Less Accommodation for Lousy Leaders

[Authored by: Kim Hoogeveen, PhD]

I recently presented a 3-hour leadership workshop to a small group of executives.  I was covering the combination of MindSet’s seven principles of leadership and a topic we call “big mistakes leaders make.”  When we took a break after the first 90 minutes, the individual who had been responsible for inviting me to work with this group pulled me to the side and said, “This is really terrific, but I think you might want to soften up the message just a bit.  I think you are making a few of the guys (two or three of the less enthusiastic leaders) in the room a bit uncomfortable.”

My immediate reaction was concern – I was a guest who was invited to work with this executive group – and I certainly didn’t want to make anyone feel uneasy.  I mean, one wants to have raving fans and have everyone in the room happy when you leave, right?  I assured my host that I would try to see that no one was “uncomfortable” during the second half of our session.  All went well and they seemed to be pleased – enough to engage MindSet for additional training down the road.

As I have now had time to reflect a bit on what occurred, it seems to me my initial reaction – born out of good customer service and wanting to keep everybody happy – may have been less than ideal.

Here is another way to look at it: one of our challenges in building a great culture is that we allow poor leaders to feel too comfortable.

All employees should be held to high standards with respect to their contribution to the work environment and the success of their colleagues, but this is particularly vital for those in a supervisory role.  No supervisor should be allowed to be neutral in this regard: they are in a position that obligates them to help build and protect a culture where individuals can thrive.

Within many organizations, a battle exists between the Stars and the Vacuums, i.e., those who build a culture by being consistently positive and optimistic and those who are negative, cynical, and adversely impact the work environment and others around them.

But Stars are often at an inherent disadvantage – for you see Stars are polite, pleasant, and genuinely concerned about how others feel and react to them.  The Vacuums couldn’t care less.  The result is that self-absorbed, negative, or callous individuals – particularly when they are put into a leadership role – all too often make positive, optimistic, and otherwise great employees feel uncomfortable.

So perhaps it’s just fine if we sometimes knowingly balance the scale a bit to make lousy leaders feel uncomfortable.  It would be even better if we held them accountable.

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