Great leadership offers inspiration, optimism and hope, a clear vision and a strategic plan to find a successful way forward, the will and the capacity to bring people together to find effective solutions and lasting success.

Sadly many leaders are falling short of the ideal. We are surrounded by examples in every strata of society where the quality of leadership is having a disastrous impact on individuals and their families, on the capacity of businesses to succeed consistently and on society as a whole.


So what is the cost of poor leadership?

Levels of stress, anxiety and depression are at an all-time high, in the UK alone over 50% of all prescriptions written are for anti-depressants.  Issues at work are cited as a major cause of stress, anxiety and depression.  I believe that poor leadership is at the heart of the problem. 


The impact of stress on the individual

Over the long term stress can have a devastating effect on the individuals concerned. 

It impacts at a physical levels in many ways.  The survival instinct is hot wired into us all.  It is a throwback to when cave men and women were constantly on high alert.  Any change in the environment, strangers, animals, the elements were all potentially life threating. The threats caused by modern day stress are not as immediate as facing a predator or a marauding clan of savages but can be incredibly damaging over time.

Sustained stress causes a myriad of physical problems including high blood pressure, a much increased risk of a heart attack or a stroke, insomnia which is known to impact general health and reduce life expectancy and a negative impact on the immune system.

Continued stress has a detrimental impact on the mental health of those involved.  This is an area of growing concern as the numbers who are being affected in this way is growing at an enormous rate and whilst stress from work is not the only reason for the increase it is seen as a major factor for many people.  Anxiety, depression, depression, lack of confidence, poor decision making, the inability to manage change, unhappiness, irritability, irrationality, burnout and mental breakdown are the result of sustained stress.

Relationships are another casualty of poor leadership. 

Professional relationships become strained when the quality of leadership is poor. Many organizations operate within a blame culture where trust, integrity, and respect are in short supply.  Expectations are often unclear, unreasonable or inconsistent leaving staff feeling vulnerable. Many leaders and managers operate through a sense of fear, lack and destructive division.  Poor communication exacerbates the problem.  The result is staff who feel stressed, undervalued, unsure of themselves and unhappy.

Stress knows no boundaries.  Few people are able to compartmentalise the impact of their professional challenges.  Working long hours, taking work home or being unable to leave their worry about work when they go home has a profound impact on their partners and their children.  Many personal relationships are unable to sustain the pressure making divorce or a split inevitable leading to huge amounts of distress, unhappiness, and loneliness.

Time off work due to work related issues has a negative impact on the financial status of the person involved and can impede the success of their career over time.  Research shows that those who exhibit high levels of stress or mental ill health are far less likely to achieve promotion and less likely to fulfill their true potential.

The cost of poor leadership at an organizational level

The cost of absenteeism and loss of efficiency and productivity is huge. (In the Uk alone £700+ billion is lost through stress, anxiety, and depression and it is thought that the cost of presenteeism ( people being at work but underperforming because of stress) is at least twice that amount.

Absenteeism puts a strain on the rest of the staff and the manager. Covering the tasks normally undertaken by the person who is absent increases the workload of those still at work.  It impacts on continuity, potentially causing delays in delivering projects on time.  This, in turn, affects the quality of customer service and the organisation’s reputation.

There is an obvious link between absenteeism and loss of productivity but far less obvious is the cost of presenteeism.  This is thought to cost the economy twice as much as absenteeism.  People who struggle into work because they don’t want to let others down or who fear they will lost their jobs but are not firing on all cylinders because of the impact of stress, anxiety or depression. 

The quality of relationships is an important factor in the ongoing success of any organisation.  Poor leadership and stress have a negative impact on the relationships between staff, managers, customers, and suppliers.  Self-organising teams who are capable and willing to take ownership of the project at hand and who work well together have the capacity to manage change effectively.  They are far better resourced and make the most of the experience, skills, and enthusiasm of those involved.  Where the leadership is poor the team is far more likely to do what they want rather than deliver what the leaders and managers need. 

Poor leadership leads to a high turnover of staff.  This can lead to a lack of continuity

Because of problems replacing the experience and expertise of those who leave. It also increases the chances of being taken to tribunal for bullying or unfair treatment.  This is not only hugely expensive financially but is time consuming and stressful for all involved.  Firms which have a reputation of being taken to tribunals find it more difficult to attract high-quality staff.

People are the greatest resource within any organisation sadly much potential is wasted when the quality of leadership is poor.

Poor leadership impacts on the quality of decision making at every level. Poor leadership often results in decisions being made, changed or avoided based on incomplete information and data. Lack of strategic planning  leads to resources including time, money, space and equipment being wasted.  Poor quality decision making impacts significantly on productivity and the profitability of the organisation.

The cost of poor leadership to society

You are now aware of the significant cost to the economy of lost productivity due to absenteeism and presenteeism but that is simply the top of the ice burg.  There are huge costs to the health service dealing with the physical and mental costs of stress and mental ill-health.  When looking at the true cost of poor leadership it is important to consider the social cost of benefits for those off work or retired.

There is a societal cost of were deteriorating personal relationships that lead to fragmented families.  There is much evidence that single parent families are more likely to live in poverty, the children are more likely to do less well at school so have more limited professional prospects in the long term. The cycle of deprivation then continues.

Poor leadership at a political level has a far-reaching impact on everyone.  We witness the significant cost of poor political decisions on society, the environment and our future on a daily basis.

It is time for a change.

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