One of the most prevalent things about many leaders is they make sure things get done. That is usually why they have risen to a position of leadership. It can be that they have been diligent in tasks when they were a level or two below where they are right now. Perhaps it’s that they were able to rally people around a common cause and a greater purpose was accomplished. Whatever the form, the end result is the same.

There is another instance in which a leader may make sure things are getting done, but it actually hurts the process and destroys morale. As leaders, we have a tendency to gravitate to where things need attention. If there is a lack or a gap in the process, we feel it’s our duty to step in and “make it happen”. We do this and either believe we are just being a supportive leader or (for the more narcissistic crowd) secretly pat ourselves on the back for being proactive.

Nothing too terribly wrong with all this except you are forgetting one important question. Why do I have to fill this gap?

Here are a few reasons for why the gap exists and some suggestions for how to close it.

  • Systemic issues – Sometimes there is a flaw in how a process is designed or structured. It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault, so no need to begin a witch hunt. Simply look for where the gap begins and where it ends. Is it a silo issue? Perhaps it’s a communication problem. There are a number of ways this can happen. The key is to have candid dialogue with everyone involved and ask for suggestions. Maybe others knew about it and thought no one would listen because it was “just the way things are”.
  • Improper delegation – No leader is worth their salt if they’re not delegating. It’s good to know what and when to delegate, but it’s equally important to know to whom you should delegate. There are some get-ahead people who are willing to learn and grow, but sometimes they are under resourced through skills or experience. Know when the gap exists from this dearth of skills and manage it appropriately. Not knowing this can create a gap that defeats the whole point of delegating because you are constantly filling it!
  • Talent misalignment – In today’s streamlined environment, people can be asked to fulfill roles that may be outside their normal purview. In the hopes of “re-purposing” existing talent, a gap is created and productivity drops. This is hurting one set of numbers by trying to help another set. Have an honest conversation with your direct report and the HR manager. This can be a difficult case, but it HAS to be made or you will be marginally effective due to excessive involvement in tasks.
  • Poor performance – This is based primarily in someone’s willful choice to simply not do their job. The danger is when this person flatters the leader about their leadership when they have to fill the gap in order to continue sub-par performance. If you’re a leader who chases a bit of affirmation (and you know if you are or not), this could be a huge problem for you. All performance issues MUST be addressed immediately. Coach where appropriate. Fire where appropriate. This is Pandora’s Box for leadership, so manage it diligently!
What are some other reasons you have seen that causes a gap for leadership to fill?
  • Suchitra Mishra

    Hello William – this is scary – how do you know the story of my life 😉 for the longest period, I was known as the “Fix-It” person in my career…
    I am in complete agreement with your points in your blog. Speaking from experience, I have come across two more related reasons causing gaps that need attention of leaders :
    1) Organization Structure – In today’s complex, global orgs – the box structure (inherited from the Scottish Pin Factory model) does not really work well – this creates specialists in their own little silos not really collaborating with each other. What that results in often is missed “tasks” or even worse duplicated “tasks” that need someone come in to connect the dots or clean up to get the desired results out in time.
    2) Goal setting/performance targets – I think this is one very important factor why so many gaps exist in orgs. Goals and performance need to be detailed out for staff properly – else it becomes a case of “not my job really – must be someone else’s”. For ex – for a sales person, there could be a high level target of getting “x” amount of orders which he knows, what is sometimes expected but not communicated to him explicitly is that he has a responsibility in the “order to cash” cycle too – maybe collecting the cash from the customer… so ofcourse, a gap exists because he is not aware of this expectation and a need is then created for someone else to come in and fill this gap late in the cycle.
    What do you think ?

    twitter : @suchimishra

  • Some good points Suchitra. The organizational structure is an important one that in my mind was tied in with the systemic issues, but I’m glad you kicked that out! Thanks for your contribution.

  • Valerie Iravani

    Hello William and Suchrita, I’m on the same page. Those major points – especially the structure of the organization and the role modeling of the executives are vital to the environment that will fill in those gaps. What has frustrated me so heartily over the years is the lack of interest, the political dodging, and the narrow focus of what’s important by most people throughout any organization.

    An example from many moons ago. I suggested to my brand new boss (hired after I had been at a job for 3 months) that we needed to do some basic auditing of each other’s order entry work – I had found some of my own mistakes and knew others had made them too! One year, $950,000 in losses later, my boss set auditing goals. My question – when an employee comes to you with a suggestion, and they are willing to take on the responsibility for it’s implementation while still meeting their other goals – why the hell would you tell the employee to ‘put it on the back burner’?!!!!!

    Another example from today: We have a strategic imperative to increase brand awareness in our company, community and market. Almost everyone in our organization has access to and uses social media. We even have a ‘social media’ team of volunteers to post tweets and blog links onto Linked-in and Facebook. I made a suggestion about expanding the training/goals of using social media to improve employee engagement throughout the company. His reply, ‘it’s now our job, we are not qualified’. I’ve become know as the Twitter Queen at work with Klout score of 63 – what do you mean I don’t know how and it’s not my job! My belief was that each employee has the responsibility to support the strategic imperatives!

    Okay, now that I’m through venting – I manage an Accounts Receivable and Collections team. We work hard and always achieve or surpass our goals. I have smart team members who need something besides their daily work to keep them fully engaged, interested, growing and committed. No one else in my organization seems to appreciate my attitude except my direct reports. That’s my problem, because I can’t sell my concepts internally.

    But it’s this inability to ‘see’ the relationship between disparate elements within the organization (even by the head hanchos) that eventually drives me out of an organization. Knowledge walking out the door!

  • What a detailed account of your experience, Valerie! Great to know that you have chosen to lead well and learn from the mistakes of others. Thanks for contributing!