Some time ago a magazine writer asked me a probing question. She asked, “In your opinion and experience, what are the three most destructive things a leader can do to wreck an organization?” Actually, it’s a profound question with many possible significant answers. I considered both effective and ineffective leaders I had encountered in my business experience. I pondered what could be, in my opinion, the three worst things a leader could do. Although many different things came to mind, I settled on three attributes that I had personally observed, or been subjected to, as being most destructive from a strategic point of view. It was necessary to discount numerous tactical behaviors that may appear destructive at the moment, but in the large scheme pale by comparison to the more strategic negative behaviors.
A few of the leadership behaviors I considered before I gave my final answers included such things as poor communication skills, poor delegation skills, poor team building skills, too much tactical thinking, poor coaching skills, poor empowerment skills, and poor feedback skills. Any of these behaviors could be the three worst leadership behaviors, but I opted instead for things that I had personally observed as being highly destructive to not only people, but also to things, activities and processes.
My three answers were: 1) Personal Arrogance, 2) Inflexible Position, and 3) a belief in Self-Resolution. Inasmuch as these three attributes constitute a wide range of specific behaviors, permit me to describe each one in more detail.
1. Personal Arrogance. Another way to describe arrogance is pride. Although there are clearly good aspects of being proud, pride can also be a handicap to effective leadership. First, let’s look at the good side of pride. Leaders, managers and individual contributors can take pride in their job, an assignment, a task, or even a procedure. And such pride can be a motivator to perform well, thoroughly, and with a high degree of quality. So taking pride in one’s job can be a positive attribute for any worker.
But unfortunately, there is a negative side to personal pride that I call unhealthy pride. When a person uses pride to the determent of others, then it can be a destructive rather than positive trait. Ezra Taft Benson said, “The proud make [people] their adversary by pitting their intellects, opinions, works, wealth, talents or any other device against others.” In the words of C.S. Lewis: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next [person]. It is the comparison that makes [a person] proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition [or comparison] has gone, pride has gone.” So at the heart of unhealthy pride is judging oneself as superior to others.
The truth is that pride is often a liability that people often see in other people, long before they are willing to admit that it exists in themselves. This makes the proud unteachable, untouchable, and often unreachable when it comes to leadership development. Excessive pride in a leader can create executive isolation and insulation where lines of communication are disrupted at the most, or faulty at the least.
It is executive pride and the lack of personal humility that causes a leader to be convinced that his or her decisions are infallible and unchallengeable. Over time this creates in an organization a climate of fear, blind obedience and compartmentalization. Organizational compartmentalization occurs when workers feel most safe with their chin on their chest doing only what is necessary to keep from being disciplined or fired. There is in this dysfunctional climate no creativity, empowerment, risk taking, or free speech. Decision quality is, therefore, very poor. Chin on chest mentality negates the possibility of employees thinking or acting in a strategic manner.
2. Inflexible Position. I currently teach leadership development workshops for several clients. Within these courses is a module titled, “Flexible Leadership.” The primary learning point of the module is helping leaders understand that “one size does not fit all.” People are individuals and situations are situational. So when a leader approaches a situation in an organization he or she must demonstrate enough flexibility of position and ability to treat each person and situation differently. Rigid thinking and inflexible positions typically shut down lines of communication.
It’s surprising how many leaders become dogmatic with their personal opinions, preferences and biases and as a result struggle with flexibility and adaptability. This might relate to unhealthy personal pride, or it could be insecurity, or it might even be inexperience. Whatever the cause, holding fast to an opinion or belief in the face of unconsidered different courses of action seriously limits decision quality. We know from mountains of evidence that decision quality usually follows a path of divergent thinking, following by facilitated convergent thinking. Stated another way, the best idea usually follows many considered ideas. Conversely, the worst idea often follows a leader’s unwillingness to consider the ideas of others.
3. Problem Self-Resolution. Several years ago a large portion of my consulting practice was helping organizations implement a system of process improvement. While assisting literally hundreds of functional and cross-functional teams as they endeavored to create and modify organizational processes, I observed an all too often tendency of some leaders who were supposed to empower the teams. These ineffective sponsors of teams had a belief that if a problem was left alone long enough that it might spontaneously fix itself. Some of these leaders clearly lacked enough courage to confront broken processes and uncooperative employees. Others just didn’t want to upset the apple cart, so they would drag their heels in challenging and motivating teams.
Jack Welch said, “Leaders must face reality as it is and not as they may have constructed it.” The reality is that very few organizational process problems ever fix themselves to an effective level. Rather, most problems dealing with people and processes typically get worse over time, not better. Indeed, sometimes problems may go on vacation for a short time and give the appearance of being resolved, but a few weeks later they crop back up with even more steam.
Effective leaders must have the courage and ability to recognize problems when they occur, acknowledge that they need to be resolved, and work diligently to make them go away. Anything less than that will add fuel to the fire and the problems will grow into major disruptions.
I am unaware of what happened to the information I gave to the writer who asked for my list of the worst leader behaviors. Perhaps it ended up in a book, leadership development class, article, or trashcan, I don’t know. Nonetheless, the exercise of deciding on three negative attributes gave me an opportunity to consider not only good leader behaviors, but also the bad ones as well.
Perhaps the lesson in this article is to ask the following questions: “Am I guilty of any of these ineffective behaviors? Do I diligently create a climate for my followers that is open, honest, positive, motivating, and beneficial to both people and the organization? Am I willing to self-assess my effectiveness and make appropriate changes?” Give it some thought and tell me what you think.
Dr. Richard L. Williams is a business consultant specializing in leadership development, organizational development/diagnostics, performance coaching, quality improvement, and team development. If you would like to learn more about Leadership Development, contact Dr. Rick Williams or the CMOE team or contact us at 888-262-2499.
There are myths or assumptions about what the family-friendly workplace really means. Some of the commonly held myths and the corresponding reality checks are as follows:
- Family-Friendly policies are soft HR issues, mainly for women. Policies that increase employee health and well-being, foster employee commitment and support families, positively impact everyone (employees; men and women, customers and clients, families and communities.) In some organizations, it is women who have pushed for family-friendly policies since they are usually the primary caregivers, responsible for child care, eldercare and health care as well as primarily responsible for household management (shopping, meals, laundry, cleaning etc.) and are either major contributors to family income or the primary family breadwinner. Men and women at all levels of companies, in all stages of their career development and all stages of their life cycle are seeking flexibility to achieve a better work-life balance.
- Management will lose control. Some managers may have concerns about giving up control over their workforce by implementing supportive policies and practices, however they actually gain more control over outputs and results by giving control of time management to employees. By providing more control to their employees, managers can help establish a better working relationship. These employees, now more satisfied with their work-life balance, are more inclined to show loyalty to their manager and company. As a result, these managers will likely see a lower turnover rate in their departments.
- Flexibility is unfair and inequitable. Some managers consider that there needs to be a “one size fits all” solution to flexibility. The reality is that everyone has different needs and so the solutions will be very personal. Different people need different forms of flexibility at different points in their lives (i.e., when they have a baby or when they want to continue their education). Other people are content to work a more traditional workweek and prefer the stability and predictability of a standard work schedule. Solutions to employee needs for flexibility should be custom fits.
- Hours at work = results (notion of “face time”) In a traditional workplace, managers could always see their employees and so considered them to be working and productive. With employees exploring alternate ways to work such as telecommuting, managers may no longer see them. Some may have concerns about what employees are doing during the day if working from home. The keys to success are good trust, regular communication and clear performance targets.
- Only for non-managerial positions. This was the case when flexible work options were first introduced in the 1990’s. However, as more women have moved into senior management positions and more men are juggling their careers with fatherhood, this has changed. Many companies offer their work-life balance policies to employees at all levels.
- Participation in family-friendly policies is a career-limiting move. Research studies have shown that for most people, working a flexible work arrangement does not limit their careers, although it may slow down the career path, or reduce some options. For example, if an employee reduces their work hours, they may not be willing or interested in taking a position or promotion that requires extended travel. Employees need to assess the pros, cons and career impact when deciding whether a flexible work arrangement is for them.If however, the career impact is the result of unsupported assumptions (e.g., those who use flexible work arrangements are less committed to the company or unable to take on increased responsibility), you may need to take measures to dispel these perceptions. It is also one of the reasons, it is recommended to conduct follow-up assessments of your programs and policies. You could, for example, assess over time, the impact on promotions of those who use work-life options such as flexible work arrangements versus those in traditional work situations.
- Hard to measure impact on bottom line. Many companies now have access to solid statistics about how family-friendly policies positively impact the bottom-line. Through employee attitude surveys, focus groups and pilot tests, senior management know that employees with lower work-family conflict have less stress and anxiety about “doing it all” and are better able to focus on their jobs and their customers.
- It won’t work for jobs with direct customer contact. With more companies moving towards 24/7 operations, telephone call-centres and service provided at customer’s homes and offices, the need for flexibility has grown. Customers are looking for good quality service, and prefer to deal with a happy employee who is satisfied with their work.
No matter where you work, you report to someone – maybe even to two or three bosses. And whether you think your boss is brilliant or a bore, the fact is that you have to manage the relationship with your boss if you want to advance your career.
Many of us give little thought to managing our supervisors. We do so at our own peril. Supervisors can have a lot of influence over our success in a job and our long-term career plans. Supervisor recommendations carry a lot of weight when it comes to decisions about raises, promotions, training resources and even job references. Why then do we fail to develop positive work relationships with our supervisors?
In the past, the supervisor-employee relationship has been view as one-way, with the supervisor as boss and the employee subservient to their authority. It is better to view the relationship as a partnership involving mutual dependence. Supervisors need the contributions of subordinates, just as subordinates require support and resources from supervisors. Both parties need to co-operate in order to fulfil requirements and achieve goals.
Why do so many employees try to stay out of the way of supervisors and avoid their notice? Surveys indicate, more than 50 per cent of employees list relationships with immediate supervisors as the worst aspect of their job. Sure, there are poor supervisors, just as there are poor employees. However, both employees and supervisors are responsible for creating effective working relationships.
Develop positive working relationships
Employees, consider your immediate supervisor as an important internal customers. Ask yourself, what does my supervisor needs from me? What is the preferred work style of my supervisor? What kind of environment does my supervisor work in and what pressures do they experience?
What does your supervisor expect of you? Use this information to guide and build your interactions. Remember, supervisors are busy people with many demands placed on them. Make good use of their time and resources.
The workplace is fast-paced; it’s smart to take the intiative. Don’t wait for your supervisor to give detailed directions. Instead, show initiative, demonstrate sound judgment and ask questions. Ask your supervisor for feedback and act on the feedback. Most supervisors appreciate the participation of employees in company work activities. For example, participate in meetings, volunteer to sit on important committees and welcome delegated tasks as a way to increase your skills.
You create good working relationships with your supervisor by acting professionally. Meet work deadlines and keep your supervisor informed about accomplishments and problems. Be honest and don’t agree to do things if you have no intention of following through on them.
The workplace requires you keep up-to-date about developments in your field and improve your work skills through ongoing learning. Avoid the temptation of becoming a superhero, working solo for long hours with excessive overtime. These behaviours can have negative effects on your family and volunteer activities. Learn instead to become a team player and to strike a good balance between work and family responsibilities.
Growth requires change. Supervisors appreciate employees that are resourceful. Be creative, share ideas and develop problem-solving skills. Have Plan B on standby, in case Plan A doesn’t yield the outcome measures or standards required.
Flexibility is a worker’s key asset. Practise time management skills and schedule time each week for networking. Know who you can call for help when you need it. Supervisors are looking for self-motivated individuals who are interested in more than financial rewards alone.
The choice is yours
Supervisors can be an advocate or an adversary. The choice is largely up to you. The relationship you develop with your supervisor should not be left to chance. Learn to manage your supervisor by taking initiative, being professional and resourceful. Treat your supervisor as your most important internal customer and offer exceptional customer service. Doing so will enhance your employability skills and increase your marketability.