Context of Leadership
In 2003 a married MD on a company bonding session openly flirted with the female head of HR. This happened virtually all day. The male employees ignored the actions whilst the female employee looked visibly shocked & scared.
In 2006 the MD of a transportation company openly carried out an affair with a member of staff who he then wanted to promote. He was married but continued to berate his direct managers on the rumour itself.
In 2010 an MD was accused of bullying. Despite being with the company for over 15 years he escaped any punishment. He also used to send pornographic powerpoint slides to his team each week.
In 2018 a venture capital company acquired a £500m worldwide packaging business. Within 6 months the CEO (who had a fearsome reputation as a bully) departed. There was no statement from the VC just the swift departure of the said CEO.
See the pattern? In all these leadership instances, which I personally witnessed, the common denominator was that the managers and leaders concerned were extremely inept at the position they held. Be it morals, bullying, double standards or plain arrogance. Each one of these mangers could manage but chose a different route to inspire and lead. Worryingly though, they thought it was acceptable to do so.
The Struggle of Leadership
In my working career of over 35 years i have become fascinated with the work of leaders. Some were exteremely good and some were extremely poor. What was fascinating though was the poor leaders or managers, in rare cases, still managed to run a profitable business. That said, in all instances they were incapable of taking it to the next step of good to great. Success despite themselves you could say. Ultimatley, they had lost the employees who continued with the norm when change is on the horizon. This was despite the toxic environment they worked in.
Types of bad Leadership
The good CEOs were passionate, doers and had a great ability to motivate while the poor CEOs did exactly the reverse despite the hard working people they employed. A mixture of talent and attitude…in reverse on both cases. My experiences of Managers/CEOs fell into 5 pots:
- The Ranter – If in doubt shout at everyone and anyone in a attempt to get your message across
- Socially Inept – No social standards – An, MD, once flossed in a meeting
- The Bully – Grown men shaking at the thought of the monthly board meeting review
- The Narcissist – It’s all about me not you
- The Sexist – Openly parading pornographic emails to staff
The list is endless. You very well may recognise a few and no doubt can add to them. But what makes them get away with such behaviour and how can we ensure that as managers or leaders we do not go native. We all remember the Bill Clinton press conference where he denied any wrong doing with his intern to then address the American people with regret and a full on admission of his guilt. In addition, we have heard of the alleged behaviour of Jobs & Musk but somehow filed this as acceptable as the numbers were off the scale and innovation was industry leading.
Leadership Gone Wrong
In January 2020 over 219 US Ceos resigned. A record which still continues to this day. But why? The reasons were varied but thankfully today the board rooms are changing and changing fast to reflect & protect the brand. Some CEOs retired, others moved to new companies whilst the reminder were tarnished with a scandal of sorts. You have to question the leadership ethics of a company like Credit Suisse when the CEO Tidjane Thian resigned as they were caught stalking a former employee with a private investigator. Or co-founder Steph Korey of Away who stepped down due to allegations of bullying & running a cut-throat culture.
How can we fix it?
Surely though to turn our back on such behaviour is clearly unacceptable. The employees know it, the board knows it but in a lot of cases there is no action taken as the profits are good. In the last ten years we have developed considerably when we consider the rights of all employees in both colour, race, sex and religion. The leaps and bounds we have made are still thwarted though at the very top. The CEO clearly sets the tone of the organisation. But not just the CEO. Surely it is for all employees to behave responsibly and with an ethic that reaches out of the board room to be represented by us all. Bottom line – It starts at the top.
It may just be a coincidence that the Founder of Ted Baker announced a profits warning the year he stepped down over a forced hugging scandal. Or the MacDonalds CEO who was fired for sexting and then approved stock grants for 3 female employees he had been accused of having relationships with. When you can’t see the right in the wrong all hell breaks lose. Perhaps, Dee W Hock the founder and CEO of Visa has the answer:
All in all it comes down to integrity. Do companies live and breathe the ethic of the business and is this code of conduct cascading right down from the top? The biggest question is how do you install this code of conduct on your managers & teams?
A simple Leadership Course
A simple but effective leadership course is management by walk about (MBWA). The key is to build trust, listen & build morale. You’re never too busy to achieve this duty and over time key snippets of information will be gleaned from employees who see you as approachable. Really speak to the teams, understand who they are, ask about family and share the odd joke. Communication is the key. Dedicate at least one hour per day.
What does your business do? How do you manage your staff? How do your managers handle their team?
Or do you turn a blind eye? Get your steps up….get out there!