Hidden Costs of Dysfunctional Leaders
Organizations don’t often admit they employ dysfunctional leaders, but we have yet to consult in an organization that doesn’t have at least one. And it’s a struggle for organizations to know if/when to cut dysfunctional leaders lose or how to help them improve, especially when that leader may bring expertise to the table that is valuable and hard to replace. In our experience, organizations tend to make 4 big mistakes in these situations that cost them in ways they may not always see. See if your organization might be guilty of these common mistakes:
1) Organizations pull their punches with dysfunctional leaders. Often people are afraid of upsetting the leader who is creating chaos and breaking dishes. Someone (the boss, an HR representative, a consultant) has to be direct and clear about what leadership behaviors are being observed and what will and will not be tolerated. Fear of a reaction should not outweigh the importance of delivering truthful, candid feedback. However, all too often, the truth is watered down or withheld for the sake of avoiding the confrontation and the potential consequences. It’s more important to be truthful, and that takes courage. It can be very difficult for a leader to see how they can be part of the problem – how they may be self-deceived.
2) There are “A” players, “B” players, “C” players in every organization. What organizations often fail to realize, is “A” players are their greatest retention risk. They are the best and brightest and they know it. The best and brightest always have options -in any economy, in any business. They are the first to leave if they work for or otherwise dependent with a dysfunctional leader. “B” players frequentlyare less mobile and often wait for economic conditions to be favorable, but they too will explore their options eventually. Your “C” and below players know they will have a hard time finding a better job. They are more willing to tolerate a dysfunctional boss (particularly a controlling boss) because they don’t believe they have options and a controlling boss likely means they aren’t really making any decisions anyway so it actually helps them hide their marginal value. The bottom line any one dysfunctional leader can effectively drive away top talent and actually increase the likelihood that you will retain marginal and low performing talent as a natural result of the leader’s dysfunction. You want to retain top talent? Don’t ask them to work for or with people who are dysfunctional.
3) Failure to attempt a fix. We are actually not proponents of applying executive coaching to dysfunctional leaders where it is the first, or primary use of coaching in an organization. It sends the message that if you’re in coaching, you’re on your way out. This will make applying coaching in a more proactive and productive way farmore difficult. However, if investments in coaching are made for High Potential employees, recently promoted executives, and other top performers, some use of“corrective coaching” is perfectly acceptable. It has a lower ROI than coaching for Hi-Pos, but we have seen it be very successful in saving a leader approximately75% of the time. That assumes you are using only certified, experienced coaches.
4) Moving dysfunctional leaders around. We’ve seen dysfunctional leaders moved from department to department, even promoted in a well-intended attempt to find a new opportunity for the leader to be successful. Unfortunately, when organization’s work to accommodate a dysfunctional leader, let alone promote them, that inadvertently can send a loud and clear message to the organization that dysfunctional behavior is accepted, and in some instances even rewarded! Wall plaques, mission statements, or corporate values statements are meaningless and even counterproductive when they are not embodied in an organization’s leaders.
As is often the case, attempts to be “nice” versus honest and decisive about people issues can do more harm than good. Honoring your sense of what needs to be done; focusing on others’ needs and upholding personal accountabilities are the pillars of a strong organization. Holding leaders accountable for working and leading in a manner that is consistent with your organization’s cultural values, delivering honest, candid feedback, investing in coaching where needed and being decisive about needed corrective actions will help you attract, motivate and retain top talent.