What is your Leadership Tolerance Level?

Vinay Nadig

What is your Leadership Tolerance Level?

You are a CEO or a business unit leader. Ultimately your success depends upon the breadth and depth of leadership you are able to grow amongst your teams. Of course you want to do this. If it’s not innate nature, then by now you have probably been subjected to countless “gurus” who have cajoled and persuaded you and your organization to adopt nurturing your subordinates and transforming your organization. Here’s the catch – we all seem to have some sort of “tolerance limits” on how far or how deep we enable individuals as they step up and accept this ethereal mantle of leadership. What type of limits, you ask? To illustrate, let me take you back a long time ago, when I plied my trade as a mechanical engineer (seems like a past lifetime; nevertheless, good lessons were learnt there). I worked as a process engineer in one of my jobs. What this meant was that I stood for eight hours a day monitoring a process line that extruded copper and insulated the wire with plastic. I was monitoring the process so that neither the thickness of the copper nor the layers of insulation went beyond what engineers refer to as “tolerance limits.” For example, in the sample chart below – the lower limit is 1 unit and the upper limit is 2.5 units of measure. So, as long as the process stays within these limits of “tolerance,” we allow it to continue humming; if it spikes either above or below (for whatever reason), we intervene, find, fix and reset. It is all mostly automated –so after a teething duration, intervention is not called for, unless there are extreme shifts.

What does this have to do with human leadership, you say? Whether you are a manager, senior leader, or an individual who is a personal leader – are you setting limits to your leadership? If you are a leader who is responsible for other people’s performance, do you try to keep them within some boundaries; and if they trend upwards, is your tolerance limit broken? That is, do you steer them back to the status quo with admonitions like, “Well, we cannot step on their toes,” or “Unfortunately, that is not our resource and therefore we cannot drive it,” etc., etc.? Wait! It cuts both ways. As an individual, do you wait for others to develop your career? Do you depend completely on your organization or your supervisor to provide you the beacons for your leadership journey?

Well, if you do – then you are in the “intolerance zone” on your leadership journey. It may work well when you want to ensure the highest quality of wires, but it won’t work when you are trying to improve human performance. As a leader, your chance at almost guaranteed success is to enable and nurture your teams – so putting arbitrary limits within which you “tolerate” performance will not generate the outcomes you are looking for. And as an individual and a personal leader, these will only serve to limit your ability to perform exceptional work, and ultimately stop short at finding fulfillment.

So, shed those limits and break out of that intolerance zone! We have no alternative if we wish to lead excellent lives and find fulfillment. Here’s a quick and simple way to get a “gut check” on your leadership tolerance level. Give it a whirl – you might be surprised!

Review your behavior over the past month at work. Grade yourself (Circle the grade you think you should get):

3. Add your individual grades. What is your total? Here is a handy guide to help you work on your leadership tolerance levels. Remember, this is not a one-time exercise – you must come back to this and grade yourself periodically to ensure you stay on the right track.

Score between 12 and 16 – You are doing great. You are not using artificial limits to constrain your leadership behavior. Continue to push beyond the limits actively.

Score between 8 and 12 – You sometimes worry about organizational boundaries, titles and territorial politics. Examine your behaviors and start to push higher, even during frantic times.

Score between 4 and 8 – You are safely within whatever limits you/your organization/your team have put on yourself. Whether they are realistic or artificial, you seem to stay in this “safe” zone. This may be inhibiting your progress. More importantly, it is definitely stopping you from climbing the leadership ascent curve. And ultimately, it is stopping you from finding fulfillment at work. So, go back and re-evaluate your personal mission statement in Exercise # 1. Then begin to abandon the fear tied to failure and start focusing on leadership behaviors that will move you steadily away from the fear of the past toward the promise of the future. Remember – your future is spotless at any given time!

About the Author

Vinay Nadig is the author of Leadership IS for Everyone: 20 Leadership Secrets for Exceptional Outcomes and Fulfillment at Work. He has had a 20+ year career as a consultant, entrepreneur and a business unit head in the manufacturing, healthcare, retail, technology and airline sectors, consulting with several large Fortune 500 organizations. For more information, please visit www.vinay-nadig.com and www.leadershipdharma.com