Managing with Absent Leadership
There are many types of absent leadership.
The non-decision maker or makers, you know, the meetings you go to where there is endless discussion, good intention yet no-one ready to take the responsibility for implementing decisions.
Where the manager you go to for a decision says ‘Leave it with me’ and then nothing happens. Or the manager who is so busy that you don’t want to ask them a question as they are likely not to get back to you – or they are never there!
There is the absent leadership where the manager goes on leave and delegates responsibility to their 2IC (or delegated staff member). This allows business as usual to continue and can be regarded as GOOD absent leadership.
There is also a literal absent leadership when the manager goes on leave and DOES NOT delegate responsibility to anyone in his or her absence, meaning that no decisions can be made.
There is the unfortunate circumstance when illness or an accident (or worse) means that a manager will be incapacitated some time and did not have the opportunity to put someone in their place and the business is undecided as to how to manage the situation.
However one of the most prevalent ‘absent leadership’ issues is the ‘leave it to HR’ mentality. Think about whether this promotes or tarnishes the HR brand.
As an HR Manager, you will need at times to drive decisions in your business so that absent leadership is not stunting progress. You should hold decision makers accountable, ensure appropriate succession planning is enabled and push problems back to relevant managers where the issues are not the sole domain of HR.
What can you do as the HR Manager? Let’s look at a couple of examples.
1. A manager comes to you for advice. She says that there is conflict occurring between two parties within her team and wants to know what to do. You give her the usual run down of tackling conflict, that it is best that the two parties first talk, but that if this is not effective, for the manager to refer parties to EAP, to coach either (or both of the parties), facilitate a discussion between them, call in an external mediator etc.
The manager says she wants to think about this and does not come back to you. In the meantime the conflict escalates and now involves the whole team. When you speak with the manager she says that she didn’t have time to address the situation as other priorities arose and she actually thought if she left it alone the problem would go away. Sound familiar? As an HR Manager, you cannot leave things alone either. Because problems do not really ‘go away’.
2. You are ‘at the table’ and the exec team is talking about what must be done with this or that staff member, (with no-one willing to actually ‘do’, or assume it will be HR that ‘does it’). You can play your part by asking questions to promote accountability. Some managers/execs will need (and appreciate) ‘coaching’ from you to assist them.
Remember that HR is not the default entity or a dumping ground for the problems (eg IR, ER, recruitment, safety etc) the rest of the business has. This type of absent leadership will forever brand HR as something that is beneath the responsibility of others in the business.
At HRM Coach we can assist you as the manager in turning around absent leadership issues.