Published on March 6, 2014
Codependent Leaders Stop Creating Dysfunctional Relationships with Employees by Anne Dranitsaris, PhD & Heather Hilliard Codependence in any relationships broadly refers to dysfunctional behavioral patterns that are a result of a person’s underlying fears of rejection, loss, abandonment, and low self-worth. While it is common to hear about codependence in personal relationships and with addiction, you rarely a dominant personality forms a relationship with someone who will be submissive in the relationship, thereby forming an emotional attachment where the two people operate as one. Less confident or submissive people do the opposite, seeking a dominant personality to complete them and abdicating authority for themselves. hear leaders referred to in this way. There is an either/or quality about codependent However, may common leadership issues behavior which gets in the way of having a genuine are a direct result of a codependent relationship with others. There is always an element relationships with direct reports. of “how is this person useful to me” or “how can I be Codependent leaders can be very successful at achieving their business objectives, but not their full potential. While they work steadily to achieve their goals and those of the business, part of their attention and energy is going into caretaking, supporting or compensating for employees inadequacies. While it may not look like it, these leaders make people decisions based on their emotions and are easily thrown off course by those of their employee’s, creating business and team problems as a result. What is a Codependent Relationship? Codependent relationships are a direct result of failure to develop securely in relationship to primary caregivers during childhood. As adults, these people unconsciously seek relationships with others who make them feel more capable, useful, powerful, and less anxious. Codependent relationships occur when useful to them” in the dynamic with a belief that one or the other has to compromise themselves to get their needs met. Because a codependent person can operate from either side of the spectrum, it is important to understand both sides of their behavior and why they often look like two different people. The following chart shows the two sides of the codependent personality and how they expect the other to behave to complete them.
Codependence Spectrum Dominant Codependent Behavior Seeks to feel whole Submissive Codependent Behavior Controlling Scattered Competent Inadequate Gives Takes Helpful Helpless Aggressive Passive Useful Needy Inflated Sense of Self Deflated Sense of Self or give clear performance expectations, they will fail others. They don’t trust that anyone can do their job without their help. While there are many codependent leadership behaviors, the following are examples of what codependent leaders look like from the dominant position and from the submissive position. Submissive Codependent Leaders Excessive Cooperation & Inclusion This leader includes everyone in the decision making process so that no one feels left out. They may seem to others that they are incapable of making decisions on their own. They can slow down planning processes or bring people to meetings Signs of the Codependent Leader that have nothing to contribute. This so called A codependent leader is difficult to spot, especially frustrate other employees who have earned the when they are in a senior role in an organization or right to participate in decisions. It also wastes a successful entrepreneur. At first glance, it usually valuable time and costs the business large amounts looks as though problems are a result of employees of money in lost productivity. failing to perform in their roles. But when you look at the whole picture, for example the lack of performance management systems and accountability practices; incomplete or ineffective communication; and the dynamic between leader and employee, you start to see what the actual issues are. You can also see why the leader’s behavior is causing the dysfunctional behavior and the poor performance and what needs to happen to make the necessary shift. While most leaders would admit that they depend on their employees to achieve their goals, codependent leaders consciously or unconsciously act from their emotions, putting emotional needs ahead of the best interests of the business. They often fear that if they are firm, correct performance Caliber Leadership Systems. ©2013 collaborative decision making process only serves to Fail to Give Performance Expectations These leaders have difficulty asserting their authority and asking for what they want. As a result, the codependent leader has difficulty defining and delivering performance expectations. Excessively permissive, they allow employees to do things their own way instead of staying involved to ensure procedures and systems are followed. Inflate Achievements Codependent leaders tend to praise excessively, causing their employees to either believe everything they do is amazing or frustrate high achievers by praising them for routine parts of their job. While some employees like the feeling of their manager praising them, it lowers the performance bar substantially and ultimately becomes meaningless. 2
Fail to Deal with Poor Performance contribute enough and that they have to do Most people have had the experience of working everything themselves. for a leader who won’t deal with performance problems as it is a constant source of frustration on teams. The codependent leader is afraid to upset the employee by telling them they aren’t performing well and so they put off having the discussion. Even when other direct reports complain to them about the employee, they avoid doing so. Inability to Say ‘No” The fear of being abandoned or disliked by Avoid Training & Development The dominant codependent leader is overly concerned with their image and will avoid assessment and development activities that make them feel vulnerable or anxious. Anxiety and fear of being seen as weak stops them from participating. They act as though they don’t need anyone or anything, keeping feelings of anxiety that come when depending on others at bay. They believe that others need help, not them. employees causes codependent leaders to say “yes” whenever an employee asks for something. Whether it is time off or an increase in salary, their fear that the employee will be upset with them or leave if they don’t give them what they want causes them to say yes when the business needs them to say no. They are easily taken advantage of by employees and end up working longer and harder to meet the goals of their department. Dominant Codependent Leaders Foster Dependency in Employees These leaders make their direct reports dependent on them by assuming to know what is best for Overpower Others them. They don’t trust their employees to do certain Because they are unable to engage in cooperative things the way they want them done and fail to activities, dominant codependent leaders overpower delegate, mentor or coach performance. Should people to get their own way. When their direct they delegate tasks, they rarely delegate authority reports challenge or disagree with them, they will to make the final decision. These micromanagers lose their temper, becoming demeaning and make direct reports depend on them and are often disparaging of the person and their ideas. They the bottleneck in the business. They are often feared believe it is the employees fault when they lose their by their employees, who over time become more temper and don’t take responsibility for the way submissive and reluctant to offer any opinion. These they behave. leaders complain that their employees don’t Caliber Leadership Systems. ©2013 3
Hire Incompetent Employees 1. Learning to focus on issues, not on feelings. Dominant codependent leaders tend to feel Focusing on how employees might feel instead threatened by competent people and will make of on the needs of the business creates more emotional decisions about hiring people based issues. The codependent leader will see the on how the candidate has made them feel. Often they hire people who don’t have the capability to do the job effectively. As a result, the codependent relationship (leader feels validated) will thrive at the expense of the business. Over time, poor hiring decisions takes its toll on other employees and on the bottom line. Take Credit for Achievement of Employees The inability to share success is one of the hallmarks of the dominant codependent leader. There is no employee as the problem rather than looking at it from a dynamic, systems perspective. By putting energy into understanding or rationalizing employee behavior, real issues don’t get resolved, nor does it prevent problems from happening again. Get training in issues based decision making or conflict management skills. Coaching helps leaders how to shift their attention from the personal to solving issues. 2. Get or using an organization-wide “we” in their mind, only “I”. Their employees are performance management or development useful to them and serve to make them look good. systems to support their leadership. If you don’t Therefore, when a goal is achieved or an important have a performance management system in sale made, it is because of them and they are happy your organization, you are inviting dysfunction to take credit, perhaps casually mentioning their from both leaders and employees. Without team as an afterthought. these systems, the leader has to provide the container in which work is done and too often it Changing Codependent Behavior Codependent leaders will recognize there is a problem but believes that the issue is the other person. The first step is to get them to focus on what they need to be successful and their behaviors and reasoning that is leading to the problems. Despite their gap in development, codependent leaders can change their behavior. Long-standing adaptive patterns of behavior can be changed and new, productive responses and patterns can be put in their place. Much of our experience when working with codependent leaders in organizations is that they can eliminate dysfunctional relationships with becomes subjective and ineffective. Get a performance management system that is linked to planning and development. If you have one, make sure leaders are using it. 3. Stop compensating for poor performers by doing their work. These types of leaders success can be a direct result of doing the employees work for them when they fail to meet performance targets. They need to learn to deal with poor performance and give consequences. The codependent leader ends up working for their employees to make them successful. Training or coaching on how to deliver performance correction including preparation and role playing is needed to build this leaders confidence. employees by doing the following: Caliber Leadership Systems. ©2013 4
4. Establishing an accountability framework. An accountability framework confirms to the employee that they will be held accountable for the work they sign off on. It prevents leaders from making exceptions and not following their own systems. Frequently codependent leaders act like the organizations systems are there for everyone else but them. Put an organization wide accountability framework in place and make sure everyone is held to account. 5. Create a leadership development program which includes emotional intelligence coaching. Codependent leaders must build awareness of how they are contributing to their team and employee’s dysfunction. Many leaders have the business acumen without the necessary development in the people management arena. A leadership development process that has leaders building interpersonal competence and challenges their fears and anxieties about the emotional side of leading is a must to help leaders achieve their full potential. Leadership coaching for senior leaders is a must and is critical to them setting the benchmark for leadership performance. For more information about how we can help you deal with codependent leaders in your organization, contact us for a consultation. Caliber Leadership Systems. ©2013 5
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