By Wallace Immem, "The Art of Wielding the Axe at the office, Globe and Mail, November 18, 2010
For new leaders, it’s essential to closely examine your management group and cull those who could undermine both your performance and that of your company, leadership mentor Jim Murray advises. Here are the “red flag” traits of those who could be trouble:
Sycophants: These servile flatterers will tell you what you want to hear and applaud your poor decisions, creating blind spots and distracting you from issues that need attention.
Freeloaders: People who consider themselves “key executives” who don’t need to (or can’t) carry their weight on the team or make necessary tough decisions.
Deal makers: These care more about their success than yours or that of the organization, and form alliances with other members of the executive team that they use to their own advantage.
Filters: They want to act as gatekeepers who don’t communicate what they gather and inadvertently insulate you from the pulse of your company.
Frenemies: While outwardly friendly, their purpose is to undermine or usurp your authority. These self-promoters show little remorse when cornered.
Another list of "red flags" about the people a new leader finds in his leadership team...about whom to beware!
And there is not a single word in the list about any of these specific "pictures" that demonstrates any positive contribution being made by them. So, one can only assume that people in executive leadership positions are being taught to "weed out" those unwanted, and given the normal course of events in any organization, all of us, at one time or another, would be able to be "designated" as fitting one or more of the negative labels.
If this is the "going in" attitude of the new leader, there is no doubt that s/he is going to find all of the above "negative" work models. As they say in quantum physics, the experimenter brings a considerable degree of influence to the experiment, just by conducting the experiment.
In this case, the experimenter is the new executive, and if the mind set of red flags is the one that sets the mind-set of the new leadership, then all of the existing leadership team will resist.
When are the management people going to get it that negative leadership brings negative followership.
Negative leadership brings negative productivity. Suspicion breeds cynicism and even contempt, just as does too much famliarity. And top-down suspicion breeds bottom-up "red flags".
Whenever I listen to executives talk about "red flags" I ask, "When did you go looking for those who, while they may occasionally revert to something akin to a "red flag," yet are nevertheless providing considerable leadership to their own team, and producing effectively for the organization.?
Since when did vinegar attract more positive behaviour and attitude than honey?
Since when did the club of the CEO include and impose a mandate on the CEO to see people primarily in a negative light?
Since when did the concept of the "human side of the enterprise" become primarily a "negative cost" while the technological and "non-human" side of the enterprise become primatily a "positive contributor" to the operation?
All leadership and management texts, by the best authors, have for decades wrestled with the "accounting" definitions of costs and benefits to an organization, and in the last two decades, the balance has shifted away from considering the human contribution as a positive first, and working with how to make it better.
While there were abuses when the equation was more equitably balanced, the abuses and the abusers have shifted to the CEO offices, in the name of protecting the reputation of the new leader, whose primary objective is to make and keep the investors happy...And recessions breed more of the worst kind of management approaches.
And in so doing, the CEO becomes, to one or more of those investors, one or more of those very red flags that s/he wants removed from the organization. And the hypocrisy grows!
Let's get real about how we see people, ourselves included!
If we start from a negative perception of the "red flags" as our most dangerous and therefore our most ready for "the axe," we are subjecting our organization to the most debilitating and the most hateful and the most anal of diagnoses.
Just imagine if teachers were to start with such a list of "red flags" in their approach to their classrooms. Just imagine if the principals were to start with a list of "red flags" in their approach to their faculty and on up the line. The system would be infected by a cancer the residue of which would not only kill the hope of the organziation's improvement in the short run, but it would render the organzation ineffective for decades.
As a very imperfect human being, working with other very imperfect human beings, I still want to do a "more than average job;" in fact I want to bring my A game to work every day. I take pride in that approach. However, if I find that the mentality of the leadership is one of finding and removing those who fit the "red flags" I will be the first to withdraw my co-operation. I will have been taught "not to trust" the leadership.
I will watch how the leadership "schmoozes" the others in the leadership team, and I will resist such an approach, no matter how effective my contribution may have been, nor how much I might like to remain.
Being appalled at the hypocrisy and the arrogance and the mentality that states and operates on the belief that "red flags" are the most significant negative aspect of the team, needing to be removed, so that the "new broom" gets and maintains a platinum reputation is to place that organization under the axe of preserving that person's reputation, as its primary goal. And such a primary goal is not sustainable in the short, medium or long run. The organzation does not exist for the purpose of "polishing" the reputation of the CEO.
Why not start with a mandate to "grow" all of the people in the organization, and put the axe in the museum where it belongs along with the strap in the classroom, and the bullet or the noose for the hardest criminal?
Let's put a legacy of mutual human growth into the lexicon of leaders, even in the for-profit organizations.
That's a culture change of which all participants can be proud, including investors, CEO's and all of the members of the leadership team! And I'll put money on such an organization being "profitable" in all of the various measurements of that word.