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When Good Leaders Go Bad

Advice for leadership challenges with slacking employees
When Good Leaders Go Bad
Published on December 22, 2010

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It can’t be. 

You always wanted to be a leader not a manager. 

You went to college, mapped out a career path that would lead you to attaining your goal. 

You worked 10 hour—okay 12 hour—days, took on every project and assignment (whether it was desirable or not). 

You sacrificed time from your children and spouse—you would have time when you arrived, achieved your dream.

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This article was featured on The Weekly Grind, Omaha’s young professional radio program, on January 29, 2011 - Listen to the show!

You supported your boss by understanding that by making the boss look good, you looked good. 

You arrived and got the promotion you wanted, the Big Bucks, leading people: you now were in a position where you could impact results.

The Situation

Then—Then!—you get the call that Winnie the Whiner forgot that she suspended someone, and the department head wanted to know if she needed a contingency plan for staff coverage or if the employee was to be returned to work? 

You empowered people—they were seasoned trained staff—how did they let this happen? You intervene (unhappy because it’s 5:00 on Friday, and you’re in an airport over a thousand miles away) to correct the situation. Winnie the Whiner “forgot” the suspended employee and didn’t do any investigation—and oh yeah, she did commit to resolving it by Friday because well let’s see: she wanted face time with the big boss. But the kids had school activities, and, well, she was busy. You, of course, didn’t do anything that week. 

You do damage control as the leader and then address the employee, Winnie the Whiner. Your voice elevates, and you ask, "how did this happen?" You tell her that she manages her time badly and that this is her mistake, and you hold her accountable (your gut says fire her, but you don’t). She cries because she was busy: "why don’t you understand?" she asks, "if it was so important why didn’t you (the boss) deal with the situation in the beginning?" 

Employee’s Perspective

So, is this you? Have you messed up on the job by getting distracted and simply forget to do something? When you’re confronted, you shift to a defensive posture rather than admit that you—yes you—made a mistake. The responsibility is yours, not your boss’. They delegated work to you: it’s in your scope of duties and you missed it. You were too busy gossiping, and trying to impress your bosses’ boss and…well…gossiping. 

You know you’re a slacker—HR Magazine (December, 2010) notes that an average employee slacks two hours a day, surfing the web and socializing. You are one of these Sandbaggers, as they called one group of slacker employees. You seem to be committed to the company, but you dink around—everything but the work gets done—yet you do enough that you complete some aspects of the job. You need to focus on the work and be accountable for getting it done.

You whine at the year-end evaluation because you aren’t identified as a superstar. You write a 8 page narrative of everything you did. But you were supposed to come to work on time, you were supposed to complete the report by Monday, and the list goes on. These are duties, these are expected—the star goes beyond the expected, and delivers stellar results. They anticipate items and work, but they don’t compromise completing the more mundane aspects of the job.

You are not a star.

Employer’s Perspective

Does this sound familiar to you: managers and executives bemoaning the antics of their team? They huddle together complaining and over-reacting and more often then not under-reacting to these manipulative displays of an employee shifting accountability to someone else. They mock these employees (behind their back) and do all they can to sabotage their career—unless they can shift this deadbeat to another manager (which they would do in a heartbeat). They raise their voice and treat the employee like a child rather than an employee (understandable—that’s what is meant by the title, When Good Leaders Go Bad).

This Manager/Leader who shined when first promoted has gone to the dark side. They are tainted by their experiences and the questions from senior management on how they treat their team—that same team who is only being held accountable for reaching its goal. When the team fails and shifts blame, only then does the manager step in to refocus them.

So, as an employer, what do you do to help the people who need to build confidence and retain their enthusiasm to keep them motivated to achieve results? 

  • Focus on training. So many times it comes back to reinforcing delegation skills and monitoring work. Help them identify the basics of project management and apply it.

  • Integrate this with performance management of subordinates/team members. Expectations are defined and measures are articulated so there are no surprises.

  • Leaders/managers continue to acquire skills and apply their expertise, which includes critical conversations. 

  • Talk with team members about difficult issues and problem solving. If the team member isn’t able to rise to the occasion or the job, there are alternatives—use them—and support your leadership. 

When leadership is supported, their teams are empowered and produce results. And yes, they still make mistakes, but they learn from them and move forward. Good leaders give accolades when earned and address behavior that is less than required. 

Good Leaders only go bad when they fail to act.

KNicoliniKathleen A. Nicolini, SPHR, MBA President, Favor Human Resources Consulting

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