Bob’s a client, the chief executive of a fairly large company in the Northeast. His name is not really Bob, but he really is a client, and a recent experience prompted me to share this (with Bob’s permission).
At the beginning of my coaching engagement with Bob, I conducted a 360-degree survey so we could get an idea of how others see him in his day to day activities and interactions. If you haven’t had a 360 survey—a real one—done for you, you should. It’s almost always eye-opening. And sometimes a bit scary.
But no one dies in the process, so you’ve got that going for you…
Anyway, while doing the 360 survey on Bob, I was privileged to meet and speak with many of the direct reports on his leadership team. Without getting into details that would make Bob (if he’s reading this) squeamish, the results were insightful and indicated he’s clearly respected. Mostly good things, and nothing really out of the ordinary.
Until I spoke with Jim (again, not his real name). Jim offered that Bob was direct, decisive, and had a low tolerance for incompetence. No real shocker, given Bob’s role. Then, he gave the “pièce de résistance” (that’s a copy-paste, I had no idea how to write that).
“Bob fires assholes,” he said.
So, that had me putting my pen down. “Do tell,” I replied.
It seems that even more than incompetence, Bob has a crushingly low tolerance for anyone, particularly in any sort of leadership role, “being an asshole.” The culture of this organization doesn’t support that kind of behavior, and given their size, the ripple effect of a single jerkazoid in the mix causes all sorts of problems. Problems that can easily, and more effectively, be avoided by just firing “the asshole.”
Admit it – you’ve read this with a slight grin and a knowing nod of the head. You know the assholes in your world, the people causing problems, discomfort and stress for others, and you know the ones that should be whacked.
So whack ‘em.
Performance challenges we can deal with. We coach, mentor, advise, bring resources to bear to help someone well-intentioned up their performance game. That’s as it should be, so don’t stop that.
But behavior issues, particularly in leadership, should be dealt with sharply, definitively and immediately. The impact is just too big on the organization. You know that already, so suck it up and do what needs to be done.
Bob fires assholes. Be like Bob.
…or you’ll see a lot more of it!
Have I told you about the time I got fired? I was a 25-year-old hotshot, fighter pilot wannabe stuck in west Texas as an Air Force instructor pilot. I’d had three bosses in 18 months and was still in the process of breaking the new one in.
Yes, this is me.
I was sure he was coming around when he made me his right-hand man, but apparently, he thought being in a leadership position meant I was supposed to be a good example for others. He expected me to – get this – be at work on time.
I mean hey, if it was that important, my other two bosses would have said something. But this guy told me that if I was late again, I’d have to find a new job, and he wasn’t kidding.
After three decades of reflection, I can clearly see my part in the career-altering episode. You have to ask yourself though, “why was I late so often?” The answer is simple:
They let me be.
I tell you this because I was recently facilitating a group discussion for some developing leaders and asked the question, “what are you biggest people-related challenges?” They enthusiastically started describing their problem employees much faster than I could write them on the white board.
I didn’t think “useless, clueless excuse-makers” really got to the heart of the problem, so we drilled down a bit. It turns out they were challenged by people who: didn’t do what they were supposed to do, took advantage of their boss’ good graces, had their priorities wrong and had no sense of urgency, and were dishonest. These people were bad apples who were negatively influencing their co-workers.
Yes, I admitted, those kinds of people can be a challenge, and I asked them why those people had such bad behavior. They couldn’t come up with an answer and were truly taken aback when I pointed out the obvious.
Because they let them.
Oh, the protests! “Not us,” they insisted. “We can’t do anything about it.” “HR won’t let us fire them.” “She’s too good at her job to let go.” “I just have a big heart.” “My predecessor let him get away with it.” “She’s protected because…”
I threw the bullshit flag at them with just a short factual statement: “What you tolerate, you endorse.”
Plain and simple, if you have some bad actors on your team, you have to honestly see the part you’re playing. We can blame HR all we want for restrictive disciplinary policies, but HR also has policies about attendance and integrity. Know the policies and enforce them… or change them. We do a disservice to our good employees when we let bad ones “get away” with bad behavior.
Oh, and if their priorities are screwed up, they’re probably not to blame.
Does that mean everyone’s a nail that needs to be hammered? Of course not. Conventional wisdom may say treat everyone the same, but I’ll throw the BS flag on that, too. I’ve got a twist on the Golden Rule: treat them they way you’d expect to be treated under the same circumstances.
Ask yourself how you’d expect to be treated if you got caught lying to your boss. Or falsifying your timesheet. Or stealing from the company. Or increasing the workload for others because you partied too hard the night before. Or taking the morning off because ‘the company owes you’. You get the idea.
And don’t let the bad actors whine about you letting others get away with the same thing you’re disciplining them for! Simply remind them you’re not there to talk about anyone else’s behavior but theirs.
My mother will tell you that I had a bit of a rebellious streak. I refer to it as ‘a problem with authority’, which probably wasn’t the best character trait to join the military with. Why did I push the envelope my entire career? Because they let me. The military has a tendency to hold the boss responsible for the sins of the soldier/sailor/airman. My early experiences helped me lead those who also had ‘a problem with authority’ and help them back to the road to success, but I certainly came at it from a harder direction than I had to.
I learned to treat performance and behavior problems differently, and while I didn’t have an HR department to intimidate me, I arguably had more procedures and personnel processes to be knowledgeable of and navigate than most corporate firms.
Getting rid of bad behavior isn’t easy, but it’s not rocket surgery either. Tolerate it, and you’ll see more of it. Address it when you see it, and you’ll see less of it. Way back when, I was never concerned about losing my job. That was my error. If your bad actor isn’t concerned about losing their job, that’s on you.
It’s up to you, leaders.
Seems like I’ve talked to an awful lot of imposters lately.
Run of the mill people, important people, people who used to work for me, and people I’ve worked for. We laughed at “not getting found out” as our careers progressed up the ladder, feeling like we were faking our way through success. Classic imposter syndrome – successful from the outside looking in with a self-perception of barely-concealed incompetence from the inside looking out. (more…)
Written by Simma Liberman, The Inclusionist
Creating inclusive workplaces where people love to do their best work and customers love to do business.
According to findings of the Center for Talent Innovation “The engine for serial innovation is a diverse workforce that’s managed by leaders who cherish difference, embrace disruption, and foster a speak-up culture. Inclusive leader behaviors effectively “unlock” the innovative potential of an inherently diverse workforce, enabling companies to increase their share of existing markets and lever open brand-new ones. (more…)
I recently had a conversation with some really smart people around Dan Pink’s book, Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Read the book, it’s a good one, discussing how intrinsic motivation trumps extrinsic almost all the time. If you were expecting me to now give you some detailed book review, you’re about to be disappointed.
As these things often do, we ended up in an extended “bunny trail” conversation around the whole subject of individual responsibility and accountability, and what that really meant from a leadership perspective.
Here’s what we discovered during our lengthy and oft-times pseudo-cerebral discussions:
Responsibility–the easiest part. Responsibility is simply a list of things we do, tasks we perform, jobs we are given. Alan Weiss called this “inputs.” You can be responsible for myriad things, both that you specifically control, and some… well, not so much.
In my world, I’m responsible for coaching, facilitating, consulting, providing proposals, answering emails and calls, responding promptly to clients, etc.
These are all Responsibilities.
Accountability–it’s not the same as “blame,” per se, though there is a certain sect of people who would ascribe such. No, it’s bigger than that, yet infinitely simpler. It’s the outcomes of our responsibilities. It’s the results expected from our inputs.
For me, improved leadership behavior, demonstrably better skills, increased performance of a business, function, or enterprise (that actually follows my consulting or advice!) are all Accountabilities. It’s the results or outcomes of my Responsibilities.
We often confuse these two, yet the differences are both clear and significant. Pay attention to them.
Leadership–heavily influences both Responsibility and Accountability. For instance, we influence–actually determine–what a subordinate’s Responsibilities will be. We tell them what we want them to do, what we expect them to be working on, when to be there, etc. Leaders have, quite literally, 100% control (there’s that word) over employee Responsibilities.
Now Accountability gets a bit fuzzier.
Yes, leadership determines, from a starting level, what results and/or outcomes that an employee will be Accountable for (sorry for the dreaded stranded preposition–couldn’t be helped). But there is also a measure of personal acceptance required for real Accountability to be visible to others–an important component.
An employee can be Accountable “because I said so,” but evidence of that employee actually accepting that Accountability requires a willingness on their part to demonstrate that accountability openly, e.g., “Yes, I did that,” “No, it wasn’t an accident, it was my intent,” “That was my responsibility, and I didn’t do it,” and so on. These demonstrate acceptance of accountability, and that’s something only the individual can do.
Now, leadership clearly influences all of this. Leadership has to make sure that Responsibilities are clear, reasonable, and have value. Leaders must also ensure that an environment exists where accepting Accountability is not necessarily fatal; that demonstrating Accountability is a mark of courage and success, not of weakness and/or failure.
This, of course, is the heavy-lifting part.
… but it leaves the same taste in my mouth
Why do we make so many things harder than they have to be?
If you think about it more than a nanosecond, that question applies to more aspects of our lives than just work, but I’m a consultant, not a therapist. So, I think I’ll stick to business and confront one of my least favorite subjects: setting strategy for next year.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not looking forward to my next strategy session. I can picture it: a “retreat” with other executives, wishing we were anywhere else and wondering what’s for lunch. And that doesn’t actually sound so unattractive, unless you’re the guy or gal who has to keep everyone’s attention focused on the task at hand.