Bad Bosses are Bad Business By Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden
January 2006

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In this issue...
  • Featured Article - Bad Bosses are Bad Business
  • Contented Cows Message Plays Well to SHRM Audiences
  • Buy the Book or CD at the Cow Store

  • Featured Article - Bad Bosses are Bad Business

    By Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden

    A belated but heartfelt Happy New Year.

    While some are in the midst of trying out some new outlooks and behaviors in this brand spanking new year, we'd like to hearken back to a subject that has visited these pages before - the topic of managers who can't or won't measure up as leaders. In so doing, it is our hope that our readers, all 5143 of you, will get serious about seeing to it that every soul placed into a leadership position in your organization has the tools, skills, character, and proclivity to lead others. That's a resolution we can get excited about.

    We have consistently encouraged leaders to maintain the highest standards of conduct and performance for everyone on the payroll. Successful organizations don't suffer slackers, and they're careful not to put people in positions they're not suited for. And that certainly includes managers who can't lead and inspire people to perform.

    We think this would be a good time for a sober assessment of the process used at your place to identify, select, and train new leaders. Are you identifying people who have demonstrated both leadership and technical job skills, or just the latter? Are you identifying folks who really (REALLY) want to take on a leadership burden that can be difficult, lonely, and at times unpleasant, or those who merely want to make a little more money (with emphasis on the 'little')?

    Does your selection process exclude those who, by virtue of character or reputation, simply cannot attract motivated followers in your organization? Does that process somehow capture and meaningfully use the opinions of the candidate's peers? If not, why not?

    Once selected, how is the person prepared prior to assuming their new duties? Please don't tell us you rely on the Donald Trump school of management development (e.g., lock everybody in the cafeteria, 'er boardroom, initiate a food fight, and see who emerges.)

    Seriously, are you devoting the time, attention, and resource to ensure that newly appointed leaders have a fighting chance of succeeding? What steps are you taking to provide them much needed coaching during their initial weeks and months in the position? Are you setting reasonable goals and observing/evaluating performance in a timely manner? Perhaps most importantly, are you, as a leader, setting the kind of example you expect this person to follow?

    If a bona fide non-leader has somehow been placed in a leadership position, and reasonable amounts of training, support, and encouragement don't seem to be helping (quite often they won't, because things like courage, honesty, and humility can't be easily taught to adults), the individual should be encouraged to pursue other opportunities more suited to their abilities. In other words, move them out. Do it humanely, but do it.

    If this sounds harsh, or perhaps inconsistent with this column's central purpose of creating a great place to work, think again. There are few job conditions more miserable than working under the direction of an inept or uncaring leader. Moreover, the real purpose of all this is NOT to create a 'happy-happy atmosphere' but to generate better business outcomes through the efforts of a focused, fired up, capably led workforce.

    Who among us would keep seeing a dentist who was lousy at administering anesthesia? Or would continue to employ a chef who, despite training and encouragement, never developed the ability to cook? Or a web designer who couldn't master html? So why, then, do so many of us tolerate people in management positions who have demonstrated a remarkable ineptness for managing people?

    A strange and curious pattern has developed in many organizations whereby we:

    1. Promote someone who is good at what they do to a position of leadership, without regard for their ability to perform in a leadership capacity, or even their desire to do so.

    2. Evaluate them primarily on their ability to episodically generate short-term results, and only secondarily, if at all, on their ability to lead people (which is ostensibly why that management position exists in the first place.)

    3. If it becomes apparent that they have failed in their leadership role, continue to tolerate (and in many cases, promote) them despite demonstrated incompetence in a fundamental function of the role.

    And we wonder why one of the chief complaints in employee opinion surveys is expressed as "Lack of management credibility."

    In addition to a handful of character traits, leadership hinges on at least three broadly defined critical success factors: 1) the ability to get people Committed to the organization's core purpose and destination; 2) Enabling others, through tools, training, and systems, to do their best work, and 3) Caring about those they lead, as real, pulsating 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.

    GE, under legendary leader Jack Welch, came down clearly on the side of leadership when it determined that those managers who failed to embrace the company's value of strong leadership skills would be required to change or leave. Simple as that.

    Referring to his own company's managers in Fortune magazine (3/7/05), Dell Chairman Michael Dell said, "If you're a manager who is not addressing employee issues, you're not going to get promoted... or get compensation. And, if you consistently score in the bottom rungs of the surveys, we're going to look at you and say, maybe this isn't the right job for you."

    We've observed, as have you probably, many organizations that appear to turn a blind eye to struggling or misplaced leaders they have put in positions of authority. Some of these managers are helpless, clueless, and deserving of pity. Others are abusive, insensitive, self-absorbed, pompous, callous, uncaring, weak kneed, in over their heads, and not possessed of particularly good judgment. Some of them are just not very nice people. The high-falutin' technical term for a person who possesses three or more of the aforementioned attributes is "jerk", and let's face it, we've got some of them. And jerks just don't make good leaders. As one of our favorite leaders, Gen. Melvin Zais put it, they are, "a little person with a little job and a big head."

    One company we worked with had a senior manager, a guy named 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 and an even lousier leader.

    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. His employee survey scores were eye- poppingly low. 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. Be bone honest with them, and give them a reasonable amount of time to come up to speed. If they can't, or won't, do the right thing, before your best talent walks - to your most formidable competition.

    Contented Cows Message Plays Well to SHRM Audiences

    We speak at lots of conferences of professional associations - from the British Columbia Food and Beverage Conference, to the National Welding Supply Association, and everything in between.

    Over the last few years, we've been invited by more and more Human Resources Associations throughout North America to bring the message that Contented Cows Give Better Milk to their conferences. One or the other (or in some cases both) of us have spoken for the following HR groups, mostly at their annual conferences, or in some cases, a monthly meeting:
    *SHRM Minnesota State Conference
    *Ohio State HR Conference
    *Long Island SHRM
    *Northern California HR Association Annual Conference
    *Metro Phoenix HR Association
    *Wisconsin SHRM
    *Shenandoah Valley (Virginia) SHRM
    *Jamaica (West Indies) Assn for Training and Development
    *Dallas HR Association
    *Houston HR Association
    *Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky SHRM
    *HR Association of Central Ohio
    *HR Professionals Association of Ontario (Canada)
    *HR Tampa

    HR pro's seem to find our message helpful - and one that they can take back to their organizations to help make positive changes - to make their companies better, and more profitable, places to work.

    If you're a member of an HR Professionals association (or any association, for that matter), why not suggest to those who plan your annual state conference that they get in touch?

    To find out more about bringing in one or both of the authors to speak for your association conference, or corporate meeting, click on the "Find Out More" link below. OR, pick up the phone, and call our office at 800-940-7006 (that's 904-720-0870 from outside North America). Or, send us an email and let us know how we can be of service. We look forward to hearing from you.

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