You Might Be Practicing Band-Aid Leadership

You’re in the exam room telling the doctor about the awful stomach pain you’ve suffered for weeks.

“I’ve tried everything. I can’t eat, sleep, or function normally. Please help.”

After intensely listening to your concerns, the doctor lifts your shirt, unwraps a jumbo-sized adhesive bandage, slaps it onto your belly, and, walking out the door, says, “Okay. You’re good to go.”

“Wait, what? How’s a band-aid going to fix a belly ache?!”

Now, imagine. You’re a senior leader of a high-performing product division at a multi-million-dollar corporation. After facing a dismal first half, the executives are counting on your team’s new product to spike revenue in the third quarter, saving the year. The pressure is on.

Cliff, the Development Team manager, just informed you the prototype will be delayed because Sam, the “trouble-making manager” of the Design Team, is refusing to play ball—again.

That’s it. You’re over Sam’s continued lack of cooperation. He’s proven to be an enormous roadblock to each department—and you know just the fix.

You call the HR Director. “Time for Sam to go.”

It’s three months later. Your neck is on the line because the initial prototype failed miserably in market testing. The Design Team is working hard on version two, which is scheduled to transfer to Development today. Sam’s replacement is Joy, the high-potential employee you personally fast-tracked into management. Joy is talented, and you’re confident she’ll get the job done.

Cliff bolts into your office. He’s sweating, and his face looking funny. You recognize that look—not good.

“Problem, boss. Need another extension. Joy just texted, we won’t see the new design today. I asked for an explanation, but all I got was, ‘What did I get myself into?’”

You begin to wonder if Joy was the right person. “Do I need yet another replacement?”

No. Here’s the problem. Like the doctor who favors jumbo-sized bandages, you’re practicing Band-Aid Leadership.

In real life, doctors diagnose a medical condition with a thorough examination. They carefully seek the underlying cause before rushing to a solution and only treating the symptoms. If missed, the real problem spreads, resulting in a deadly infection.

Let’s revisit Sam. What if you had examined Sam’s “refusal to play ball”?

You would have learned Sam was the only person who recognized a handful of uncontrollable conflicts between multiple departments, making it impossible for the original design to be on time:

  1. Marketing kept firing off design suggestions based on “the latest consumer research.”
  2. Sales kept adjusting the price, affecting which material to source for the design.
  3. The designers were pestered by the developers because their on-time-delivery bonus was at risk, making them stall in resentment-fueled protest.

And so on.

Sam was in the middle. His main fault was his inability to constructively navigate the onslaught of opinions, rapidly changing decisions, and conflicts between departments.

Sam’s behaviors certainly needed to be corrected—in a more productive way, for sure—but he was ultimately not the major issue. Now, Joy is presenting the same symptoms and removing her is not the solution.

What to do?

Conduct a thorough examination. As a foundation for such an assessment, I like Jay Galbraith’s Star Model™, which addresses the interaction of five key areas of the organization:

  1. Strategy
  2. Structure
  3. Processes
  4. Rewards
  5. People

When one or more of these areas is out of alignment, the symptoms will present in the form of cultural, performance, or behavioral issues.

For example, Sam had “earned” himself a reputation as a trouble-maker—the symptom—because he was at the center of an undiagnosed problem:

  • There was no decision-making authority (structure) over Marketing’s input on design and no clarity of process for setting the price, both allowing Marketing and Sales to perpetually suggest changes.
  • The Design and Development teams had different reward structures, creating resentment and sabotage-like behaviors.
  • Finally, Sam simply lacked the skillset to manage these issues (people).

Removing Sam because of his apparent lack of “playing ball” was like putting a Band-Aid on a belly ache, thus, allowing the underlying infection to grow. And when Joy took Sam’s role, she contracted the infection. Different players, same problems.

Sam and Joy’s experience is a cautionary reminder to avoid practicing Band-Aid Leadership. Instead, when organizational symptoms present, think like a doctor. Doing so will help you diagnose and treat the real business problem and in the end, increase your overall leadership effectiveness.

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