stop and go leadership

So the word perils may be a bit dramatic. I probably should say “the frustration of stop and go leadership” but perils makes for a better headline. An interaction with a client this week had me chuckling about this idea of stop and go leadership. An idea that, when I first started my business, used to frustrate me to no end. Now I’ve realized it is part of the job and while still frustrating, all I can do is coach to it and move on. Here’s what I’m talking about.

At least once a week I get a call from one or two of my clients who I now know are “stop and go leaders”. This means they call with an urgent project or hiring request or employee matter and they want me to get on it right away. We come up with a plan of action and hang up the phone.

I jump immediately on my part and maybe even move things around or stay up late working on, what seemed to be, an urgent matter. Then….crickets. Nothing for days or even weeks. When I send emails or texts (because introverts do not talk on the phone) they are blown off. What seemed so urgent is now, not. At least until it becomes top of mind for that leader again.

Stop and go leadership.

I used to get really frustrated by this, but now I’ve learned to identify stop and go leaders and work with them for what they are. When they call I no longer jump. I wait to see if they mention it again in a few days time. If they do, I’ll know it is something they are serious about. If they don’t, I wait until they get serious before putting any real effort in on my part. I have too much to do to jump at every “urgent for five minutes” ideas that one of these leaders get. And here’s the thing…

Their employees know it too.

It isn’t hard to realize who these leaders are. While on the surface leading this way may seem harmless, it isn’t. Leaders who I have called on this often tell me that they just get caught up in more important stuff and while this “thing” was important at the time, they didn’t realize the other stuff that was going to come up that took precedence.

An excuse. At times a valid one, but still an excuse.

Stop and go leaders lose credibility. Any sense of urgency employees may have once given their ideas, are lost after the first couple of “stops”. They are seen as reactionary and fickle. In short, they are not taken seriously.

And that can be a major problem.

Especially when it comes to things like disciplinary action.

Or recruiting.

Or new project implementation.

Or innovation.

Or really anything else the leader wants taken seriously.

I find that most leaders do not know they are “stop and go” leaders until it is pointed out to them. They don’t realize how jumping on and off a band wagon is hurting not only their credibility but productivity. Some of them even get upset when things are done months after an initial conversation not realizing that it was their stop and start mentality that drove the delays.

If you believe you may be a stop and go leader, then ask yourself if you find that you go down many paths but rarely finish any of them. Ask your employees if they find that you get fired up about a project or new idea, but that passion quickly fades. Ask them if they find that you are fickle and if they purposefully don’t react when you ask for something because they know you may change your mind tomorrow.

Then ask yourself what you are going to do about it. If it’s hurting productivity or your credibility then something must change. Think about how you might be more strategic in giving direction or how you might identify when things are really necessary to share and move forward or when you may need to sit on things for a while before getting everyone moving.

As mentioned, much of stop and go leadership is harmless, but for the things that matter, like a leaders ability to move a team forward, it can be crippling.

Have you worked for a stop and go leader? How did you respond to them?