Every organization at some time and in some parts will under perform. Even Apple, Google, GE and other exemplars of management acumen will inevitably find themselves a day late or a dollar short in some of their plans. The way leaders address that under performance speaks volumes about how durable the organization is and how well it immunizes itself against further under performance.
There are numerous models of leadership intervention during times of under performance. One particularly ineffective archetype is the Table Pounder.
The Table Pounder relies on his (he’s almost always a “he”) position of power to demand fixes. Now. The prime motivator is fear. Sanctions, including termination, are either implicit or explicit in the demands. There is little energy spent on why the underperformance occurred or whether any systemic issues (organizational or otherwise) kept the organization from succeeding. The demand and threat are clear: fix it by Friday or else.
The style is insidiously reinforcing for the Table Pounder. He sees a flurry of activity and comforts himself that his approach is working. He got the attention of the underperforming manager who will now redouble efforts to deliver what is expected. Knowing that the Table Pounder will relax if he sees kinetic energy, the manager reprimands (or worse) some subordinates, sets up some meetings, pens a memo or two, and reports back to the boss that things are being taken care of.
So what has really happened? The organization has taken a narcotic to address the acute pain, but done little else. No root causes have been explored. The people two or three levels down from the Table Pounder have no idea why they’ve been redirected by their stressed-out boss. Although they’ve numbed the pain of the Table Pounder’s outburst by doing something—anything—differently, with time they return to doing their work as before.
Next month or quarter, the underperformance reappears and the cycle repeats. After 3 or 4 cycles, the Table Pounder wonders why things aren’t changing. “Maybe people aren’t taking me seriously,” he wonders. And he increases the intensity of his reprimands, reorganizing, reassigning, or firing those he feels are responsible for the underperformance, or worse, not listening to him.
Why don’t Table Pounders understand the folly of their approach? Several reasons. First, the leader is stressed and looking for a quick solution in response to his boss or board. Second, it’s a lot easier than trying to figure out what is really going on and making the necessary changes. Finally, there’s the insidious reinforcing feedback when the Table Pounder observes the flurry of activity following his outburst.
Do you work with or for a Table Pounder? Do you recognize a little Table Pounder in yourself?
Image courtesy of noomhh / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
This post can also be found on LinkedIn
Photo: Boston Customs House - November 28, 2009
For over 20 years, I've worked with CEOs and senior leaders both as a consultant and c-suite executive. These articles are culled from some of those experiences.