The name Barbara Kellerman showed up on my screen on a number of occasions this week.
The reason for this is her most recent book The end of Leadership in which she takes the whole leadership development industry (of which I am also part) to task for selling and promoting what at the end of the day turns out to be snake oil.
Her point is, that despite more than 50 years of countless leadership development courses, conferences and God knows how many books there is not much to be proud of when you look at the big picture. According to Kellerman only 7% of employees trust their employers, their leaders and managers and the vast majority of them do not consider their superiors to be either honest or competent.
Not impressive statistics by any yardstick.
But what struck me the most was this:
“Clearly one of the problems plaguing the leadership industry is its fixation on developing good leaders, while ignoring completely the problem of stopping or at least slowing bad leaders.”
Why is it that so many organisations are doing such an incredibly lousy job and weeding out the rotten apples?
Because Kellermann has a point. Time and again we see groups of managers being sent off on development courses/training but ‘Joe the terror’ is left to do what he has always done despite the fact that everybody recognises that there is a problem.
But not dealing with Joe the terror sends a very strong signal to the organisation.
One of the things that we know undermines trust dramatically is when leaders says one thing and do something completely different. They could just as well have created a huge poster and on it written: yes we send good boys and girls to leadership development courses because we know it keeps them happy and it’s the right thing to do – but the truth be told we don’t actually give a toss.
All we are looking for is results. So as long as someone is getting the numbers right they can forget about coaching, appreciative Inquiry and feed back and behave any way they like.
But getting the numbers is just one aspect.
The other part of being a good leader is relational. ( I like to call it Results vs Relations Kellerman calls it Effective and Ethical – Either way – to be a great leader you can’t have one without the other)
This point was brought home to me many years ago when I read Chip Conley’s The Rebel Rules: Daring to be Yourself in Business ( still a favourite book of mine) . In the book he has a chapter on performance management and gives an example of how they at Joie de Vivre Hotels evaluate their management teams on a 5 x 5 point grid with results on one axis and relations on the other axis. Conley makes the point that managers who do well on the results scale but badly on relationships need to be coached and made aware that they need to improve on this aspect – and ultimately, if they don’t get it right they will have to leave the organisation despite the fact that they are getting the numbers right. Anything else is shortsighted. (Obviously this also applies the other way round. If we have the nicest person on earth on our management team but who isn’t producing what needs to get done that person too must either shape up or ship out – being ethical but ineffective is also bad leadership)
The cost of bad leaders
If we’re trying to build a better service business following the principles of the service profit chain we also know that the number 1 factor affecting job satisfaction and loyalty of our best front-line people is their relationship with their immediate supervisor.
So some supervisors may be able to drive results short-term but the price they ( we ) pay is always that long-term they lose their best people. ( and we all know that losing our best people eventually leads to losing your best clients)
Furthermore by not dealing with the bad apples we send a strong signal to the other managers on the team that under performing behaviour is okay. As a result over time we develop a toxic leadership culture, with zero trust
Focusing only on bottom line results is a classic misconception. What many leaders in the service industry forget is that financials are lagging indicators – you will have had employee dissatisfaction and/or client dissatisfaction for a while before it actually shows up in your financials and by then it may be way to late to do anything much about it.
So now’s a good time to ask yourself the hard question: are you a good or a bad leader? In the sense do you deal effectively and ethically with your non-performing managers? Because if we want to rout out bad leadership and re-establish trust this is where it all begins.