Can bad leaders become good leaders . . . Can a leopard change its spots?
Back in December I wrote a 3-Part series about Microsoft’s Steven Sinofsky and Apple’s Scott Forstall, and the fact that despite their notable successes they were eventually ousted from their high ranking positions as a result of ongoing personality conflicts. In essence they were bad and ineffective executives or managers, not because of a performance issue but a people skills issue. I concluded that the decision to remove them was based on the realization that long-term or sustainable success is ultimately dependent on maintaining a positive work environment, as opposed to sacrificing company morale in favor of results in the here and now.
During a recent conversation with a client in Belgium, about a similar type of situation at his company, my long-term pain for short-term gain theory became the focal point of our discussion.
Apparently, his company’s CEO operates on a “need to know” basis in which he only shares a limited amount of information with his team of Vice Presidents. Needless to say, this is presenting a serious problem in that the VP’s know that an open dialogue with their boss would help them to address a number of critical challenges. Unfortunately they are left to work in the dark, which besides hindering their ability to do their jobs effectively, leaves them feeling isolated as well as frustrated. As a result, two of the VP’s have announced that they are now looking to make a move outside of the company. So even though the company – which is in a rapidly growing industry, is hitting its targets in terms of revenue I could not help but wonder what kind of an effect a talent drain would have on the organization’s longer term fortunes.
The above example certainly highlights the insidious nature of bad behavior and it damaging effects within a company. While bad behavior can mean many things to people, in this case the failure to reach out and establish substance based relationships with his management team is what makes the CEO’s conduct destructive.
So can this particular CEO or for that matter any executive change? And if they can, will they be able to undo the harm that they have already done?
The answers to these questions I am sad to say are often times dependent on age and the perceived cost to their own career.
Over the years I have heard many “experienced” leaders respond to criticism about their management style with comments such as “Naw, coaching is for the younger ones,” or “I’ve been in the business too long to change.” Other factors that influence a faulting leader’s decision to avoid change is that they feel that they are in a position of power, or think they are networked with the right people, or are responsible for generating income leaving them with a (false) sense of invincibility. In short, and in the absence of meaningful consequences, the reality is that they DO NOT CARE to change. Simple as that!
This is why the Forstall’s and Sinofsky’s of the world can be caught off guard when the hammer does eventually fall. In short, they fail to realize that an increasing number of organizations are willing to make a change at the top, even though they are delivering results. Once again I refer Microsoft and to a lesser degree Apple.
However, all is not necessarily lost. I do believe that people will change if they know that their reputation is on the line. This is especially true if their board of directors or business community are the ones bringing their bad behavior to light.
By adopting an attitude of “Yes, I need to grow with my people and stay current in terms of understanding how they like to be lead,” means that unlike the leopard, bad leaders can indeed change their proverbial “bad” spots!