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Do You Have a Leadership Deficit?
February 2010

Washington is great at generating deficits, most notably the budget deficit and the trade deficit.  Both are bad, but I want to talk about the “leadership deficit.”  John Kotter first coined the term in 1990s.  Here’s my take on it.

(See the end of the column for info about my upcoming Engaging Leadership seminar February 25 and March 2.)

For an individual, a leadership deficit occurs when negative behaviors (those that detract from effective leadership) exceed positive behaviors (those that promote, or display, effective leadership).

For instance, you can have the eloquence of Obama, a positive behavior, but if the rest of your performance is terrible, you’ve got a leadership deficit.

We can also apply this to the organization.  Identify all the positive leadership behaviors we see in an organization, and compare them to all the negative leadership behaviors.  Or simply compare the number of leaders with leadership deficits to the number with leadership surpluses.

Several years ago, a client developed a way to do this.  After a long afternoon strategy session with the two top people in this organization, we were discussing management and leadership in the organization.  Just an informal discussion over beer and sandwiches.

The top guy said, “You know, when you look at the mangers we have, most of them are pretty bad.”  His deputy disagreed, “No, we’ve got some bad managers, but most are pretty good.”

The top guy said, “Oh yeah?  What about John Smith?”  The deputy said, “Yes, he’s pretty bad.  But we’ve also got Marge Jones and she’s great….”  They proceeded in this fashion, and I started keeping score.

Of the forty managers, 23 of them were pretty bad.  They had a leadership deficit—more bad leaders than good. 

The funny thing is, they’d never really had this kind of open, detailed discussion with the bad leaders during
performance reviews.  

And, they discovered that their leadership deficit involved some deficit spending:  They weren’t dealing effectively with the negative behaviors, so they were actually rewarding those bad leaders with pay increases and favorable ratings. 

Only when they revamped their performance review system did they get rid of this leadership deficit (and some of the bad leaders), and turned their leadership deficit into a leadership surplus.

All it takes is an “audit” of your leadership.  What are you doing to make sure you’re running a leadership surplus, individually and within your organization?

If you’re interested in having a leadership surplus, reserve your place for my one-day seminar on Engaging Leadership, Thursday February 25, or Tuesday March 2.  Registration ends Wednesday February 17.  For more info, click here:

Until next edition, keep leading the way!