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12.14.2011

Case Study: The Subtle and Not So Subtle Signs a Leader Must Look Out For When The/His Ship Is About To Sink

A pilot once told me, just prior to the fatal accident that claimed the lives of JFK Junior and his wife, that it take a LOT of MANY THINGS to go wrong for a plane to actually crash.

We all also know that when we are actually in some kind of major accident, even if the incident lasts for a few seconds at most, we experience and recall all the minute details as if in slow motion.

The human brain is awesome that way.

But what I am experiencing right now feels a bit like the opposite.

I cannot disclose details for various reasons, but as a rather disastrous future seems to await us, time seems to be moving faster.

Perhaps I will actually write a book about this one day, but a few weeks ago, a very wise man said that our current situation "is like watching a car crash in slow motion."

I could not but help laughing out loud because it was just that -
we know that a car crash is going to happen;
it is slowly unfolding in front of our eyes;
and yet, none of us seem to be capable of stopping it.

Why?
Because the ship we are on is being deliberately and surely being steered in that direction.

"20-20 Hindsight" is an expression I tend to use quite often.
To me, that is the fruit of the mistakes we make, and the key to prevent their recurrence.

It is too early for us to do a "post mortem" yet on many fronts, but on others, the writing is on the wall - the outcome is evident.

One key sign is the lack of candid feedback to the CEO.

Whenever he hosts a meeting, his staff come to the meetings - some better prepared that others - but even when invited to speak, very few actually take the floor to say anything meaningful.

The dialogue is usually just an employee responding to a question posed to him, and not volunteering new information that the others, including the CEO, would benefit from knowing.
Be it competitive information or market intel, no one volunteers anything, let alone make suggestions on how to solve the problems on hand and overcome the challenges present.

The reason why this has happened is because the CEO always speaks down to his team and speaks as if to say, "I know better than any of you here."

By doing so, he negates the reason for having such a large team present as well as hiring such talent as he currently has.

Another key sign is the high staff turnover. 

The man loves to blame it on those who, in his words, "are running away."
He says they are weak or incapable of producing the kind of results he expected of them or that they do not justify sitting in the chairs they have.

But he conveniently forgets who hired them to begin with, and whether he has empowered them and given them the authority to do their jobs in addition to the obligations and demands he makes of them.

Related to this is that those who resigned are the happiest in their remaining days while those who are staying become more glum. 

One would think the writing is on the wall when those who resign become happier and happier as their last day nears; while those staying behind become obviously more unhappy in contrast.

Uncertainty is a major contributor to human unhappiness. Lack of clarity and direction create fear and make people lose confidence and focus.

It is easy to understand if one thinks about a race - the participant can pace themselves and plan to peak and build up to it once the goal is clear. But when one sees no end in sight, how can one plan for the race or even begin to push oneself harder towards a peak?

Any leader who does not understand this will just drive performance into the ground because there is no focus or sense of achievement to be had.

Perhaps the last but not the least is how his management team are very united - against him when he is not looking. 

He seems to have the illusion that his team is like a pack of fleas - jumping around all over the place.

His management style is to "divide and conquer" - he believes he is a master at breeding mistrust and a sense of competition among his team while sowing trust and loyalty to him and him alone.

But he forgets that his senior management team are highly intelligent, capable individuals who:
(a) can think for themselves and make up their own minds about their colleagues; and
(b) are perfectly capable of speaking among themselves to get to the truth about what one person has supposedly said, according to the big boss.

And when stories do not add up, one tends to believe what one hears from the horse's mouth, so the indirect information one is fed and the source of it becomes the party one tends to become suspicious of.

I like to say that bad leaders are actually great leaders if they are not just "lukewarm bad" but "really bad" because their being so bad provides his subordinates to unite against a common enemy thus creating a bond, synergies, and team spirit. 

Ironic, but it is true.

And seeing is believing.

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