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The Leadership Knowledge Deficit

Why Over-leading Pushes Management Away and What To Do About It?

The Leadership Knowledge Deficit – It has become a pervasive problem in organisations and has led to great recent private-, public-industry and government leadership debacles – leaders who over-lead without really knowing what they are leading. Or to put this in other words, a leader who is remote from management, in short, a leader with weak management. Not only does this relate to the leaders’ knowledge of the organisation and the people, but now more than ever also about the knowledge of the activities which have to be performed by the people to reach organisational performance standards and targets. Leaders are questioning what is going on and what, if anything at all, they have been contributing to these issues?

In the 80’s and 90’s we often experienced strong management with weak leadership at the helm of companies. Gradually this has a morphed into a situation where we have come to separate leaders from managers and where governing boards explicitly were seeking leaders to become Presidents-CEO’s of the organisation.

So, frequently leaders no longer understand the tasks, the what of what needs to be done, to successfully complete the delegated task(s). We now regularly face the “Abdiled”, the abdicating leader at work. This type of leader is so busy with doing all kinds of things to serve outside stakeholders, for it to be no longer possible, to be involved with and aware of the tasks at hand in their own organization. They measure performance standards and output, yet they do not know what needs to be done for the measured standards and output to be produced.

If this sounds too harsh to you, please ask yourself the question: “How aware am I of what my direct reports need to establish to meet, or exceed the performance standards and goals?” If you have the slightest doubt about the answer, please be so reflexive and honest to count yourself in on the ‘Abdiled’ club.

Let me give you a few brief real life examples;

  1. A leader promises a timeline to outsiders e.g., financial analysts,  without proper communication with its division leaders. The cascading effect becomes that this timeline needs to be managed in whatever way, although no longer at whatever cost. For example in the industry, as part of monitoring progress of a product development plan, often times the date of the start of the development, is considered a key measurement of organizational performance, particularly measured at the beginning of the early phases of the product development. However, what is often overlooked is the artifact of the meaning of this measurement. From experience, development is often delayed in its completion due to poor definition, hasty and erratic planning and poor selection of (outsourcing) vendors. These are all clear consequences of how the product development got started in the first place, all with the goal in mind of having the ‘development’ start by a certain, promised date. Is the leader possibly unaware of the consequences of the promises and its related intricate details? If so, is this irrelevant to its leadership and should this not be part of management?
  2. Quality standard promises by leaders – unaware of what is implied by the words used. I am not going to refer to a car manufacturer example, but let’s say a company claims to deliver an error free product and puts high brand and promotional value on this, consequently selling the product at a higher price than the competition. Does the leader know what needs to be accomplished to make this happen. How does this need to be managed in order for the desired quality level to be sustained at a given cost? Is this realistic?
  3. Leaders who claim to have made excellent progress with customer relationship management, but not having personally met and talked with a customer in the last two months. Does the President-CEO role imply delegating internal and external customer relationship management, or is personal participation, personal management required as part of his/her balanced leadership and management portfolio?

These are just a few examples to stress the point of the requirement of an involved leader, one who is aware of what needs to be done to meet a performance target. It seems that balanced scorecards and dashboards have become the middle man and yet have been elevated to near saint like status. They have turned into one of the leader’s closely guarded secret formulas, often used as a shield from behind which all alchemy to performance takes place.

Leadership matters and it implies a healthy and structured balance between leadership and management. A leader, is supposed to operate as a strategic leader and a management generalist, ensuring excellent two-way communication with specialists, allowing plans to reflect reality and execution of the corporation’s strategy.

Reflexive Behaviours

This combined quality of leadership and management in one person, requires strong reflexive behaviors on the side of the leader and its team, such as;

-Open communication about establishing the corporation’s direction

-Aligning the leadership team and the rest of the people

-Motivating and inspiring every one in the organization

-Planning and budgeting

-Organizing and staffing, controlling and problem solving.


If all is done well, this will lead to an organization which is adaptive to change, consistently producing the target performance standards and results as expected by the various stakeholders, using a minimum of usually scarcely available resources.

Lead and manage the business through personal involvement, being a leader and manager, stimulating an open and honest organization with a transparent communication system.

Leadership matters and letting go of tasks, delegating without going overboard, is key to healthy leadership and to a healthy, growing and developing organisation. Be the balanced leader and manager, the lead-manager you can and must be, and remember,  every one notices and appreciates your productive efforts.

This article was originally published in Leadership Matters on 01 March, 2010

Image Credits:

Johan Reinhoudt

Johan Reinhoudt, oprichter/directeur van Top-Coach, heeft gedurende de afgelopen dertig jaar organisaties en individuen geholpen naar een hoger prestatieniveau.

Zijn indrukwekkende ervaring als DGA, algemeen directeur, management consultant, maar ook zijn brede wetenschappelijke, operationele en R&D achtergrond in organisaties variërend van start-up, MKB tot gerenommeerde internationale concerns (zoals bijvoorbeeld Abbvie, Cognizant, Eurofins, Leiden Universitair Medisch Centrum, Pfizer, PRA Health Sciences, Sanofi) zorgt voor een bijzonder praktische, creatieve en innovatieve achtergrond.

In zijn huidig executive coaching werk helpt Johan executives en ondernemers die kampen met prestatie en/of (beginnende-) burn-out, hoe ze snel hun passie en energie terug kunnen krijgen en weer kunnen gebruiken in hun werk, duidelijkheid en visie kunnen herwinnen en meetbare duurzame verbetering in hun resultaten te krijgen.

Tel. (+31) (0)30-200 6761

During the past thirty years Johan Reinhoudt, Founder/CEO of Top-Coach, assisted organisations and individuals to a higher performance level.

His impressive experience as CEO, President, Management Consultant, but also his broad scientific, operations and R&D background in a variety of organisations, ranging from start-up, SME to renowned international concerns (such as for example, Abbvie, Cognizant, Eurofins, Leiden University Medical Center, Pfizer, PRA Health Sciences, Sanofi) provides an exceptional practical, creative and innovative background.

In his current executive coaching work, Johan works with executives and entrepreneurs who struggle with performance and/or (pre-) burnout. He shows them how to quickly recover their passion and bring bonfire energy back to work, regain clarity and vision to get sustainable and measurable improvement in their results.

Tel. (+31) (0)30-200 6761

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