Are Your Leaders Operating at a Leadership Deficit?

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

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“The development of leadership effectiveness, must at a minimum, keep pace with the rate of change and the rate of escalating complexity.”

Robert Anderson and William Adams
in Mastering Leadership

If you are a Human Resources professional, I think it is critical that you ask the question: “Are our organization’s leaders operating at a leadership deficit?”

If you are a leader, I think it is equally critical that you ask yourself: “Am I operating at a leadership deficit?”

Let me explain what that means.

Leadership Deficit

Over time, the arena in which leaders and organizations operate has increased in complexity, substantially so in recent years.

We would do well to ask ourselves, “Has our ability to navigate complexity increased at the same rate as the rising complexity of the world around it?”

I believe that there are very few people who can say “Yes.”

What that means for many leaders is that their ability to navigate complexity falls below the level of complexity in the world around them.

Leadership Deficit

At Times, We Have All Operated at a Leadership Deficit

As a part of all of our human experience, we have all operated at this deficit at different times of our life. I will give you symptoms of that shortly.

For me, one of the times that I operated at a leadership deficit was my freshman year of college. I had just moved away from home. I had to learn how to live on my own (e.g., make meals, do laundry), get a job, navigate a college environment, do well in classes, make friends, have fun, etc. There was just a lot coming at me at once, and I wasn’t fully prepared or ready for it.

During that time, I didn’t have the wherewithal to recognize that I was operating at this deficit. I just knew it was hard and full of a wide range of emotions and a fair amount of frustration.

But now, looking back on that situation, it is easy for me to see that the complexity of my environment, exceeded my ability to navigate that complexity effectively.

But, over time, I was able to elevate my ability to navigate that complexity, and even rise above it.

Symptoms of Operating at a Leadership Deficit

When people operate at a leadership deficit, there are very common symptoms that arise.

Perhaps the most immediate symptom is stress. (I write this as I have just spent time waiting in lines in airports completely stressed out about whether or not I would make my flight. This is a situation where I operate at a leadership deficit.).

But beyond stress, the symptoms are the effects of prolonged stress: burnout, anxiety, depression, workaholism, excess drinking, reduced ability to sleep well, and the like.

You might be surprised to learn that leaders in organizations struggle with depression at twice the rate of the average person. This is strong evidence that many leaders are currently operating at a leadership deficit.

Knowing of these symptoms:

  • Do you see any of these symptoms in the leaders within your organization?
  • Are you personally experiencing any of these symptoms?

How Do We Close the Gap of the Leadership Deficit?

There are two options for closing the gap of the leadership deficit:

  1. Wait until the complexity of our world goes down (which is unlikely to happen)
  2. Elevate our ability to effectively navigate greater complexity

Essentially, our only option is “2.”

So, how then do we elevate our ability to effectively navigate greater complexity?

It is unlikely to occur through our typical focus of horizontal development (gaining knowledge and skills). That will only be incrementally helpful).

The best way to elevate our ability to navigate greater complexity is by focusing on vertical development (upgrading our internal operating system).

Click here for a short video explaining these two different types of development: What is Vertical Development?

Want to Close the Leadership Deficit Gap in Your Organization?

If you are seeing the symptoms of the leadership deficit in your organization and want to do something about it, please connect with me for a call, and we can explore what you are seeing and how we can help your leaders vertically develop: Connect with Ryan.

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