A failure of leadership


I’m not even sure where to begin.  Maybe, like my friend did with the story below, I will start at the end, with the lesson.

Good employees don’t just leave bad managers. Good employees leave when ineffective managers can’t handle or resolve conflict, nor stop an employee when their destructive behavior impacts the team.

Here we go…

A good friend recently took a new job.  I knew he wasn’t entirely happy at his old job, but I had no idea how miserable the work environment had become until tonight.  After a 2-1/2 hour Skype call, I had a better idea.

As my friend (we’ll call him Peter) started relaying the story, he said, “I’m going to give you the last page of the book first.  My boss failed me.  I actually think she failed the company as well.  There were things going on that she had the authority and responsibility to fix, but she didn’t.”

So I asked, “what was going on?”

Peter had hired a new person (we’ll call him Daniel) for his team who was highly intelligent and articulate, but came with some “communication issues” according to his old boss.  Peter was impressed by Daniel’s desire and drive, so he hired him.

Not too long after, Daniel’s communication issues came to light.  What Daniel’s old boss really meant to say was that Daniel was a manipulator and tended to pit people against each other for his own gain.  Not good.

About a year after Daniel was hired, a position opened up that would be a promotion for Daniel and would make him a peer with Peter.  Daniel and Peter talked about it, and Peter didn’t feel Daniel was ready and told him so. Peter explained that to be ready for the promotion, Daniel would need more experience in certain areas of the job, but Peter was committed to putting Daniel on a path to get there. Daniel was okay with that.  Or so it seemed.

Then, Daniel gets the promotion anyway without Peter’s knowledge. Peter later learned that Daniel had an offer letter for a job from another company, and while he can’t prove this beyond a reasonable doubt, he believed Daniel used that letter as leverage with Alicia (Peter’s boss) to force the issue. No other explanation was given, so that’s where it sat.

And this was just the beginning.

Daniel then started complaining to Peter (and everyone else) about the way Peter’s staff was treating him. His accusations were just believable enough at first that Peter took action and addressed his employees.  After a few (too many) times of this, Peter saw the pattern and stopped believing Daniel.  Daniel would also talk poorly about Peter to Peter’s staff and others, while continuing to play on people’s perception of what he said.  He would slightly alter his delivery or the emphasis of a message so that it left a lot open to interpretation.  When confronted about causing tension due to mixed messages he would skirt responsibility by saying, “that’s their perception, but it’s not what I intended.”

Then he would shrug his shoulders as if to say, “sorry, not sorry.”

And so it went on.  The trouble, Peter said, was that neither he nor Alicia saw Daniel for what he was right away.  It wasn’t until they started connecting the dots of various conversations and accounts that they realized just how much trouble and drama Daniel was causing.

Peter and Alicia both agreed something had to be done.  Peter didn’t shy away from the fact that he likely contributed to the situation by not recognizing what Daniel was doing and also by playing into it to some extent.  But the fix had to come from Alicia.  She oversaw both of them and it was time for her to make things right.

But she didn’t.  She allowed Daniel to continue with his antics to the point that Peter just couldn’t take it anymore, so he found another job.  Daniel still works there.

And this is what we mean when we say that good employees leave because of the inability of leaders to manage conflict, or to stop destructive behavior.  Alicia chose to look the other way and NOT address Daniel’s manipulation.

If we dig a little deeper, we might not be too surprised by Alicia’s actions.  According to Peter, she consistently avoided conflict and even reacted with nervous laughter anytime situations got remotely tense.  She also seemed to lack the confidence to stand her ground which led to waffling of opinions.  She would also then get defensive when questioned or challenged.

And by Alicia’s own admission, she rarely saw her boss.  Their biweekly one-on-one meeting was often cancelled and when it wasn’t, her boss was “on his phone” during a majority of the meeting.  To me, this is another failure of leadership, as he wasn’t engaged enough in Alicia’s performance to address her weaknesses and help her develop.

And because of that, Peter left.  But Peter wasn’t the only one.  Out of a 7 person team, 6 people have left or are leaving. Daniel is still there.

Should we be worried when good people leave?  Of course.  What this also shows us is that this can be a double whammy.  Ignore the bad behavior, and that’s all you’ll be left with.

If there is conflict on your team, you have to deal with it.  You might not resolve it 100% the first time you address it, but you have to take the first step.

If you don’t know how to deal with the conflict, the first step is to get help.  I’d be happy to assist, so contact me anytime so we can make sure this blog post doesn’t turn into your biography.

Thanks for reading!

Performance Optimist Consulting

matt@performanceoptimist.com

407-435-8084

I know you REALLY don’t want your employees to burnout this season.  If only there was something that could be done… oh wait…

2 thoughts on “A failure of leadership

  1. This is a lot to wrap one’s head around. I’m hoping the environment changes for the better through recognition of the potential issues and a solid set of corrective actions!

    • I hope so too, although something tells me it won’t without some drastic action. This is actually the reader’s digest version… truly a lot to take in!

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