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I was very new to the company.

I was in a meeting with the regional vice president and the regional staff.  The region was underperforming.  We were a few months into the new fiscal year, and we were already trending far short of our productivity target.  It was time to act, to get back on track.

And then I heard the action that I immediately knew had absolutely, positively no leverage.

“We’ll just have to raise everybody’s goal then!” the RVP spouted.

Huh? I thought I had misheard.  Raising a goal will help improve performance when performance is already short of the goal?

Inexplicable.

How can we make sense of this?  I only have one theory —the RVP and staff must believe that his management team and perhaps his associates are not putting forth their best effort.  Somehow raising the goal to increase the gap between actual and expected will kick everyone in gear, and boost performance.  It would be the increased dissonance that would provoke improved productivity.

I wouldn’t bet on it, would you?

What I think was really going on (I didn’t have this insight then) is that that RVP and his staff didn’t have any idea how to improve performance.  They felt helpless; powerless.  But they did have the power to set the bar.  So they did what they could.

So, when on the national conference call he was asked about the disturbing early trend, he could confidently say:  “Yes, I’m on top of that; I’ve already taken action.”

Action without any leverage.  Might as well sprinkle a little pixie dust!

But, beyond the fact that there’s no way that action will prove effective,  there’s another consequence, a more insidious, more harmful, consequence.

This kind of leadership produces a loss of confidence; it produces a loss of hope by employees in the ability of their leaders to make decisions and take actions that make a difference.

So, if you’re with me, what started as a leader and his staff being helpless to correct underperformance led to an action that actually produced a helplessness in his people.

Less than zero leverage.  Not no effect; negative effect.

Absolutely, positively.

Pass the pixie dust please?

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