Leadership Stupidity Has High Costs

iStock_000005339918MediumMy best boss, Jerry Nutter, helped me understand that everything a leader does either helps, hinders, or hurts the employee’s performance or the leader’s relationship with their employee. Leadership stupidity carries a big cost.

Two examples come to mind – both from my non-profit days.

An Example of My Leadership Stupidity

The first example is from one of my earliest management experiences. I was a newbie at influencing others. I tried my best every day. Some things I did worked great – and a few things were NOT remotely helpful.

In this instance, I was struggling with a highly skilled employee who wasn’t contributing like she once was. She was demonstrating all the classic signs of demotivation. In staff meetings and during individual conversations, she’d sigh heavily or roll her eyes if she was asked about her tasks or deadlines. Other staff members were complaining about her behavior. One day I decided to “take the bull by the horns.” I set up a meeting with her and, as soon as we sat down, I told her that she was a valued member of the team but that she had a crappy attitude. I used a more colorful term than “crappy.”

If I was hoping to shock her, I did. Unfortunately, my language derailed any hope of getting to the core issue – her “demotivated persona.” It took me weeks to get back on an even keel with her and to attempt to address her behavior.

The Impact of My Boss’ Leadership Stupidity

The second example was later in my non-profit career. Fundraising is a big part of non-profit work and this was the closing dinner of a month-long fundraising campaign. More than 100 staff & volunteers were in attendance from branches across the county. My board chairman and I were ready to announce the total raised by our small branch – more than they’d ever raised before. Just before the program began my boss pulled me aside and asked me to announce a higher total than we’d raised. “You’ll continue raising funds through the year – are you confident you’ll hit this number by December?” he asked.

I hoped my boss’ suggestion was well-intended; we would continue raising funds. However, he was asking me – and my key volunteer – to “stretch the truth” that night. I refused.

The relationship with my boss was destined for difficulty from that evening forward. I experienced a values-mismatch that I could not ignore. Within a year, I had left that organization.

Leaders cannot afford to hinder or hurt employee performance or relationships. Two ideas may help: Integrity and Impact.

In his book, The Integrity Dividend, Cornell University professor Tony Simons found that when leaders 1) do what they say they will do and 2) demonstrate their organization’s values, employee commitment goes up, customer service rankings go up, and profits go up. Those are powerful and desirable outcomes of leader integrity!

Leaders must also keep their “fingers on the pulse” of their impact on employee performance and relationships. How do leaders gauge the quality of their relationships? Ask employees! Leaders will learn where and how they can refine behaviors and approaches to help – not hinder or hurt.

What leadership stupidity have YOU experienced – or even delivered? What was the impact of that stupidity? Tell us in the comments section below.

Get your FREE EXCERPT from my new book, #POSITIVITY AT WORK tweet, written with the delightful Lisa Zigarmi. View our video on why we wrote the book, understand the research on positivity in the workplace, and more!

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  • Kate Nasser

    Chris,
    There are many great lessons in here. I think the clearest one (and perhaps the easiest one to learn) is don’t mislead employees. Kudos to your integrity in leaving this manipulative leader.

    As for how you approached the high performing employee, it is a great people-skills lesson for all of us. It is rarely a good idea to open with a declaration on attitude. I always coach mid-level leaders to engage the employee, then present true observations of behavior if they aren’t connecting with your point, and then in the end state the behaviors you, the team, and the organization need to see from him/her.

    It isn’t OK to accept bad attitudes and carry employees. At the same time it is wise to get them to own their behaviors before making declarations about attitude.

    Two fantastic real life stories that speak volumes on how to improve leadership.

    Bravo,
    Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

    • http://drivingresultsthroughculture.com/ S. Chris Edmonds

      Thanks for your insights, Kate! I so appreciate the clarity that leaders must engage employees to OWN their behavior. Leaders can then coach for desired behaviors – coaching before the employee owns the behavior is a waste of time.

      Cheers!

      C.

  • http://twitter.com/RyanSetter Ryan Setter

    Excellent post Chris. I know that I’ve witnessed my fair share of blunders, along with committing a few handfuls myself..but we all make mistakes, right? Then we learn from them, and we move on.

    For me, some of the hardest lessons to recover from are the seemingly harmless “stupid” ones that have a dramatic impact on others. However, I think it is also this kind of lessons that is easiest to gain a learning experience from for the same reason – it leaves a mark.

    I think that increasing our awareness of the same understanding you had mentioned, and keeping in mind that “..everything a leader does either helps, hinders, or hurts..” definitely helps us to avoid these situations going forward.

    • http://drivingresultsthroughculture.com/ S. Chris Edmonds

      Thanks for your comment, Ryan. You’re absolutely right, one can be caught off guard by how a particular interaction or behavior is perceived as so negative by the receiver. Perception is reality – we must accept the other’s view and learn from it!

      Cheers!

      C.

  • http://twitter.com/Versalytics Redge

    Hi Chris, excellent post. I think my battery died before my last comment posted here so I’m reposting.

    I was fortunate enough to enter the ranks of management at an early age so asking a lot of questions was typical for me. It was challenging to manage people who were quite senior to me.

    I recall a time when I was working as a Quality Supervisor when I rejected a first off part given to me by a fairly senior employee. Of course the employee was quite upset saying, “You’re just a kid, I’ve been doing this job for more years than you’ve been alive.”

    As I listened to this gentleman’s attempt to dismiss me for my perceived “lack of experience”, I simply responded by saying, “Its a shame you’ve been doing it wrong for so many years.”

    After the dust settled, I explained that what I know now, I learned from my Father’s 40+ years in this industry. If you’ll allow me, l’ll show you how I was taught to do it.

    I have since learned to improve on my diplomacy however I have always stood on the principle that we can learn from every one, regardless of age or seniority with the company. There is a prodigy waiting to be discovered any time, any where.

    As for “attitude”, I learned early on that you can only address the unwanted behaviors. Getting to the core of employee issues requires trust, respect, and a little humility.

    Finally, whatever you do, never say “You get what you pay for” when addressing employee performance, especially when you’re the one signing the cheques.

    Thanks for sharing a great post.

    • http://drivingresultsthroughculture.com/ S. Chris Edmonds

      Thanks for hanging in through a dead battery and BACK, Redge!

      What a terrific learning about diplomacy. I believe that leaders earn the right daily (or they DON’T earn that right) to “be heard” – otherwise, their knowledge, passion, and guidance won’t be understood by their employees (much less embraced).

      I LOVE the idea that everyone is a prodigy just waiting to be discovered. What a fabulous belief system for those who wish to lead & serve!

      Cheers!

      C.

  • http://twitter.com/kaminikhanna kamini khanna

    Hi Chris, Very realistic write-up. Your experiences cites examples of being on either side of the table. One one hand your capability to come out with the special leadership quality with courage is commendable. On the other hand I have experienced people with attitude at a far junior level then myself. I personally feel it is a growing process each individual goes through in various stages of his life, I myself have snapped at times. But over a period of time I have realized – at place of work, we are collectively working as a team to get the desired results and we are not there to teach. If a colleague is actually behaving in a crappy manner, he or she would start realizing on their own. Maybe my way of thinking is different but then leadership is all about behaviour

    • http://drivingresultsthroughculture.com/ S. Chris Edmonds

      Kamini, you’re right on point regarding leadership is all about behaviour! One’s actions may have unintended or unexpected consequences – and great leaders know the “art of leadership” is managing both desired and unexpected consequences.

      Trying to manage attitudes is a slippery slope for leaders; I definitely learned that with the example I shared (and numerous other times on my leadership journey). Where leaders manage observable behaviors, they get traction on employee performance and employee citizenship.

      Cheers!

      C.

  • http://www.liveitforward.com/ Kent Julian

    Valuing your employees through building trust is definitely a great approach to creating a positive working environment. Once established, team members feel more freedom in sharing their ideas and concerns. The result is an increased focus on common goals and teamwork. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Chris!

    • http://drivingresultsthroughculture.com/ S. Chris Edmonds

      Great points, Kent! The impact of a positive work environment can be felt in subtle ways (teamwork, cooperative interaction, even creativity) and obvious ways (increased performance and profits). The trick is a leader must invest a great deal of time and energy in the creation of an environment to support the subtle things, not profits.

      Thanks for engaging in this discussion!

      Cheers!

      C.

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