A Personal Rant: Absentee Leaders

Imagine a football team in which the on-field leader (the captain) hangs around the center circle watching everyone else kick the ball around. They observe from a distance. They send an email when somebody loses the ball. They don’t even join in with the half-time water break. They drink their own private water, perhaps a more premium brand, in a different part of the field.

It sounds ridiculous I know. The sad thing is though, people around the world have to put up with absentee leadership every day. It’s when a person somehow makes it to a management or leadership position and is more than keen to accept the privileges and higher pay packet that comes with it, but then avoids all meaningful connections and interactions with their team.

A survey of 1,000 workers in 2015 showed that 8 out of the top 9 complaints about leaders were related to leaders who were absent or disengaged.

Here’s a couple of examples that I know of personally:

  • A marketing executive I know recently won a prestigious industry award. While her team obviously congratulated her, the general manager did not. Seriously?
  • I was recently facilitating part of a leadership development program for a hospitality company. It was attended by selected high-performers in the company to train them for future leadership positions within the organisation. None of the organisation’s senior leaders showed up to speak at the event (or even just to say hello). On a leadership development program. Really?
  • I know of one general manager who is well-known for not speaking to anyone outside of his immediate circle of executives. He walks around his hotel inspecting things and making little notes but never engaging with other members of staff. WTF?

These are all examples of absentee leaders. Can these people not stop for a second and think about how their behaviour might be perceived by others? Can they not think how they would feel if things were the other way around? What’s even worse is when these so-called leaders go on and on about team building within their organisations and instruct their HR departments to make it a priority but then demonstrate the exact opposite behaviour to what they are espousing.

Leaders Who Are Anonymous Deserve To Be Ridiculed

I’ve worked with one or two absentee leaders myself. Here’s an example from early in my career, when I was living in Europe. It involves a leader who sat in his office looking at spreadsheets all day and rarely, if ever, ventured out into the workplace jungle surrounding him.

I once got a ‘nod’ from him when I was standing at the urinal in the men’s room and he walked in. When two men meet in a workplace toilet facility, there is only one thing to do. Politely nod. Then, get on with the business at hand. I remember this moment well because I felt it was a form of team bonding.

After that one moment of meaningful connection, he never spoke to me again. He disappeared back to his cave. I like to think it was because he was embarrassed about the small size of his……sorry, I’ve become distracted. Rant over.

This is one rant in a series of personal rants and diatribes about silly and ineffectual behaviours displayed by leaders and managers across the world. Please don’t expect in-depth psychological analyses and discussions of empirical training models here. I write these posts for my own light entertainment and, I hope, yours.