Leadership in Crisis: Navigating Confidence Amid the Chaos

Leadership in Crisis

Roy Dockery,  Flock Safety, part of HotTopics' and IFS Service Visionaries community asks: Leaders are grappling with burnout at unprecedented rates while middle management are burdened by a leadership crisis of confidence.  asks: What if every individual saw themselves as a leader, irrespective of title or position?


Today we live in a world that offers more flexibility and options for workers than any time in recent history, yet leaders seem to be burning out at accelerated rates. Global leadership studies show that 72 percent of respondents feel used up, with 85 percent feeling like they can’t protect their employees from burnout as well. We are seeing the lowest leadership quality rates in over a decade, with managers feeling unable to balance demands in a healthy way. Managers feel restricted and burdened with the objectives from corporate leadership and it is leading to attrition and declining organisational culture—resulting in a leadership crisis.


The leadership crisis: overview


Beyond titles and hierarchy

The most interesting distinction that I find from recent studies on stress, burnout, organisational culture, imposter syndrome and employee turnover is the separation between leaders and management. Leadership surveys are often completed by individuals with direct reports who report to an executive or member of the c-suite, but they don’t often see themselves as part of the leadership team. Many companies have made a bad habit of creating a specific class of employees that have to meet certain title and executive status to be considered a member of the leadership team. Regardless of the intention, this association of leadership to an upper strata of executive employees, has created a crisis of confidence in middle management. 


Creating your leadership identity

Managers with direct responsibility for departments or functional groups feel incapable of navigating their team out of the quagmire of stress and priorities because “corporate” leads the way. As a leader one of the most disheartening statements I hear from middle management is “corporate said so.” This treats corporate executive leadership as a dogmatic entity that should not be questioned or challenged, leaving middle managers to simply pass down direction with no active role in decision making. While I can attest to these circumstances being present in corporate America, I want to pose a question to challenge this paradigm: 


How would company culture change if every person of influence saw themselves as a leader, and not just a manager of people, projects or resources? 


If every voice and opinion was willing to challenge actions and principles that went against the best long term interest of the organisation could only a few voices drown out a conscious and constructive majority? If individuals took the initiative to manage up and leverage their leadership influence for the greater good could we see relief from burnout and a restoration of trust in corporate leadership. 


Finding your voice

As someone who has sat in a variety of seats including within the exclusive executive leadership team, there was always a desire to hear from leaders across the organisation, but there was an inherent fear of speaking out. Each of us spend a considerable amount of time at work, equivalent to that of a committed relationship with the emotional baggage to match. The emotional baggage starts to dictate behaviours, expectations, habits and fears. This baggage affects how we communicate, who we trust, and how invested we allow ourselves to be with each new company or relationship. 


This is glaringly apparent when we look at shows like Undercover Boss where CEOs and founders discover perceptions and even rules being conveyed on behalf of their office or their company that were never communicated, documented or true. The crisis of confidence in middle management has created an insulated executive team that rarely hears critical insight from the true leaders of the organisation. The question becomes how do you reverse years of programming compounded by poor experiences. 


Hurdles and responsibilities

After more than a decade of coaching individual contributors, managers and executives it became clear that one significant challenge was a poor definition of leadership. Leaders are not an exclusive class or corner office dwellers with high titles and pedigrees. The first hurdle to overcome is for every person to recognise that regardless of their position, each person is a leader. If we have influence and the ability to persuade someone to follow our lead or even our suggestion, that by definition makes us a leader. So the first hurdle to overcome in the middle management crisis is ownership of our role as a leader.


Once we recognise our role as leaders, then we have to understand our responsibility to care for, protect and develop those who chose to follow us. Followership is not predicated on hierarchy or organisational structure but the direct result of people seeing authenticity, empathy, honesty, transparency, and work-life harmony in action. How would organisation culture change if we stopped asking what senior leadership or executive leadership could do, and just started being the leaders we would love to follow? Would the problems I see still exist or be as critical if I was a better version of myself?


Leadership crisis: redefining your role

Regardless of the challenge a client was facing, when you ask them to look inward to find what they expect from others, they always begin a revolving intrinsic cycle of resetting expectations that lead to incremental growth. Leadership is not a class, title or pedigree. Leadership is an indwelling ability that we all possess to influence, but like any craft it needs to be skillfully developed to maximise its reach and impact. 


Over the years I had to recommend dozens of books to my mentees and clients because I did not find in one body of work that spoke first to the leader about who they are, how they treat people, and what should be the founding ideal on which they build their leadership brand. Leaders need to build confidence through reflection, shared experience and intentional commitment to personal development. “The Art of Leading, Truth, Love and Empathy in Action” is a book that walks people through a journey of leadership development leveraging relatable stories and questions for reflection across thirteen key principles.


Join the HotTopics Contributing Editors Network

HotTopics Contributing Editor Roy Dockery is a service visionary, keynote speaker and author of The Art of Leading, Truth, Love and Empathy in Action. Throughout his extensive career, Roy has taken on a variety of executive leadership roles leading cross generational diverse teams and transforming organisational culture.

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