In India specially, the most commonly used word these days is ‘Tolerance’ or its opposite! I decided it was time to dust off my old paper on TQ™ and publish it again here. Note that, this is a longish one and, more importantly, has only to do with Leadership! Here goes……
In the coaching profession, it is widely acknowledged that leadership challenges are identified through a process of constant introspection, self-critical examination and, through an independent exploration of the leader’s mind. Dilemmas are expressed, difficulties are stated, a feeling of helplessness is sometimes conveyed and, a framework for thinking aloud and identifying solutions are drawn up along with the Coach’s facilitation. Leaders often discover their true potential, experience a sense of exhilaration at times and, gain an immense sense of achievement as their actions begin to show positive results.
From my own experience over many years as both a leader and an executive coach, I have seen a common thread or attribute which most leaders tend to overlook even after all the diagnosis and treatment are completed viz., Leadership Tolerance. This is what I find most lacking amongst leaders with varied experience and expertise.
Tolerance defined can have different connotations including, endurance, flexibility, attitude, etc. and these can be interpreted based on the situation a leader is facing. I also find that Tolerance (or the lack of it) is a harbinger for most ailments that leaders suffer from and paying serious attention to this one element can bring about tremendous insights and show positive results in leadership effectiveness.
Given that most businesses today face very demanding and ambitious growth, both from their stakeholders as well as from themselves, leaders tend to demonstrate high levels of urgency (or impatience), discourage failures, stretch targets, overestimate skills and competencies, etc. amongst a whole host of other factors that can test their upper tolerance limits. Conversely, there are also circumstances where leaders tend to lower their tolerance levels far too much and can thus create a totally different ‘drive’ in their organization.
Why do leaders then ignore this important element? Very often, leaders tend to mistake their authority (or sometimes misuse it) without a clear understanding of the wider implications on team effectiveness or are so results-oriented that they tend to ignore the longer term effects on the human relationships involved in the process.
So, the point to ponder for us is whether leaders need to demonstrate a more optimal level of tolerance in their management style. Will that help them lead the team better, delegate better, prioritise better, trust better, respect colleagues better and so on? In all probability, it will. It’s a foregone conclusion now that, along with IQ, leaders require a strong EQ. Tolerance Quotient™ or TQ fits snugly in the EQ box.
Is managing tolerance alone the magic pill to attaining a balanced and effective leadership style? Certainly not, leaders face a plethora of dilemmas and not all can be routed through a tolerance toll point. An optimal mix of rational decisions supplemented with adequate levels of TQ is the success mantra. As leaders grow, they will gauge what these optimal mixes should be, which approach is more impactful, strike the right balance between the limitations of organizational goals and policies versus their own tolerance towards executive decisions and so on.
Maybe there is a formula after all. Decisions + Tolerance =Effective Leadership!
So, how does Coaching help leaders realize the importance of Tolerance in their day-to-day management at work and, life in general? Coaches need to appreciate the importance of Tolerance, identify the extent to which the leader is applying his/her TQ levels after decisions are taken, explore ways to enhance use of more Tolerant approaches in their behavior and evaluate the effectiveness of such leadership behaviors from time to time.
As Coaches help leaders identify goals and define their strategies and actions, they will alongside need to compliment such efforts by including sufficient doses of Tolerance boundaries. The leader can experiment with these until such time the new approach is showing positive results. A leader focused only on implementing actions/strategies to achieve his goals and without adequate Tolerance levels built into his efforts is akin to seeking an incomplete dosage to remedy a medical problem.
Let us now examine 2 case studies that have emanated from real-life coaching engagements which go on to test the concept of Leadership Tolerance, realistically.
CASE STUDY #1
A CEO running a prominent business magazine is looking to drive more innovation across the organization to publish more exclusive cover stories, forge strong partnerships with external content providers, to create collectors’ editions for greater visibility and to boost sales as well.
Some of the key dilemmas the CEO encounters every day are –
- To delegate or not to delegate: as a leader, the CEO has never entrusted responsibilities to drive innovation to anyone in her team as she believes that she needs to be aware of every single idea that is germinating.
- Wider Vision: the CEO has always built her vision based on the inputs of her direct reports and not from the wider organization.
- Limited Network: building the organisation’s visibility and networking to foster new connections with readers, writers, newsmakers, etc. is presently the primary responsibility of the CEO and none other.
Examining the above dilemmas, it is imperative that, as a leader, the CEO approaches these scenarios with a new mindset. After all, her organization’s objectives appear challenging and are more strategic than tactical in nature.
Now, let us try to associate the above three dilemmas with the corresponding Tolerance issue the CEO is facing.
To delegate or not to delegate – this requires her to accept failures, take risks with her subordinates, attempt newer ways of doing business, etc. Tolerance here is largely around the CEO’s ability to ‘let go’.
Wider Vision – for the organization’s vision to succeed, she needs to understand that a buy-in from her directs alone is inadequate for such a large venture. More importantly, she needs to ensure a wider participation in the vision building process from as far and wide across the organization so that the onus is embedded on all right from the start. Tolerance here pertains to the CEO’s openness to connect and communicate and to invite diverse views amongst her people.
Limited Network – everyone can make connections and everyone needs to appreciate the rippling effects of building a solid network. Networks multiply with each and more engagements and can not only open new doors but also reveal new ideas with such interchanges. For the CEO, the Tolerance emanates from her ability to entrust her directs and others in establishing the network and ensuring that the organization’s vision and objectives are aligned in a way that the clientele receive a one-voice, one-brand, one-goal message.
In conclusion, while solutions like greater delegation, participative leadership, greater communication and building trust are all appropriate to the above scenario, a key common ingredient to take that leap of mindset is a fair amount of Tolerance. You can delegate but not fully let go. You can communicate but not with complete transparency. You can invite diverse views but not implement them always. You can trust but not accept the outcomes necessarily.
Some of these negatives could be well justified, could be subject to the environment the CEO is currently in or could be constrained by inadequate resources of a particular kind. However, there is no denying the fact that the extent of Tolerance allowed directly impacts the ultimate decision by the CEO.
Executive Decisions + Tolerance = Effective Leadership
CASE STUDY #2
The Deputy CEO was recovering from a serious illness and wanted to bounce back at work and in life. Having faced a near life and death situation, he wanted to prepare for any further eventualities both at home and work, accomplish more than he had ever planned for before his health had failed, set relationships right and, not reveal his weaknesses at any point in time.
The dilemmas he faced were –
- If tomorrow comes: the leader wanted to prepare for the worst in everything he did and approached most matters with a negative attitude, sometimes couching his decisions with conservative excuses.
- On Overdrive: with his mortal fear so strong, the Dy CEO’s relationships were on their hinges both at home and at work leading to misunderstandings and friction; it didn’t help further that the leader had an inherent short temperament all along.
- Work is life: the leader found himself in a precarious situation with over-commitments at work, family time dipping and a growing distance with close family members.
Delving deeper into the above dilemmas, it is apparent that all is not well at both work and home for the Dy CEO. He needs to pay close attention to many fragile elements spanning self-confidence, temperament, relationships and prioritization.
Lets now again examine the above dilemmas from a Tolerance prism.
If tomorrow comes – any leader with a pessimistic frame of mind is bound to err on the over-cautious side, become unapproachable and will most likely discourage his team entirely. What the leaders need to accept here is the independency of the organization versus his existence. Tolerance is thus required to clearly take risks with a positive attitude, to instill stronger team morale and place the organization’s interest before his.
On Overdrive – when confronted with a threat to his life, it is almost natural for any human to feel insecure and over-protective of his environment. However, in the process, he could intentionally or otherwise demonstrate a level of anxiety, caution, emotional imbalance, etc. which could weaken his relationships. Leaders are expected to withstand all eventualities and face up to challenging situations thereby demonstrating their Tolerance to react maturely and manage relationships even in stormy periods.
Work is life – having always been a workaholic and with a high pressure job, the leader often prioritized work over life. With the overhang of an illness lurking in the corner, the Dy CEO found it even more compelling to achieve more at work than accomplishing in roles and responsibilities at home. His test of Tolerance was in rejecting unimportant work that could very well be delegated, demonstrating high levels of patience with his daughter’s learning disabilities and in being a better listener during conversations with his wife.
In summary, a leader has to back his decisions with a positive attitude, respect the organisation’s importance before his own, demonstrate high levels of maturity in relationships, be willing to say ‘no’ to less critical assignments and maintain an exclusive relationship with his family.
Emotional Decisions + Tolerance = Effective Relationships