Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
July 2014   |   By Dan Gaynor

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Tin Ear Syndrome

Lately it seems I've been encountering a lot of a horrible organizational malady I call "Tin Ear Syndrome." When this awful condition gets a foothold it robs people of job satisfaction and opportunities for advancement. If this were not enough, it creates organizational chaos and sucks the wind right out of performance.

So just what is Tin Ear Syndrome? Here is my definition: "A condition in which people become chronically unresponsive to the direction they receive from leaders, brought on by leaders who are unwilling to apply meaningful consequences, for a variety of reasons."

Let's go right back to fundamentals. In a healthy leader follower relationship it is a leader's responsibility to provide clear direction and to correct performance problems as they arise. Good leaders are not autocrats. They are good listeners and seek input, often from the people they lead, before making decisions. Having listened, they make the call that is best for the team, realizing that good leadership is not a popularity contest. Good leaders always direct and correct in a way that serves the team and its mission, skillfully and from a caring heart. Good leaders correct problem behaviour because they don't want people to form habits that are going to create problems. Good leaders want people to build habits that lead to success.? However, people being people, often resist correction and direction that is disagreeable in some way. Sometimes because it entails hardship or it is simply inconvenient. Most often ego is where the problems start. This is a normal part of organizational life; it is the leader's response to these situations that determines whether or not tin ear syndrome gets a foothold.

The problem is that team members who develop "tin ears" soon find themselves in conflict with leaders and opposing the corporate agenda - and we know where that usually leads, certainly not to most valuable player status! And organizational chaos ensues when team members become unresponsive to leaders. New initiatives and change management become nearly impossible. It can become difficult to get people to comply with even the most basic procedures and policies. Sound familiar?

When tin ear syndrome takes hold it can be very difficult to eradicate. People come to believe in the pattern they have experienced for so long: that is, they get direction, ignore it, and nothing meaningful happens. When the pattern changes, as can happen when a new leader arrives on the scene, a few people often lose jobs before everyone figures out that the old rules no longer apply.

So here is the bottom line: people learn to do what we teach them they can do. Teach them that they can ignore direction and correction without consequences and they will become unresponsive. Make sure that when someone disregards a leader's caring direction and correction there are meaningful consequences.

To be sure, I've had some tongue-in-cheek fun, with this instalment, but Tin Ear Syndrome is a very real problem and the avoidance that gives rise to it is just as much a problem for team members as it is for leaders. Leaders who teach people to respond well to the direction and correction they receive position everyone for success. Guard against tin ear syndrome and you ensure a responsive team, high job satisfaction and high corporate performance. For more on tin ears and performance management please check out my book, The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leaders.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When people become unresponsive or even resistant to their leaders, what are the consequences for both individuals and the team?
  2. When was the last time you avoided a situation in which discipline was called for? What were the consequences?

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
July 2014   |   By Dan Gaynor


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