Leadership

Two big impediments to successful leadership


A while ago I was brought into a company to work with a vice president-level executive who, I was told, "may not make it." 

This isn't my favorite type of coaching work.  In my business it's termed "remedial coaching."  I think the Human Resource field coined that term; having never come across it in coaching circles before about 1997.  Regardless of where it started, in less gentle words it means "Fix this person.  Help them find a remedy for what's ailing them management-wise.  Or else we're going to have to change the situation."

The guy I was to work with was pretty typical of those who get remedial coaching.  He had previously been a very effective individual but over the past year his performance had gone downhill.  He'd had several discussions about his results with his bosses and the HR folks, but it seemed that he simply wasn't going to be able to change his style.  And if he didn't; they couldn't keep him around.   So they took the next-to-last step and brought in a management coach to see if he could be saved.

What was he doing?  And why was it going to get him fired? 

1.  He was cranky too often.  In group meetings and with individuals one-on-one he often blew up.  When he got angry he didn't hesitate to let everyone know.  He fumed, cursed, slammed doors, pounded his fist, threatened people, turned red. He would get up in the middle of a meeting and leave.  Even his e-mails were ugly.

No one wanted to be near him for fear of becoming the next object of his outbursts.  Which made it really hard to get things done.

2. He had become fearful.  He often said that the tasks or projects his group was working on were in danger of missing deadlines.  Worse, he didn't hesitate to tell his team that if they didn't get the job done as expected he'd get fired.  He said that if he was let go there would likely be others shown the Exit door.

Not exactly a leader who inspired.  My client's actions and displays were very clear that something wasn't right.  I'm telling you about both him because I find these two issues to be pretty commonplace in a lot of managers today.  And you can prevent it.

Most people won't be as obvious as my client.  But the symptoms are there if you look for them. Watch the person next to you in those weekly meetings.  Anger may show up as sarcasm or little jokes.  Fear may be manifested with more questions, or statements about  how much more difficult certain activities are than others.

And sharks smell blood.  People above and below those who are showing these characteristics will know that something's wrong.  They'll distance themselves from the individual who is in trouble, and that will make it harder for the leader to be successful.

So what's a leader to do if (s)he thinks that they or someone around them is in danger of losing their balance? 

Try to nip it in the bud.  Be conscious of changes in style. If it's you or someone else exhibiting behavior change, take an honest look at what's going on before it gets out of control.  In early stages, both anger and fear can be dealt with fairly easily because we can remember what it was like before.

If it's past the budding stage - thoughtful refection can help a lot.  This doesn't require hring someone from the outside, it can be done between colleagues or with a boss/subordinate meeting.  If someone is being snippy or expressing too much concern about failure, often all that's required is having someone else play it back for them so they can see what they're doing.  I also encourage the use internal mentors for this type of activity.

And if it's full blown? When the person can't even remember their past style and is incapable of dealing with it on their own; invest in them.  Tell them that things are bad,  that you believe in them, and want to give them some professional help to get back on the rails.  Make it clear that this is probably their last chance.  You must get their attention because at this point they need to focus.

In the case of my client, we made solid progress together.  Initially he felt like he'd been spanked and put in a penalty box.  But after a while we figured out what was hassling him and made a couple of breakthroughs very quickly.  He's doing well.  But if those around him had been more aware of his changing behavior, the whole issue could have been averted. 

                                                                           - john

                                                                    SuccessCoach

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

14 comments
kpomroy
kpomroy

what would you say if the "biggest impediment to success" was the CEO himself? when does a co-worker speak up - or does he/she?

angry_white_male
angry_white_male

One of the duties of a boss is to know their people. It's perfectly OK to ask during a one-on-one "how's things at home?" If there's a problem and there's a good open boss-subordinate relationship, that employee will likely speak his mind. If you sense there's a larger issue looming in this person's life, most employers have an Employee Assistance Program - refer the employee to the program - assure him there's no penalty for doing so, that it's very confidential - and in fact most programs are arranged so that the employer only knows how many employees used it, but not who. On the other hand, if your management style is that you prefer not to deal with personal/personnel issues, or that you tend to sweep little things under the carpet all the time - sooner or later it will catch up to you and sooner or later you're dealing with a major issue that may require you make some very difficult decisions. Once we had someone working here - turned out she had a drug problem. The problem was ignored, positive drug tests were swept under the carpet. The person's supervisor preferred not to deal with personal issues with employees. Next thing you know, this employee is in the hospital with a gunshot wound over a drug deal gone bad. Her issues were not a guarded secret - but her boss decided not to deal with it and let it slide over the years. I think as managers, we all have an obligation to ensure that our employees are happy and satisfied - both at work and at home. While there's little we can do to improve their home lives, the very least we can do is to open our doors, communicate regularly with our employees, and if we sense something's not right - to make sure they get the help they need. Many people don't cry out for help on their own - but you'd be surprised how willing they are to talk about it if someone merely asks "how are things today?"

ginkep
ginkep

I can't make a strong decision from this small excerpt, but this looks to me like piper horse! Sorry, John McKee and regret for the guy you have wrote about.

metalpro2005
metalpro2005

And what solved it? These causes are most interesting.....

b.krisanski
b.krisanski

My former boss (owner of a small business) showed both the traits you talk about, and is a large part of why I decided to leave that position and go elsewhere. My former boss would be relatively fine for the most parts, until something went wrong and then he would explode (sometimes not outwardly. Sometimes it was in his mood, his demeanor, his speech etc). Similarly, he was always making comments about how he fired this person for this and that person for that... didn't exactly make you feel too secure in your job, having a feeling over you all the time that "if I do make an honest mistake" that I would be fired over it... Not the IDEAL working arrangement...

mdbradsh
mdbradsh

I have a boss who is very, very good at what he does. Problem is, he is a perfectionist and has one heck of a temper! He's very frugal with his trust. He has a hard time delegating anything of any size, or much consequnce, because he feels he's the only one that can do it "right". Which "right" is his way only. He gets so angry, when one or more of our staff "messes up" that I've seen him slam his fist down on a calculator and smash it, throw a desk clock across the room, and tear off the front of his desk drawer, all in one fit of rage! His hand was swollen and sore for days! and I've seen this behavior many times over the years I've worked with him. Our staff often feels like they have to walk on eggshells around him. But, he does care a great deal about our company and takes great ownership. Like I said, he's very good at what he does, and gets results, so upper management just ignores his temper and fits of rage. None of the staff will complain about his temper because he is to well liked by upper management and they fear reprisal. Anyone in a similar situation?

Mr L
Mr L

I beleive that we are all capable of losing perspective on ourselves and our behaviours. All of us. Sometimes, as another poster pointed out, it's a major life event that's brought out some unflattering qualities, sometimes it's fear...there is no "job security" these days, just as there is precious little loyalty...unrealistic expectations, mounting workloads, family issues, etc. Any of these, let alone combinations of them, can be the cause of an individual exhibiting behaviours that are not typical to them. The nosedive in performance is telling as well. If an individual is valued by the organization they are with, it's worth the investment in time and resources to try and help that person recognize and modify their behaviours. If it's personal, you can't fix it. If it's work-related you may or may not be able to fix it. But you can help that indivdual recognize the destructive behaviours, the triggers for them, and help them learn how to manage/modify them. I don't hink these things are either obvious or overstated...but I do think that it's important to discuss. For management, it's important that ongoing training and self-evaluation be part of our lives.

thejendra
thejendra

Abnormal or extreme employee behaviours often have their root causes elsewhere. 1. Health problems for self or a close family member. 2. Midlife crisis. 3. Sensitive personal problems that the employee is unable or unwilling to openly discuss. 4. A management promise (verbal or written) not fulfilled. 5. Poor knowledge or training on stress management. A coach should see if he can extract such information before taking any action.

NaGleantai
NaGleantai

A subject very close to home for me. My husband told his bosses yesterday that he was finished in his job. One day they tell him he is the lynchpin of the company, the next they're shouting at him for not doing this or that and this is when they have not passed on the needed information. This is a problem with having two bosses (they're brothers btw), the left hand didn't know what the right was doing and when he would tell whichever one of them was having a go at him at any particular time, their answer was, "I'm the boss, do what I say, not him"! He told them it was now affecting his home life & he's not prepared to put up with that. We've lived this kind of life for the past year & I can safely say, it's the first time in 25 years I've actually contemplated asking him to leave. His moods were always explosive when he would come home, even during the day when he would ring, I didn't want to speak to him as all I heard was anger and more anger, I'm glad he's seen how it is affecting us all at last. Bosses that have no idea how to treat their staff will end up with an empty work force, but.................they can't see it.

vikram.chinmulgund
vikram.chinmulgund

I agree. 1 to 5 are typical causes. Maybe we can differentiate between immediate and root causes. Whatever we call it, these can happen when the following come together : A) prolonged exposure to items 1 to 5 (stress) especially in a B) very corporate (stiff upper lip) type environment that is at same time very C) performance driven . Ultimately this affects your psychology / hormonal / neurotransmitter chemical balance in your body which in turn result in behavioural change. It looks to me that the individual is exhibiting a mild anxiety-psychosis disorder. We all think that we are grown up once we pass college or some stage in life. In reality, our emotional and physical makeup continues to change in response to age and external forces. Even mountains are not permananet and change with the stresses of weather and time ! Probably a visit to a psychologist would have helped this VP just as much, or maybe the career coach knew about this aspect.

owen simons
owen simons

..of what has been said before, is merely this. The Top-heavy approach, where, if you find yourself in a leadership position, then it is assumed that you are automatically cleverer, ,more professional, better than your "underlings". Bulldust!

owen simons
owen simons

..work-related problems, are an inherent lack of respect, and a top-heavy approach to "underlings". I have worked for many businesses in South Africa(many of them BPO's, working with the European market) and what I experienced in the workplace was that " I-cant-do-anything-wrong-because-I-am-in-a-leadership-position" kind of attitude. The basic tenet of this philosophy is that sub-ordinates are inherently less important than I as a Team Leader, manager etc etc. "I know better" is a chant I often hear. This kind of attitude results in many resignations of really GOOD professionals leaving. I work for a technical BPO now, and the younger people are brilliant at getting technical concepts. When leadership positions become available, these youngsters are given the positions, based on their technical brilliance. However, their people skills, stink! This creates in turn, de-motivated employees, and serves to hasten the departure of well-rounded employees. I refuse to be de-motivated.

b.krisanski
b.krisanski

Sounds like we had very similar bosses... (Mine were a husband and wife team that owned ran their own business). If the wife came and asked me to do something and I would let her know that yes I could do it, but it was lower on the priority list than other items, she would then go to the husband who would come out and "re-organise" priorities !!! Towards the end of the 10 months I was working there, it was the first time that I can honestly say that I just did not want to turn up to work to do my job. This went on for a number of weeks, (not wanting to just throw things in...) but I came to realise that things were not going to change and that for my own benefit, I was the one who HAD to make the change... I am now working for a new employer than is nothing like the old one at all and so far loving every minute of it !!