6 Reasons Why You Are Out of Touch As A Leader

By Paul Joiner

Try to get through an episode of the CBS television reality show Undercover Boss without crying. And just try to get through that same episode without noticing how out of touch the boss is with the people he or she employs. 


Undercover Boss follows high-level executives as they go incognito into the working lives of the people they employ. In each episode we watch the boss immerse themself into the culture of the company they run. Experiencing the real day-to-day operation, they see their organization from a different side and discover something they rarely can see from an executive suite: the hearts, minds, and souls of their employees. The turning point in each episode of Undercover Boss comes after the boss has worked side by side with the staff, listening to their insight into how the company is run, what is or isn’t working, and improvements they would suggest to help the company’s productivity—all while discovering the needs of the person behind the name badge. (This is the point when the tears begin to flow.) 


Undercover Boss puts the reality into reality television as it exposes what most of us are all too aware of: 


Most leaders are out of touch with the ones they lead.


So how does this happen?


Outside of the usual suspects that cause a distancing from those you lead (workspace, schedule, responsibility, capacity, etc.), I believe the real reasons are a bit more personal than professional. People are not machines who you cannot expect to think and feel beyond their job description. Smart leaders embrace the fact that people have thoughts, feelings, and personal insight that can benefit the bottom line of the business. 


But how do you miss the benefits? You are out of touch. 


How do you become out of touch with those you are leading? May I suggest six reasons why: 


1. Your relationship is purely positional.


Are you an MIA leader who has disappeared into the boardroom? Are you a deadbeat leader who shows up every once in a while unannounced, unprepared, and uninterested? Perhaps you’re a professional “player” who only acknowledges someone when you need something from them. The ones you lead are smarter than you give them credit. They know a one-sided professional relationship when they see one. Keep it professional but see the person. Take the time to be among the people you lead. Be a leader who is visible, available, and approachable, and watch those you lead follow you anywhere! 


2. You know what they do, but you don’t know who they are.


When you see people as what they do and not who they are, you are missing the heart and soul of your organization. What one is hired to do is of utmost importance; but if acknowledged, who they are can take what they do to a higher performance level. Do you want a dedicated, committed, and engaged staff? Take a moment to discover as much about them as you expect them to know about you. Seek to understand where they are coming from, what they deal with, and how their work fits into their greater life. A quick look at their workspace will give you insight into who they are, the ones they love, and personal interests. Acknowledging them as a person will grant the significance and value those you lead long for. If you do not know the ones you lead, seldom will they give you more than what is required. Never expect one to sacrifice time or energy for you as a leader if you only view them as a human “doing” and not a human being. 


3. You speak more than you listen.


You’re a leader. You’re supposed to talk, right? Not necessarily. There are times when you are to set vision, present goals, direct projects, and update your team. But if you feel you have to verbally carry all conversations, discussions, or brainstorming sessions, believe me, you’re out of touch with the people you lead. If offered safe and open moments to present ideas, thoughts, constructive criticism, and solutions, people will do so. News flash: Not all the good ideas in your organization come from you. You don’t have the corner market on brilliance! You will find bright ideas and solutions all around you if you will ask questions, solicit ideas, invite discussion . . . and then listen. You will not always agree with what you hear, nor are you obligated to do what is suggested; however, everyone will feel respected when heard. You can still be a strong leader with your mouth closed.


4. Communication is one-sided.


The black hole. If you live there, you are probably an out-of-touch leader. Residence in the black hole looks like this: You do not respond to phone messages, emails, or business texts. Those you lead communicate to you but certainly not with you. You don’t return calls, never follow up, don’t acknowledge crucial information, and miss opportunities to throw kudos their way. You expect staff to feed you information, but you excuse yourself from responding because you’re the boss and you deem your time is more valuable. One-sided communication is highly frustrating when those around you are seeking to perform at top capacity. Unacknowledged communication doesn’t leave those you lead feeling they performed well and to your satisfaction. The silence is deafening and not a smart, or fair, way to manage a team that seeks to perform for you. A simple “thank you,” “terrific,” “good work,” or “sounds good,” takes moments to articulate. Withholding that which you know motivates your team will never keep them on their toes, only set their feet on a path to some other leader who will appreciate their work. 


5. Ingenuity threatens you.


Competing with the ones you lead? You’re an out-of-touch leader. Worried someone else will have an idea that will eclipse one of your own? You’re an out-of-touch leader. Do you hire down instead of up so you are always the shining star? You are most certainly an out-of-touch leader. Do you squash ingenuity instead of encouraging it from the ones you lead? You are a threatened leader who is out of touch and will never lead a winning team. Ingenuity should be encouraged among the ranks. You will either be the leader of a low-performing team or the leader of a high-performing team. If you are a leader who squelches innovation, imagination, or ingenuity, what are you afraid of? That you lead a highly-functional team? That you lead the best? Don’t be threatened by the ones you lead but thrilled when they move the team further. I’ve always said the measure of your leadership is not by the number of people you lead but by the number of people you help succeed. Get over yourself and be a team player! 


6. Credit owns you.


Out-of-touch leaders are often leaders who want the professional spotlight aimed directly at them. “I” trouble blurs their vision and impairs their view of teamwork. An out-of-touch leader harms the relationship with the ones they lead because they are guilty of stealing focus, attention, and credit for any and all successes. They carry the platinum card from the Bank of Significance that has no credit limit, leaving their team motivationally bankrupt. Sharing the spotlight by giving the credit to others does not make you less of an effective leader. In fact, most great leaders will tell you this is the practice of a mature leader. Share the stage. Don’t own the spotlight. Be healed from that nagging “I” trouble everyone notices about you. Accomplished leaders are not threatened by the accomplishments of the ones they lead. We all win when one wins!


There may be more, but above are the six main reasons I believe that leaders are out of touch with the ones they lead. Easy fixes to each problem mainly demand giving your people just a little more of your time, attention, and respect. 


See others as people, not positions. Know who they are, not just what they do. Listen more than talking. Respond when communicated to. Encourage ingenuity. And share the credit.


Great leaders are difficult to come by. However, becoming a great leader is not difficult. Just stay in touch with the ones you lead! 


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