It’s helpful to know and understand what I consider to be the nine telltale signs that leadership is headed into this black hole, so quick remedial action can be taken before it’s too late.
- The flow of bad news stops crossing the executives’ desks - Too much good news flowing to the C-suite is a sure signal that the fear factor has kicked in and critical issues needing their attention will be quite late in coming, if at all.
- Blank stares (and no nodding heads) at all staff gatherings - It’s not usually boredom that causes this to happen (which can be a big misinterpretation); they’ve flipped their internal switches to “off” and the words just don’t get through – a big sign that the trust bonds are frayed or broken.
- More electronic than “real” conversations - Too much e-mail and not enough face-to-face meetings and phone calls indicates a brewing communication problem, as well as a threat of inertia (a big business killer). C’mon folks, if you have to e-mail the person in the next cubicle or office……
- Lack of action on problem staff, and the loss of high performers - When the underperformers stick around, and the stars leave, watch out – trouble’s a brewin’. This is a huge morale killer.
- The rise of “back-channel” communication, venting, and gossip – There’s always going to be some of this going on, but if it expands from a trickle to a near-flood, the leadership wheels are falling off. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than a leader walking into a break room to “shhhh, he’s here….”.
- Perfunctory meetings - I call it the “mile wide and inch deep” syndrome; we THINK things are getting done in a very orderly in fast way, when in fact, we’re skating briskly over a very shallow pond of “just get it over with” malaise.
- People “Just doing their job, nothing more” - This is a sentence unhappy teammates will utter out loud when things go south (with the actual hope that a leader will overhear it); it’s the equivalent of that line in the old TV show “Lost in Space”: “Danger, danger Will Robinson!!“
- Implementation of the ignorance strategy - When problems fester without action from above, the ignorance strategy is in play – leaders are ignoring them in the hope they just eventually go away. It’s an easy strategy to implement, but 99 times out of 100 it will fail with disastrous consequences (and the other 1 time it was just plain luck).
- Misalignment and hidden agendas - Another phrase for this one is “every person for themselves”. Silos proliferate, and individual goals and politics take precedence over team and overall goal alignment. A classic example is a sales force caring for nothing more than commissions, leaving customer “messes” behind for the rest of the team to clean up – if they can.
Read these tea leaves well, and in time, with hard work the vacuum will disappear, replaced by real and genuine leadership. Ignore them at your peril, because a team in a vacuum is not a happy (or profitable) place to be.