This example, when applied to your market, may sound familiar. The head of a snow and ice management firm has pursued growth through acquisition that rapidly tripled the size of his business. The owner’s M&A consultant encouraged him to create a definitive integration plan that included a time line, and an organizational management plan that would ensure the merging of cultures and continued growth for the long-term.
What followed was a classic case of “lukewarm leadership.” After the initial excitement of the acquisition died down, the owner became halfhearted, indifferent and his inconsistencies mounted. The consultant would hear positive progress reports from the owner. However, on the down-low the company's top manager reported the direct opposite. From his weak stance on commitment to the flurry of mixed messages, this owner earned the moniker “Tepid Tommy,” which spread through the ranks of the company like wildfire.
It seemed this owner was waiting in the wings for a flawless change initiative plan to find him.
Followers pay attention and watch more closely than given credit for. Indifference, lackluster communications and lethargic efforts are often more conspicuous than appreciated. When change is at hand and the future seems unstable, your performance as a leader can either diminish chaos or inflame it. In the backdrop of uncertainty, a mere spark of ambiguity or apathy can ignite the pervading fuel of resistance among the masses.
Lukewarm leadership is not just a phenomenon among business owners. From the top to the front lines, followers everywhere watch intently. They are tuned-in and sensitive to the message that leadership sends.
Leaders create the climate. If an apathetic message is conveyed, the employee will respond in kind. Team members follow in direct correspondence with what they see and feel from leadership.
Here are four ways to combat lukewarm leadership.
1. Set the Tone
What you do as a leader has tremendous influence throughout your team, your employees and even your stakeholders. People respond to what you initiate. Begin with the energy and gusto you want to see in others. Demonstrate how much you are willing to give and show that you are duty-bound early and often. Make your messages steadfast. When people see and feel your energy, enthusiasm and promise they will not only buy in, they will help spread your “all-in” message. When you show unbound energy, your team will give more energy. When you are engaged, unwavering and decisive, your team will follow with their engagement, unwavering effort and decisive action.
Communication is more than a word. It is the standard by which leaders guide, direct, motivate and inspire action. Leadership quite simply depends on communication. Clear, confident, resonant communication will engender trust and followership.
Get Specific. Simple and concise is more effective than complicated and confusing. Attention is a precious commodity and time even more so. Hit the high points in your speeches and save the granular details for in person communications.
Get Face to Face. Nothing can substitute for face-to-face dialog. Yes, dialog rather than monologue. This does not have to be the top leader. Employees and team members know the demands on leaders and managers. They know the value of authentic live contact and informal dialog where they can see and feel that their message is being received. Your team appreciates being heard.
Demonstrate Beyond Words. What you do supersedes what you say. Remember Emerson and his famous dictum, what you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say. The proven formula for personal communication is 55 percent body language, 38 percent tone and 7 percent communication through words. Body language, and tone will validate everything that you say. Sending protocol out in a memo is not nearly as effective as walking around and informally sharing your thoughts and expressing yourself on the need for procedure. At bottom, lead at all times and if necessary use words.
3. Be the Island of Commitment in a Sea of Uncertainty
The new economy is well known to leaders. Increased global influence, more demanding customers and disruptive new players are challenges to be surmounted. But to your team members the new economy means uncertainty. Uncertainty leads to anxiety that makes people susceptible to stress, less productive and more vulnerable to conflict. During times of upheaval we need leaders who are anchored in commitment. Team members are quietly watching for the leaders who are islands of commitment in a sea of uncertainty. They bring commitment, a calming presence and their higher perspective to the context of uncertainty. There will always be some degree of uncertainty. But when leaders show resolute certainty in their commitment anxiety drops and morale climbs, team members take note and follow suit.
4. Show Consistent Enthusiasm
Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm. Leaders who show enthusiasm as a way of operating remove any hint of lukewarm. People can visibly see and feel your heart-felt passion, energy and commitment, and they buy in. Your team wants to win and they want you to be successful. No one tries to be second. Show consistent enthusiasm and your team reciprocate with buy in and enthusiasm of their own.