signs insulated leader

3-Signs You’re An Insulated Leader

“I don’t want any yes-men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth…even if it costs them their jobs.” – Samuel Goldwyn, Film Producer

Once upon a time…

…in a land far away from your office, a CEO stood at the helm of a struggling company and contemplated the mystical how’s & why’s of the organization’s future.  How could a company he worked so hard to build with his own two hands 16-years ago be floundering, when the market for his products should be thriving?  When he started his company in the garage of his house, his wife and kids were his first board members, product testers, marketing team and engineering department.  His network expanded to his friends and neighbors, then beyond the borders of his town to a major city, where a minor celebrity started publicly using his product.  That’s when things took off!  From there it was a short road to angel investors, incorporation, global sales, inventory and, within 4 ½ years of breaking through, a listing on the NASDAQ.  Through it all, he had remained steadfast at the helm of his company as the figurehead and the leader.  Something had changed in the last 4-years, however, as the reality started varying from what he felt in his heart – it wasn’t the same.  His board meetings were full of good information, in fact, his team of leaders had been promoted specifically because they made things happen and delivered results.  Even so, the bottom line had been falling and customers had been leaving to competitors for reasons his leadership seemed unable to explain.  The dynamics weren’t matching up, and he was aware that this rate of dissipation could not be sustained for long.  Something had to change, but what?  How was he losing his passion, his drive, and the soul of his company as rapidly as he saw his flag rise?

At the same time, in an office 3-floors below the CEO…

  …stood a division manager who had been serving the company for the past 8 years.  She was “working” late tonight, updating her resume and scanning the industry circulations to see what was out there.  When she was hired, she left a job at an established firm to come join this new team where she had been offered an enticing incentive package and the chance to lead a larger team in a market near her ailing father.  It was a dream come true at the perfect time, and she jumped at the chance.  When she came onboard, she was empowered and felt heard — life was a joy.  She was committed to the team, the product and the company. More than an employee, she was an evangelist.

She was committed to the team, the product and the company. More than an employee, she was an evangelist.

The people she inspired to join her department were motivated by her enthusiasm and gave their all.  In the last four years, however, things had changed—a barrier had grown—and she couldn’t get over it, around it, or through it.  The change was near the top, a cabal of senior directors who seemed more interested in their own personal advancement than the company’s success, and they surrounded the CEO with a very effective “blocking action.”  She wasn’t the only one to see it—her teammates saw it, too.  It was evident everywhere, and was becoming the talk in the lunchroom and around the printers.  Teammates were leaving in droves over the last few years—taking experience, training and worst of all, customers with them as they left.  How could she be losing her passion, her drive, and the soul of her division?

Insulation in our Environment

In the scenario above, two passionate members of the same team find themselves on a precipice.  As one looks down for advice and feedback, the other looks up for advocacy and vision.  Despite a shared desire for collective success, both also shared a problem – a problem of insulation.

Insulation reduces intensity, flow or transfer of a stimulus.  It can be acoustic, electrical, impact or thermal: the latter measured in R-value, or the true measure of the insulating material’s resistance. Measuring leadership R-value – that is, the amount of insulating resistance built into a team, which restricts the flow of valuable information among members—is critical for effective communication.

Measuring leadership R-value – that is, the amount of insulating resistance built into a team which restricts the flow of valuable information among members—is critical for effective communication.

Measuring Your R-Value:

If you are an insulated leader, you are missing the big picture.  As a result, you are making decisions based upon poor—sometimes misleading—information.  In today’s climate, you cannot afford to misinterpret the variables that make up your opportunity for a winning equation.  As such, you need to remain aware of the insulation effect, or R-value, of your team by watching for these clues:

  1. Masked Incompetence: If the “Peter Principle” is to be believed, one must wonder where these performers eventually end-up.  The answer: working closer to you!  Whom you promote defines your team, and defines your communication environment.  Be on the lookout for those who are struggling and develop the personal relationships required to spot someone who may be operating beyond their comfort-zone.  When personal struggles exist, coping techniques abound—some of which have second or third order effects
  2. Lack of an Effective Feedback Loop: When was the last time you had lunch with your team?  How and how-often do you communicate with those on the front lines?  What tools are you using in your team to ensure some unfiltered commentary rises to your ears?  If you cannot answer these questions, your R-Value is probably quite high!
  3. Reality vs Reports: You are the leader of your team for a reason—because you had vision and, best of all, follow-through.  If the reports you are hearing aren’t matching up with either the vision or the plan, then you have reached a dangerously high R-value.  Trust is a fickle banker—a lifetime of deposits and bankruptcy in a single withdrawal.  If the environment you have created inspires fear, then your teammates will choose self-interest over telling you the truth…the hard truth…that you truly need to hear in order to make accurate decisions for your future.
If you are an insulated leader, you are missing the big picture.

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Tearing Down Walls

If you are not constantly scanning for, and removing, insulation within your team, your R-value will continue to increase.  Open your ears beyond your core and seek honest, reliable feedback where the rubber meets the road.  “Lead-Up” by providing a realistic picture of what you are seeing and fighting to ensure your voice is heard.  Finally, allow energy to be conducted by sharing up…and down…what you think you are hearing.  You may be surprised to find truth hiding within the walls in places you never thought you’d find it!

Share your techniques for crushing insulation and removing R-value in the comments and on Twitter with hashtag: #RValue. I’m interested in hearing your suggestions and stories!


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Image credit: albund / 123RF Stock Photo

Matthew T. Fritz is a leader and mentor in the field of complex organizational change, emotional intelligence, and organization strategy. A successful DoD senior-acquisition program manager and test leader, Matt has earned documented success in the areas of test and evaluation, assessment, technology development and flight operations. He has specialized experience in cost, schedule and performance management and is an active duty Field-Grade Officer with command-experience in the United States Air Force. Matt is also a certified acquisition professional, as well as a certified Emotional Intelligence Trainer/Practitioner. He is the Author of an instructional book entitled, “Leveraging Your LinkedIn Profile for Success” and actively blogs with other military leaders at, as well as his personal blog at He and his wife, Stacy, enjoy life with their daughter and son in New Mexico.

  • Deb Mills-Scofield

    Matt – what a great post! And becoming insulated is so like the boiled frog syndrome – you don’t really realize it’s happening which is why a leader must, must walk about, keep in touch. There are so many ‘rationalizations’ – too busy, etc. – but it’s imperative… thank you!

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