Waah-waah: The instant leadership dysfunction test

Dec 14, 2010

At its core, my job is to be fresh pair of eyes and ears for a leadership team – to see and hear things that they have become inured to over time. And sometimes the ears win.In the splendid TV version of the Charlie Brown stories, adults are never heard speaking – or at least, not distinctly. Any adult talk is always heard by the kids the same way: “Waah wah wah, wah wah wah waah“; because of course, what adults say to kids is (to the kids anyway), entirely unimportant.

When I watch leaders at work, I see, sorry, hear, this all the time – there’s usually at least one person that they are obviously ‘zoning out’. I can tell by the exec’s eyes and body language that all they are hearing when the other person speaks is “Waah wah wah, wah wah wah waah“. They’ve so discounted the worth of the other person’s communications that they’ve learned to effectively turn their speech into white noise.

Not good. If the other person is a peer on the leadership team, it’s a sure sign of team dysfunction; if it’s an employee, that means the exec is either (a) paying someone to hang around who’s opinion and views they’re utterly uninterested in, and/or (b) not hearing what may well be important information. If it’s a customer or client, it’s only a matter of time before that customer will be lost (um, yea, they can tell that you’re zoning them out, and they don’t like it).

It’s not an easy thing to call people on, but it’s what I’m paid to do. So who are you zoning out? What do you intend to do about it?

Harder bonus question: Who’s zoning you out? What do you intend to do about it?