Several different styles of leadership exist, each of which has its own benefits and drawbacks. Great leaders learn to understand where their strengths and weaknesses lie so that they can adjust their leadership style depending on the situation. A great deal of work has been done on categorizing different types of leadership in an effort to improve skills, yet one of the most destructive forms of leadership has not received a lot of attention in business literature. Perhaps this issue is due to the fact that this approach, called absentee leadership, is in many ways the opposite of leadership. However, research has shown that absentee leadership is the most common form of incompetent leadership today. For this reason, it is important to understand why absentee leadership is so destructive and what leaders can do when their time becomes too stretched.
Defining Absentee Leadership as Modern Employees May Experience It
Simply put, absentee leaders are individuals who remain psychologically absent from their leadership responsibilities. These individuals come to the office every day and handle their administrative duties, but when it comes to providing feedback and shaping the team, they fall short. A team with an absentee leader often feels lost and has no clear goals. Moreover, team members may only receive meaningless platitudes when they ask for feedback, which creates even more confusion. A poll conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that more than 90 percent of workplace complaints related to leadership stemming from absentee-related issues, so this problem is more common than individuals may think.
The most defining trait of an absentee leader is someone who enjoys the privilege that comes from the position without actually connecting to the team and becoming meaningfully involved in their work. In other words, they take value from an organization without contributing anything back. Leaders who struggle with micromanagement may adopt a style that is so laissez-faire that it becomes absentee leadership. Even laissez-faire leaders provide guidance for teams and take responsibility for their performance. Absentee leaders tend to let employees make all decisions and thus feel disconnected form the results of those choices. These types of bosses may fly under the radar because they do not actively create issues for a company. As a rule, organizations are more likely to focus on leaders that engage in more overtly harmful behaviors.
Understanding the Impact of Absentee Leadership on an Organization
Some people may think that absentee leadership is not too big of a deal because it basically passes responsibility along to employees. However, research shows that being ignored by a boss is actually more psychologically destructive than being the recipient of direct, negative behavior. Employees with absentee bosses tend to have lower job satisfaction, and the reason why can go undetected by other leaders for quite a long time. This dissatisfaction stems from role ambiguity and the possibility of bullying from other team members due to lack of direction from the designated leader. In fact, research has linked absentee leadership to greater levels of stress, poorer health outcomes, and talent drain, which can have a significant impact on a company’s bottom line.
A German study found that the effects of absentee leadership may actually outlast those of both constructive and destructive leadership, meaning it is more dangerous in the long run. Absentee leadership can degrade an employee’s performance for as long as two years, so organizations need to recognize that replacing an absentee leader will necessarily result in immediate positive change. These findings become even more troubling considering how absentee leaders often fly below the radar. Thus, organizations may need to find new ways of detecting leaders who may be neglecting their employees.
Combatting Absentee Leadership in a Busy Business Environment
Absentee leadership does not usually come from a malicious frame of mind. Today, leaders have an incredible amount of responsibility, and pulls on their time come from several different areas. All of this means that leaders need to be diligent about how they spend their time and make sure that they don’t continually ignore their teams whenever partners, customers, or stakeholders come knocking on the door.
The key here is communication. When it is necessary to spend time with these other individuals, leaders need to explain to the team why doing so is beneficial for the future of the company. At the same time, leaders must acknowledge that tending to business outside of the office does not mean that their team members do not still require direction and oversight.
In addition to communication, leaders who feel themselves pulled in different directions can start to delegate some of their responsibilities. A rising leader in the organization can be given more responsibility so that members of a team continue to receive the direction and feedback that they need to perform at their peak. Then, the leader can assume the role of mentor to make sure that everyone is getting what they need out of the situation as the mentee gets used to the leadership role and learns how to encourage, inspire, and motivate the team.