“A groom used to spend whole days in currycombing and rubbing down his Horse, but at the same time stole his oats and sold them for his own profit. ‘Alas!’ said the Horse, ‘if you really wish me to be in good condition, you should groom me less, and feed me more.’” — Aesop's Fables
In my role of running a company that helps entrepreneurs and small businesses go global, I constantly communicate with founders and presidents of businesses who never cease to amaze me with their unconventional leadership styles. Many of us are aware of transformative, participative and charismatic leaders. These are the types of individuals we all love to work with — people who let you know where they stand and are out to make a difference in our world. Think Gordon Bethune (Continental Airlines), Anita Campbell (Small Business Trends), Cathleen Black (Hearst Magazines) and Jack Welch (GE).
But there’s a different sort of leader that creeps up on us when we least expect it. They may very well be a business owner or president of a small enterprise, but they are not good at managing people and have a poor self-image, which plays a critical role in a leader’s effectiveness and the eventual success of an organization. This type of leadership style can stunt the growth of an operation.
Here are five warning signs of what I refer to as loosey-goosey leadership practices.
1. A no-show at meetings. You set up a meeting and make sure the president can attend; he or she says, “yes.” You give two or three notices prior to the meeting to remind the president of the date and time. The morning of, the president emails and says something has come up that is urgent and he or she cannot make the meeting. This happens not once but two or three times within a short period of time. It’s a pattern. You have no idea why it’s happening, but it’s happening.
2. Unreliable with conference calls. You set up a call that is convenient to the founder of the business and all the parties involved in the project. You establish a purpose for the call and the expected outcomes. Reminders are sent to ensure everyone is aware of the date and time of the phone meeting. The day of the conference call, it begins and the founder never joins the call. There is no subsequent call to apologize or an email to explain the absence. Colleagues speculate as to why the founder is missing, and another call is scheduled. The founder, who has a critical part in the call, joins 20 minutes late, disrupting all and pushing the call well beyond its time limit.
3. Leads you on an email/voicemail chase. How many of you have had the experience where a prospective client calls you, leaves a voicemail message indicating they need your services, and once you respond by phone or email, they are nowhere to be found? You call and there is no return phone call from this executive. You email for weeks and there is nothing. Then maybe a month or two goes by and out of nowhere, there’s an email indicating they want to get together to discuss their needs. You respond quickly, totally disregarding past attempts to connect, and yet it’s still impossible to nail down a date and time to chat.
4. Never doing as they say they are going to. Loosey-goosey leaders are always first to state they will participate in something, and then later on as the event, project or meeting approaches, they never show. They want to look good in front of others (peers), but when push comes to shove and something really matters, they don't deliver. You think it will change but it doesn’t.
5. Disappearing during a time of need or crisis. Some refer to this as the greasy pig syndrome, meaning you want to get your hands on a key player — whether for a new business launch, re-branding project or manufacturing overhaul — and they are nowhere to be found. You need them on a conference call, indicate as such several times over, and you hear absolutely nothing from them. You leave a voicemail message stating your best client needs “our” response by no later than close of business today, and you hear nothing that day, or the next, or the following day. Yet this very same person claims to run the company.
Loosey-goosey leadership style is really about a person who has no regard for others (it goes back to that poor self-image issue mentioned earlier and total disregard for the do unto others as you would have them do unto you philosophy.). A loosey-goosey leader doesn’t want or know how to make powerful change happen — at least not when they aren’t responsible for it or won’t get credit. They prefer to mess things up for others in positions of power because it makes them feel important.
What do you do if you encounter a loosey-goosey leader? Run away from them as fast as you can! Or, if you must work with them, minimize their role within the scope of whatever it is you need to do. For example, have them carry the least amount of responsibility to get a project off the ground, start a new division or find a new market. At some point, these folks will be exposed and they'll fail at their attempt to grow their business and be something they aren’t: a leader.
Could you be practicing a loosey-goosey leadership style? To find out, ask your horse.
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About the Author: Global business expert Laurel Delaney is the founder of GlobeTrade (a Global TradeSource, Ltd. company). She also is the creator of “Borderbuster,” an e-newsletter, and The Global Small Business Blog, all highly regarded for their global small business coverage. You can reach Laurel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @LaurelDelaney.