Bad Bosses are Bad Business

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Bad Bosses are Bad Business

Who among us would keep seeing a dentist who was lousy at administering anesthesia? Or would knowingly board an airplane piloted by someone who’d never really learned to fly? I think I know the answer.

So why, then, do so many of us tolerate people in management positions who have demonstrated a remarkable ineptitude for leading people?

A strange and curious pattern has developed in many organizations, and it looks like this:

1. Promote someone who is good at what they do to a position of leadership, without regard to their ability to perform in a leadership capacity.
2. Evaluate them primarily on their ability to episodically bring in short-term results, and only secondarily, if at all, on their ability to lead people.
3. If it becomes apparent that they have failed in their leadership role, continue to tolerate them (and in many cases, promote them) in spite of their demonstrated incompetence in a core function of the role.

And we wonder why one of the chief complaints in Employee Engagement surveys is expressed as “Lack of management credibility.”

Without oversimplifying it, leadership requires at least these three very broadly defined elements:

1. The ability to get people committed to an important sense of organizational mission
2. Enabling them, through tools and systems, to do their best work, and
3. Caring about those they lead, as real people, with real needs, feelings, and contributions to make.

Some of the most successful organizations on the planet know that being an effective people leader is a requirement – not a preference – of a manager’s job. They’ve made these skills an absolute condition of employment for everyone in a management position, from first-line supervisor to CEO. Your organization would do well to emulate this practice, if it’s not already.

We’ve observed, as have you probably, lots of organizations who appear to turn a blind eye to the incompetent leaders they have in positions of authority. Some of these managers are helpless, clueless, and deserving of our pity. Others are abusive, insensitive, self-absorbed, pompous, arrogant, callous, uncaring, in over their heads, not possessed of good judgment or wisdom, and some of them are just not very nice people. The technical term for a person who possesses three or more of the aforementioned attributes is “jerk”, and let’s face it, some of the managers in your organization may simply be that – jerks. And jerks just don’t make good managers. Primarily because, especially these days, nobody will put forth their best effort for a jerk.

One company we worked with had a senior manager, we’ll call him Mark, who, despite formidable technical knowledge and skills, had managed to alienate just about everyone on his team over the course of the year or two he’d been in his position. He was brilliant, but a lousy boss. The CEO, a fellow who regularly espoused strong leadership values, defended Mark’s “numbers” and denied the negative impact he was having on the workforce. What started as an outward trickle of talent from his team soon developed into a hemorrhage. Exit interviews painted as clear a picture as could be as to the reason behind the exodus. Still, the CEO did nothing, until poor morale caused a costly project failure. Mark hung on for two more years, while the CEO kept hoping for improvement. When the inevitable separation happened, it was ugly, expensive, and several years too late.

Got a manager in your outfit who’s not fit to lead? Get them help, support, and training. Give them reasonable time to learn this core function of their job. If they can’t, or won’t, replace them with a competent leader before your best talent walks – to your most formidable competition.

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