn this around take time.
And at a time when your focus needs to be on leading the organization into the future, you can’t afford to compromise.
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Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive consulting, leadership development, succession planning, change management, and conflict resolution. She is also an experienced Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.