The Dangers of Underleading
John Over the last two decades, I’ve been on a quest to learn everything I can about leadership obsessed with what makes the best leaders so good after running companies small and large for the last 20 years. Today, I speak on stages all across the world to audiences who are interested in that same question. My name’s John Laurito and I’m your host. I invite you to join me on this journey as we explore this topic. What makes the best leaders so good? Welcome to tomorrow’s leader.
John All right, welcome to today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader, where we dove deep on all things related to leading yourself and leading others. I’m John Laurito, your host today and every day.
John So I was reminded recently I wanted to share just a story early in my career as a leader that I was reminded of recently when I was talking to a group about leadership. And in particular, I was talking about the differences between under leading and over leading. And I find that a lot of leaders struggle with this. And I want to share a couple of stories and just some examples of things that you can do to increase your effectiveness as a leader.
John So I remember and this was going way back, but this was early in my leadership career. I started to have success in my role and I was kind of feeling like I’m making a lot of progress. I felt like things were going well. My results were there. I had a team that I was leading of, you know, 10 to 15 people. And at that time, my boss came to me and said, you know what? You’re doing really well with this. I’d like to give you a couple of other responsibilities, these horizontal responsibilities, as he called them.
John He said now, this was an organization of maybe 40 or 50 people. And he said, what I want you to do is run two things. I want you to manage the budget and you’re overseeing that. And I also want you to oversee and manage the staff. So now I was my lead twenty, something like that. And I remember vividly thinking, wow, this is like, you know, a huge responsibility. Like, I think it’s a huge opportunity, but I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. And my boss at that time was a very well, let’s just say a very tough boss. He taught me a lot, very good at the business, but very direct, tough. And the type of person that if you didn’t handle something well, he’d take it away from me and move on to somebody else. And ultimately, I took this as, OK, this is my opportunity to shine. I’ll figure it out like, OK, managing the staff.
John Now, I didn’t know the first thing about what was expected, so I didn’t know what managing the staff really meant. I didn’t know what it looked like to succeed with that. Am I supposed to be leading them or making sure am I handling time cards? Am I managing who’s working where? And we had multiple offices. I mean, it was a lot of stuff that was going on. I just had no idea.
John And then the budget piece of it was even worse. I had no idea how the financials of this organization worked. We had money coming in, obviously, and money going out. And I didn’t know what was driving the revenue. I just I had no idea what I was doing, literally no idea what I was doing. And my boss at that time just gave it to me without any other kind of direction, without any other kind of guidance, without any other kind of leadership.
John Well, needless to say, you can probably guess the end of this story. I failed miserably at both of those, not even just one. It’s not like I figured out one. And the other one, I. I didn’t figure it out. I couldn’t figure out either of them. And I remember not wanting to even ask for help because, at that point, part of that was my own issue. I was in this mentality of, OK, if I ask for help, it’s a sign of weakness. I got to figure this out. I learned better on my own, blah, blah, blah. That’s a whole nother episode of a podcast, but don’t fall into that trap. That’s ridiculous. But I did. And coupled with the fact that I knew my boss was not going to be the type of person where he’d have the patience to show me or teach me, he would just get frustrated and pull it away and give it to somebody else. And I just didn’t want to deal with that.
John So I’m like, alright, well, let me try and figure this out. And needless to say, I couldn’t I remember one day we had two offices at that time and there were literally across the parking lot from each other. And I remember one of the advisors calling me up because one of the staff people had called out sick and there was nobody working the front desk to greet clients. And I didn’t know I was supposed to call in a temp service or get somebody in. And he just started berating me.
John I remember berating me and he’s like, What are you doing, man? We have no staff here. This is ridiculous. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I’m like, dude, honestly, I don’t even know what I’m doing. I really don’t. He’s like, what are you talking about? Me? And I wasn’t even getting paid for that role. So I just said, listen, honestly, I’m not going to try and tell you something. I’m not going to try and dress up. I don’t know what I’m doing with this role. I just started blah, blah, blah.
John Needless to say, it just was a debacle. It really was. So here’s why I talk about this, because what happened at that point, I was given a great responsibility, but I had no leadership. There was no direction and training, none. It was really just delegating it to me, which is a very specific leadership style, but it’s for somebody that has a very high level of competence around this task. You know, it’s like you driving a car, you know how to drive a car. If I just said, hey, you know what drives? I just can you just drive down the street, grab some milk, whatever. As a favor for me, you’re going to know how to get in the car and drive the car. You’re capable of doing that. But if you’ve never driven a car before, that’s. I can’t do that. You’re going to crash. You’re driving the driveway.
John So in this case, there was a tremendous lack of leadership and it was a gross example of underleading. Now, here’s what happened. There are multiple things that happen when you lead. One is the job doesn’t get done. It’s failure. So the results weren’t there. So the staff and the budget took a hit because of the fact that I wasn’t leading it, doing what I was supposed to. But the other thing that happened is it really it built resentment in my mind toward my leader because I was angry at the fact that, OK, well, why wouldn’t you give me this now? Again, I put it on myself for not voicing up and just being like, listen, I need help and direction. So part of this is me. But you also have to realize as a leader, you’re going to have other people, you’re gonna have people in your organization that have the mindset that I had that OK, I don’t want to ask for help. I feel like I need to know this. I should know this. I should figure it out. And you’re going to have people that just don’t voice their frustrations or their need for help.
John So as a leader, my leader’s job was to make sure not just put it in my hands, but make sure I knew what was expected and I knew exactly how to do this. And had he done that, I would have succeeded. Now, when I did not succeed at that, what it did is it built resentment. It built a breakdown in trust. So that’s what it caused between myself and my leader. Literally, it caused a breakdown in trust because I felt like, OK, this it didn’t feel good. And now I just felt like it was almost set to fail right from the beginning.
John But the other thing it did is it affected my confidence and that’s the dangerous part. So when you underlead somebody with a task, it’s now affecting their confidence level to being able to do other things. And it really it hit me hard because I’m like, OK, I’ve done everything else that I need to do at a really high level. But these two things, I just failed miserably. And now I feel like, OK, it’s going to be a long time before I get another opportunity like this. It just affected my confidence for probably a couple of years.
John So as leaders, the responsibility we have is to provide the right leadership and direction. We can’t get frustrated when our people are not doing what we expect if we haven’t shared. What does it look like when you’re doing this task? Well, so I’m going to put this in your hands here. Let me teach you how to do this and let me show you step by step and let me tell you what this will look like and feel like when it’s working and you’re doing a great job of it. That’s the type of leadership you need to provide. It’s much better to lead than it is to underlaid.
John OK, now, it also begs the question, why do people underlead, why do leaders. Because this happens all the time. I find more times than not people are under leading versus overladen. And again, I’m talking to some of your people. So you may be a leader of an organization. You may have ten managers underneath you. I’m working with people that are like the managers, maybe even some of them that you’re working with that is that you’re leading. And here’s what they’re telling me. I’m also working with other leaders just like you, who are on the other end of that and are acknowledging the fact. Yeah, you know what I’ve understood? That’s why that result has not been there. That person is not developing as fast. But here are the reasons why we underlaid and again, I’ve been guilty of this myself. I’ve led people and I’ll share with you in some upcoming podcasts about some examples of that.
John But the reason why is a couple of things. One is we don’t want to micromanage. Hey, I’m not a micromanager. It’s just not the style that I like. We feel like leading or overlending is micromanaging. Hey, my job is to hire great people. And when I hire great people, they’re going to do great things. Well, you know. Yes. But they have to have direction. They have to understand how to do a task. Some of them will figure stuff out. That’s great. But that’s still not going to replace the leadership and the effectiveness of providing great leadership. That’s only going to help them do that even better. So when you get great people, terrific now, arm them with everything they need to really perform at that high level. That’s the key. So no one is in our fear of micromanaging or feeling like we’re micromanaging or be labeled as a micromanager.
John Second reason we don’t do that candidly is sometimes we’re lazy. Honestly, it’s like, okay, I kind of know what I need to do to lead this person the right way. I just don’t have time or I don’t have the desire to just get in there and the weeds roll up my hands and show them. Or maybe I delegate that leadership to someone else who’s not as capable. Ultimately, that’s laziness. If this is important and this leader is important, I need to dedicate the time to teach them and to lead them the right way.
John The other reason why, and I see this all the time, are we just over-assess people’s ability. My leader overassessed my ability. Now, had he asked a couple of questions, simple questions, he would have found really quickly that, OK, my readiness to handle the budget in the staff was not high. It was low. Now my motivation was high, but my skill and ability were low in those tasks. I was very skilled at other things. But you can’t use the halo effect and assume that, OK, if you’re really good at one thing, this person is going to be really great at another thing.
John It’s like having a baseball team. OK, if I’ve got a great pitcher, it doesn’t mean that pitcher could be a great center fielder, a great catcher. They’re great at their role. But if I were going to take them to another position, I’d have to teach them what’s expected. What do you have to do in different game situations and what skills they need to develop? It’s a totally different position, so and skill set. But I find that a couple of questions will help you figure out if someone has a high level of skill with that task.
John One is I can just simply ask, had my leader just said, hey, do you know what to do with managing this budget? Uh, no, I don’t. I really don’t know if you can walk through a great game. Simple question. Hey, John, have you run a budget? Have you managed a budget before like this? No, I have it now. If I said yes, my next question is really important. Great. Tell me about that. And when was that self? I did manage a budget, but it was five years ago. Guess what? You know, what it has to be is a recent and relevant successful experience. OK, write that down if you can, if you drive and don’t. But think about this. That experience has to be recent and relevant and successful, those three things, and then their skill level is high. And if somebody hasn’t driven a car in five years, I’m not going to be really comfortable having them drive a car, fly a plane. Maybe that’s even a better example. I’m not going to feel comfortable. Even though they did it five years ago, a lot’s changed. I wouldn’t necessarily assess them as skilled pilots if they hadn’t been on a plane in five years. No way. So recent relevant success.
John So he said yes. Did you manage your budget? Yes. Great. When was it? Tell me about it. What was it like? What was the outcome that will help me assess as a leader my persons, that person’s readiness for that task? And then lastly is, do you understand what success looks like in this? No, I don’t. I mean, is it just making sure the dollars match up? Is it making sure that we are profitable? Is it making sure do I have decision-making ability with the budget or am I just tracking it? That’s a big deal. I don’t I literally didn’t even know.
John These are questions. A couple of questions will help as a leader will open up the conversation for you to assess somebody’s readiness. I think a good idea. I’m going to make a podcast because this is an in-depth topic and I’m going to go deep on this assessing readiness. So stay tuned for that. But this is a fascinating topic. And I just find that your ability as a leader goes up dramatically when you take the time to understand the readiness on the task. It’s not a person. It’s not like this person is skilled or not. It’s task-specific. And this person is skilled or not. Their motivation is high. There are all kinds of different things that I need to look for to then determine, OK, I need to provide much more detailed, much more direct leadership of this person. OK, problems will be solved. That is unbelievable.
John Again, it is much more important to overlayed than underlaid if you’re in doubt overlay. If you just don’t know. Hey, listen, yeah, I think I think they know how to do that. But let me just go through it. They can or maybe they can observe me. Let me lead them through it. I’d rather have them be like, yeah, I get it, I get it, I get it. I get a terrific. Now let me then observe them doing it and check and make sure awesome. No harm done. And in fact, you’re just ensuring there’s more success. And again, keep in mind what I said.
John The consequence of this is not just the job not getting done and failure, but it was the confidence level of me and the trust between me and my leader was disastrous. So I hope this helps. I hope it gets the wheels turning again. I’m here for you, so just reach out to me. You’ve got questions, you get situations, whatever. I’m here for you, and I’d love to just maybe bring it down to a topic on the podcast here. Change the names to protect the innocent, all the kind of good stuff.
John So, as always, thank you for listening. I appreciate you sharing, commenting, subscribing, going down below. Give a five-star review. Stay tuned. My book is coming out. It’s on digital copy right now. It is just about to be released on preorder. Hard copy on Amazon, I will give you the details as soon as I have them. Again, thanks for being a fan. Thanks for listening, until next time. Bye.
John Thanks for joining us on today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader for suggestions or inquiries about having me at your next event or personal coaching, reach me at John@lauritogroup.com. Once again, that’s John@lauritogroup.com
John Thanks. Lead on!