Are You An Enabling Leader?

I was leading a leadership training session this morning on the eight key practices of exceptional leaders. One of the eight is that exceptional leaders, “Solve Problems and Raise Standards.” The former is remedial and the later, progressive—one fixes what’s broken and the other advances the organization—and both are vitally important leadership practices.

However, it was when I was talking about how leaders fix problems that I saw several “lights go on,” around the room. And that’s what I want to share with you today.

The point I was making is that exceptional leaders refuse to tolerate problems. They don’t sweep them under the rug or excuse them away simply because of the person who’s involved . Instead, they confront the person and the problem head on and deal with it.

Unfortunately, most leaders don’t act that way, do they? No, they tolerate way too many problems way too long—especially with employees.

In order to drive home this point I asked them, “In order for a family to be dysfunctional, what does that family require?” Immediately, the answer came back, “An enabler (or co-dependent).” Exactly. In order for a family to be dysfunctional, they not only need a problem person, they need another person who tolerates the wrong behavior. Someone who allows the wrong behavior to continue.

The penny started to drop. The same thing is true of leaders of businesses and organizations. Most leaders of departments, areas, functions, and the overall business itself tolerate poor performance or inappropriate behavior was too long. In essence, they’ve become enablers (yes, there is a good kind of enabling, but today we’re talking about the bad kind).

You can hear it in their statements (and maybe even your own).

  • “Oh, that’s just Billy. He’s like that to everybody.”
  • “Oh, that’s just Jean. She never gets stuff done on time.”
  • “Oh, that’s just Frank. He never arrives on time.”
  • “Oh, that’s just Kumar. He’s not much of a team player.”
  • “Oh, that’s just Lynda. She’s always flustered and short. She doesn’t mean anything by it.”

What does that sound like to you? Sounds like enabling to me. In other words, most leaders are co-dependents. They allow problems to continue to exist rather than to confront them and deal with them appropriately. Note: I’m not advocating solving problems like a bull in a china shop. This is not a post on problem solving. Rather it’s a post on leadership and the problem of enablement 🙂

So, as you look at your team, are there some problems that you’ve been tolerating way too long? Are there some people in your business (or organization) who don’t live out your values? Or who are consistently under performing? Or who aren’t getting things done on time? Or who don’t interact well with customers? Etc.

If there are, and you’re not dealing with them, then you know what you need to do—unless you like being an enabler. As you know, avoiding dealing with problems is not a solution, it simply delays the inevitable. Even worse, it makes every day between now and then a less than optimal day. There is a huge opportunity cost to enabling poor performance (on you, your team, your customers, your prospects, your revenues, and your profits) that once you calculate, will make you never want to be an enabler again! Enabling is more expensive than you think.

So, what problem(s) do you need to confront this week that you’ve been putting off dealing with?

To your accelerated success (and the end to some dysfunction)!

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