Effective Leaders  & The Unenlightened Company

by Brad Fregger

As reported in Brad’s essay The Enlightened Company & Effective Leaders, a study of more than 25 years ago, showed that effective leaders were not as "successful" as ineffective managers. Effective leaders made less money and were promoted less often. That situation still exists today.

Effective leadership is hard to recognize because it seems so easy and natural. Effective leaders’ accomplishments are often "invisible" to the organization’s more senior executives. Their "commitment" may even be doubted because it seems so easy for them. Management assumes their job is easier or they are lucky to have such a great team.

This essay is part of a special series on Being an Effective Leader. The essays were originally published in Beyneynu, an Austin, Texas based newsletter published by Barry Silverberg.

Brad Fregger is the CEO of 1st World Library.

Ineffective managers rise to their level of incompetence because they ultimately gain responsibility over a level of the organization that they can no longer handle alone.  The more intelligent and skilled they are, the higher they will go in the organization before this happens.  This is the reason that so many CEO’s are both highly intelligent and yet unbelievably ineffective as managers

Effective Leaders never rise to their level of incompetence.  Why not?  Because they are not depending on their own persistence, skills and knowledge, but rather on the commitment, loyalty, persistence, skills and knowledge of their team.  As they move up in the organization, they continue to surround themselves with the people they need to succeed, to get done what needs getting done.

Most of us are aware of two “rules” of business that are almost universally accepted: 1) The Peter Principle – In organizations, people tend to rise to their level of incompetence, and 2) Murphy’s Law – Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.  What is not known is that these rules apply only to unenlightened companies (organizations, government bodies, etc.)  and ineffective managers.

Let's consider Murphy’s Law.  Again, it is the ineffective manager who is creating the environment where anything and everything that can go wrong—will.  Effective Leaders, however, seldom are bothered by things going wrong.  When they do, they just fix them…anyway they can.  Most of the time, they are creating the environment where Fregger’s Principle kicks in, “Very often, anything that can go right—will.”

Effective Leadership
Not Recognized

After reading my speech on this subject (on-line at: http://www.groundbreaking.com/talks/)  my brother, Dennis Fregger, who has just retired from the fire service, was fascinated by the realization that over the years he had worked under both effective leaders and ineffective managers.  "The real surprise for me," Dennis told me, "was that I hadn’t recognized the effective leaders I had worked with.  I had one boss in particular who was an extremely effective leader. This was very obvious on the fire ground where he would instantly hold you accountable for your statements by asking probing questions to your off-hand remarks

You learned very quickly to own your statements in a mature, responsible manner and that made you better at what you did. The part that was "unseen" was the day to day nuts and bolts of administering to his personnel, which included insulating us from the Administration's ineffective management."

"It's a known fact that bosses, supervisors, administrators, etc. are the major cause of stress in the workplace.  He insulated us from that.  When I did have a problem, I'd talk to him and in a short time, I'd see the solution and that would be that. Everything went so smoothly when he was my supervisor..  It was easy, like breathing.  I didn’t recognize the power of this style of leadership until I read your speech.”

My brother identified a major part of the problem: Effective leadership is hard to recognize because it seems to natural. As my brother said, "...like breathing."

A personal experience illustrates this beautifully:

I was attending a workshop on how to read out-loud from the Bible effectively.  We were given a Bible verse to prepare, with our final being the reading of that verse.  I knew the instructor, and he knew my abilities as a reader…he gave me the most difficult Bible verse that he could find, and then smiled a knowing smile as he handed the assignment to me.  It took me all day and night to figure out how to read those verses in a way that would both inspire and clearly reflect what the author was trying to convey.

At the end of the workshop I was talking with one of the other attendees and he said, “It wasn’t fair, I had such a difficult reading.  If only he had given me yours…it was so much easier.”  This, of course, was the ultimate compliment…that a very difficult reading came off so easy and natural.

Hard Work
and Persistence Wins Out

Effective Leaders work like this.  They are as easy and natural or as hard as they need to be.  They come in extra when they have to, but don’t spend “after hours” time in the office just to make an impression.

Because it seems easy for effective leaders, management assumes that their job is easier, or that they are lucky to have such a great team.  The fact that it was the Effective Leadership style of management that developed the “great team” and made the job seem so easy, never enters the mind of the executive.  In this way the Effective Leader’s accomplishments are often “invisible” to the more senior executives in the organization, while his “commitment” may even  be doubted.

Ineffective managers are extremely visible because they are working so hard at getting things done. They often staying till late at night and/or getting in so early in the morning.  They are not necessarily trying to make an impression…they have to spend more time in the office, because it takes them longer to get less done.  Management observes this ":working harder" behavior and perceives it as commitment and loyalty to the organization.  Ineffective managers also exhibit tons of persistence and the ability to accomplish things “in spite of the incompetence that surrounds them.”  These characteristics are seen as highly desirable, especially by those executives who are also ineffective managers and therefore understand what it takes to succeed under conditions where they can only depend on their own hard work and persistence.

So how does it happen that in unenlightened companies effective leaders don’t get promoted and ineffective managers do?  After all, they are both getting the job done.

Here is a common scenario to exactly how and why it happens:

Jim is an Effective Leader, his team runs smoothly, the job always gets done with very little fanfare and not much observable effort.  Additionally, Jim insists that his key people attend important meetings with him, and when specific questions are asked, he defers to the appropriate expert on his team.

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