As I sat in a large conference room filled with senior management and executives of a mid-size company in Egypt, I watched as the CEO and one of the managers indulge in a heated back-and-forth discussion on what was the best direction to go for a particular business unit. All of a sudden, the CEO said, “It’s my company, and I do what I want with it.” You could see the life being sucked out of the meeting after this statement was made.
That’s just one example of the repercussions of the one-person show style of leadership, which seems to be widely practiced in Egyptian private and public sector institutions. Another instance of this curse was seen when the payment of salaries of about 300 employees at a company was held off, because the person who signed off on the checks was the owner of the organization- and he was traveling during that period.
As for why businesses or institutional leaders start becoming a one-person show at their companies, this usually stems from their fear of losing touch with the day-to-day work that is happening in their organization. The leader does not want to leave their familiar operational territory, be it sales, engineering or operations, thereby also failing to grow into their new role. Other repercussions of being a one-person show at your organization include:
1. You are chained to your office Needing to make all the decisions, and not giving your subordinates any room to make any decisions or take initiative independently, chains you to the office. This gravely affects the longevity of the company surviving on its own, and inhibits its growth as well. This is a phenomenon primarily observed in family businesses- the father starts the business, and does not allow his sons or managers to make any decisions until it’s too late. According to the Family Business Institute, only 30% of family businesses survive a second generation.
2. You turn your team into unmotivated robots When your team has no say in any decision or direction of the company and is there solely to follow orders, the organization turns into a lethargic environment with an apathetic workforce. They stop thinking of creative ways to help the business, and instead only look forward to their next paycheck. This doesn’t just affect the morale of the group, but also affects the success and profitability of the business.
3. You are unable to think strategically Robert Kabacoff, Vice President of Research at Management Research Group, a company specialized in creating business assessment tools, conducted a study in 2013 in which 97% of a group of 10,000 senior executives said that strategic thinking is the most critical leadership skill for an organization's success. In another study, Kabacoff noted that 60,000 managers and executives in more than 140 countries rated a strategic approach to leadership as more effective than other skills like innovation, persuasion, communication, and results orientation. (You can read more about Kabacoff’s findings in his Harvard Business Review article, Develop Strategic Thinkers Throughout Your Organization. But running a one-person show and being deeply entrenched in everyday operations and every decision no matter how small doesn’t leave any time or energy for you to think and reflect strategically and test new ways to grow key partnerships to expand your business.
Thinking strategically helps leaders better at spotting new opportunities for growth, partnerships and new markets to enter. Being strategic helps you understand your capabilities compared to others and how to maximize its effectiveness. Kabacoff says strategic thinking predicts the future, and the plan ahead. “Strategic leaders take a broad, long-range approach to problem-solving and decision-making that involves objective analysis, thinking ahead, and planning,” he explains. “That means being able to think in multiple time frames, identifying what they are trying to accomplish over time and what has to happen now, in six months, in a year, in three years, to get there."
The curse of the one-person show is a serious disease in many private and public institutions that affect its effectiveness, survival and profitability. Leaders need to work hard to seriously combat this issue in order to not just grow themselves, but to also be able to develop future leaders in their organizations to assure its survival. This requires changes in both short- and long-term habits in our leadership, and learning how to build systems and trust and empower our team to do their best work.
Related: Are You A Leader, Or Just A Manager?