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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

First published January 22, 2010

Boredom - The Leadership Killer 

About half the executives I meet are in the wrong job – they either shouldn’t be in a leadership position at all, or the position they’re in is a mismatch for their talents and skills. (This is not always the executive’s fault, exclusively – many have been herded into their mismatched position as a result of a ‘battleground promotion’, or have simply fulfilled the Peter Principle).Of the other half – those executives who are truly competent, and in the right role for their skills – I’d say only about ten percent demonstrate true leadership on a sustained basis. Some show leadership occasionally when a crisis demands it, some show leadership in every circumstance other than a crisis, some start out leader-ly and watch it dissipate, while others simply never try.

Of those that remain (10% of the competent executives, say 5% of the total executive pool), the most frustrating executive to watch (and work with) is the individual who clearly has the capacity for leadership, but who blows it for a simple, common, infuriating reason – a low boredom threshold.

Over and over again, the same pattern repeats: a good leader emerges – sometimes even a great one, the leader develops a loyal and committed team, and exciting things start to happen. Then exciting things stop happening. It never becomes totally clear why, the team (and the leader) get frustrated, and one or more careers get put on standby. Additionally, major resources may have been burned off by the leader taking the organization down a series of cul-de-sacs that are expensive to get out of, and certainly much time and effort will have been wasted.

Truth is, the reason why those ‘exciting things stop happening’ and the organization gets derailed is incredibly prosaic: the leader’s low boredom threshold torpedoes sustained forward momentum. Impatient for success, bored with the mundane and uninspired by routine, the leader becomes an arsonist, carrying a can of gasoline and throwing a lighted match at anything not burning brightly enough. Consistency of routine is traded for the pyrotechnics of newness, adherence to process is sacrificed to the thrill of a hail mary, and change is valued for its own sake, rather than as a tool for delivering results.

Here are a few indicators that you may be boredom-bombing your own leadership:

Monday mornings you play ‘shake-em-up’. Your team members increasingly dread the monday morning meetings where you lay out the next new intuitive or call for ‘radical new thinking’ about existing initiatives.

You have unplanned meetings with whoever is available. That ‘great idea’ you just had can’t wait for the next executive team meeting, so you grab whoever’s walking past your office door to flesh it out.

Agendas are for sissies. Now that you do actually have everyone in an executive team meeting, it’s too good an opportunity to fire-hose them with your thoughts on, well, whatever you want, rather than actually work through the agenda.

You’re incredibly passionate about… …well, what month is it? Each month there’s a great new business model or strategic tool or business insight or vision or phrase or word that if only everyone will truly ‘get it’ will revolutionize how we do business.

You complain that your team members are universally poor at being accountable. It’s highly unlikely that you’re suffering the statistical misfortune of a 100% strike-out rate in having un-accountable employees. It’s much more likely that they can’t practice accountability because you keep moving the goalposts.

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