The term “Ivory Tower” is come to mean being out of touch with the “real” world or the rest of the world. With respect to leadership, it means the same thing. Due to the pressures of leadership, and the time demands, there is a tendency for leaders to spend most of their time with other leaders in the organization, or other managers, focusing on the “big” issues, or the strategic issues. Those thing are important, of course.
However, what happens is that over time, the leader can become out of touch with the experiences and problems of those that actually get the work done —often the people at the bottom of the organizational hierarchy who make and design products and services, or who interact directly with the people who pay the bills —the customers.
Leaders who isolate themselves too much from the day-to-day activity of their business run the risk of losing touch with their employees, their customers, and potentially even the company’s mission. This also represents an executive team that is out of touch because it relies entirely on the chain of command to get information about important issues instead of being directly plugged into the day-to-day activities.
When leaders get out of touch or get stuck in the isolated ivory tower syndrome, their decision making loses focus and tends to cater to the issues and problems associated with other leaders and managers. Decisions get made that interfere with customer service or production. Strategic decisions don’t take into account the everyday implications for customers and employees.
The ivory tower syndrome process is a natural and common process that can affect most busy leaders, unless the leader pays conscious attention, and allocates time, to staying in touch with those towards the bottom of the organization.
Summing-up: The Ivory Tower Syndrome occurs when top management becomes disconnected from the reality of the business. Organization size, complexity and information filtering all contribute to the problem.