Volleyball Leadership

Ever know or work for a leader who regularly and rapidly gets overly excited or upset about things? And just as rapidly calms down and changes their mind, moving on to the next absolutely amazing thing or imagined disaster?  And enthusiastically shares every facet of this amazing thing or disaster with you?

You keep hearing about the greatest idea ever which must be implemented immediately or the worst possible result from something the organization has done which requires a complete change of course yesterday. A little while later…never mind. It turns out that the idea wasn’t so great, the result not so bad.

A variant of this is the leader who reads every best-selling management book and even before they’ve turned the last page they’re telling you it contains the most unique and incredible idea ever conceived for improving profitability or growing business or killing the competition. The mandate goes out that everyone in the company must read the book so that its idea can be immediately implemented. Then the following week after this leader reads another best-selling management book based on a completely different premise…never mind.

I call this Volleyball Leadership.

It’s fine to get excited about new ideas. And it’s okay to get upset when things go poorly. It’s what you do next that counts.

It’s good to change course methodically and rationally based on carefully assessed new information and ideas or changing conditions.

It’s not good to rapidly shower these feelings over everyone intensely, continuously, and in short-lived bursts. Especially if each burst includes a bunch of directives about how “we’re now going to do things this way”. Until the next big idea, the next shower, drenches everyone.

It’s not good to bounce the latest plans back and forth like volleyballs leaving everyone exhausted, confused, and unsure what they’re supposed to be doing.

Volleyball Leadership wastes time and resources. It leads to confusion, unhappy people, lots of headaches and poor results.

If you manage this way, one of three things happens:

  • Your people ignore you and keep going in the old direction doing the same things long after you think you’ve changed course.
  • Your people stop listening to you and do whatever they think is the right thing to do whether if fits in with what you want them to do or not.
  • Your people question your sanity, leave…or depose you.

And if you keep up your Volleyball Leadership, they do all three.

We’re all guilty of occasional Volleyball behavior. My ladyfriend once told me that I provide good practice for her day trading, pointing out that “Trying to anticipate your reversals is a lot harder than anticipating reversals in the market”. Then to my great relief, she added “Luckily for you, you only do this sometimes, not always”.

Go ahead—get excited about what you’re reading, get upset about poor results. But don’t let these emotions lead to sudden changes in thinking and rapidly delivered new directives to your people. With some serious evaluation and discussion with your leadership team you might decide to make some changes, perhaps major changes.  Or you might not.  Simply put, when something sets you off spend this time thinking about it before you act.

Because if you lead by instant and erratic emotional response…well, need I say more?
















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