One of the things about being an independent consultant is that I get to work with a lot of different entities. That also means I get to see what leadership is like in many places; unfortunately, it’s often not all that great.

Casting A Long Shadow
Durotriges via Compfight

Whenever I’ve been brought into a place where I’m going to be an interim leader, I try to make sure everyone knows who I am and what I do. I don’t just mean the people who will be reporting to me, because if they don’t know who I am then I’ve already lost. I mean everyone; housekeeping, IT, maintenance… the other direction as well, CFO, senior VPs, up to the top position.

I recognize it’s not always easy to meet the very top people, especially in a large organization. What I’ve recognized over the years is that the type of leadership the person at the top exhibits ends up being the kind of leadership that others down the line start to exhibit. Thus, if the person at the top is cut off from almost everyone else, then the trickle down effect will be the same.

Being an elitist leader means not caring enough to attempt to know the people who are going to be responsible for your ultimate success or demise, thinking you’re either too busy or too important. I’ve seen this manifested in quite a few ways:

* talking badly about employees you’ve never met or whose jobs you know nothing about in your company;

* not taking the time to meet someone who directly or indirectly impact your organization’s success;

* not leaving your office for almost any reason other than your personal whims;

* not sharing information with most people within the organization until things start going badly;

* not saying “hello” or “thank you” or any other type of greeting to people you pass in the hallway;

* not knowing what people do, even if you see them every day.

Years ago I went to a local seminar titled 7 Habits of 7 Highly Successful People. All of them are leaders in their industry, a few of them presidents of their organization.

Something all of them mentioned was making sure they not only communicated with all their employees, but took the time to learn what they did, often shadowing them on a particular day to get a feel for their needs and concerns, as well as seeing who has real talent. They also thought it was important to show, when they could, that they would do the down and dirty work just like everyone else.

If you ever had the opportunity to watch the show Undercover Boss when it was on, you saw a glimpse of this kind of behavior. Many of the CEOs recognized that not only did they not know their employees all that well, but they were totally removed from how the actual work took place.

Whereas it’s true that those at the top don’t have to know how to do the work of others, if they’re going to make rules for how they not only have to act but the results they need to produce, they need to know if what they’re hoping for is possible. If they don’t even try, then they’re elitist leaders… and they’re destined to fail.

The best run companies have leadership that takes an interest in their employees. Giving cash bonuses to faceless people won’t get it done. For myself as both a consultant and previously an employee, the most successful working relationships have come when I’ve been able to talk directly with the people above the people I report to. Not that I go above the heads of the people who brought me in(not often anyway), but knowing that they know what I’m doing and how I’m helping to improve things goes a long way in helping me do my job. When people know that upper management cares about the success of the organization, my job is easy.

To own up, I actually did that once as a consultant. The person I reported to wasn’t listening to anything I said, basically telling me at the same time that I was there to fix things but to fix things his way… without telling me what his way was. Because I knew he wouldn’t know what my way was and that he had no clue what his way should be, I contacted a member of the board who actually recommended me and told him I was leaving because I couldn’t get anything done, and I was wasting their money. The next day, I got full approval to do what I was suggesting, with the person I reported to saying he’d leave me alone.

You’re not an elitist leader if you’re trying to fix problems and make things work better. You’re not an elitist leader if you’re working with everyone you need to help you achieve the results you promised. You’re not an elitist leader if there’s actual progress, and you give credit to everyone else who helped the improvements work.

You are an elitist leader if you don’t do any of those things, don’t offer solutions and impede those trying to help your organization. You’re an elitist leader if you try to take credit for the work of others. Long term, you’ll be a failed leader.

Do you see yourself as an elitist leader? Do you work for one?
 

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