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The Good, the Bad & the Ugly of Leadership – Boss Taming part 2

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On Sunday I posted part one of this blog – ‘Good Boss, Co-Create’ – now we begin to get into a little less comfortable area of leadership – so let’s see what we might do….

The Bad Boss – Check for Checks and Balances

I’ve got those Spaghetti Westerns cowboys in mind.  A rough figure in a poncho.  Sombrero tipped off his head, half-covering the rifle slung across his back.  Liable to pull it into action at any minute.  Or fire off from one of the pistols at his hips.cowboy

This is a sharp-shooting leader of my acquaintance.  Oh, and he’s a she.  Busy building her own career with the politicos and external stakeholders, she’s driving her posse from one poorly-thought-through project to another. 

Because there’s no time to plan.  And no time to reflect and learn from what’s happened.

All goes well – this is a high-performing, pace-setting environment, after all.  Until the crisis comes out of the blue.

It doesn’t matter what that ‘crisis’ is.  They exist in every industry and every sector.  They’re the unexpected.  The unbudgeted.  The ‘fault of someone else up or down the chain’ – whose mash-up has impacted on your organisation.  Big time.

The playwright Chekov said something like “Tell me what you want and I’ll tell you what kind of a man you are.”  Mine is -“Let me see how your leader acts (or reacts) in a crisis towards their people, and I’ll tell you how long your company can survive.” (It’s a bit longer than Chekov, not so punchy, but you get the picture…)

I’m not proud of predicting the imminent downfall of the “News of the World”.  So many people were shocked by my apparent callousness.  Didn’t I care about these peoples’ jobs?  I care more about the victims of that scandal.  People whose privacy was treated appallingly.

Leaders create culture. They can create a culture of high, or low, integrity.  And people buy into it.  And how an organisation treats its own people is a strong predictor of success.  Or otherwise.

Now these bosses would be horrified to think that they need ‘taming’.  They’re dynamic.  They create energy.  They’re often popular.  They’re high performers.  They may believe that they’re good leaders.  They lead the kinds of organisations that offer good salaries and other financial benefits.  Because they believe that people are mainly motivated by money.

They’re big advocates for performance-related pay, big bonuses and other quantitative measures.

They don’t look at the underlying indicators.  The sickness levels.  The absenteeism.  The cutting corners to deliver. And so, here in the UK, we have a crisis in our health and social care services. In our banking sector.  In our education sectors.  Wherever we see monetary-related targets, we have hidden costs…

Most particularly, I find it fascinating that no-one has spotted the ‘churn’ that’s going on in the market for Senior Leaders.  Headhunters get paid based on a percentage of the package their clients will receive in their new roles.  So it’s in their interest to push up the value of those packages.  They flatter the egos of their clients and increase the recruitment costs of major organisations.  The tenure of a senior leader in major organisations in the UK has dropped to around 18 months.  Can that really be in those organisations’ best interests?

So what’s to be done with our cowboy leaders?  The psychology industry might label these people as ‘sociopaths’ or ‘narcissists’.  I see them as leaders who need someone in their life who modifies their behaviour.

We all need checks and balances.

  • For a CEO it might be the Chairman of the Board.
  • Or the Non-Executives.
  • People who provide mentoring, guidance and support to the Executive Board members.
  • For many leaders – it’s their line manager –

These people are their to offer leadership, mentoring and coaching – at the same time as supporting their direct reports to deliver to their objectives.

Of course I believe that every CEO and senior leader should have a professional coach.  And not too cosy a relationship either.

  • Someone to challenge the leader’s performance
  • Their processes
  • Their strategic thinking
  • Their team leadership skills

After all, the Board is just another group that needs to function as a team to be successful.

Sometimes team coaching is what’s needed.  Where our peers provide the checks and balances – and the feedback –  we need.

So keep an eye out for the checks and balances. Does the boss mention her coach?  Or the useful conversation she’s had with the Chairman?  Have you had a team away-day recently, where you’ve had a chance to build yourselves as a productive – and positive – team?

Where these checks and balances exist, and the relationships are productive, there’s a good chance of modifying ‘bad’ behaviours.

And your role in this type of boss taming?  You can encourage open discussion of the benefits of these relationships. You can listen out for good leadership.  Start by emphasising what’s working.  Keep an eye out for what works – not just for you, but for the whole team. Now I didn’t say it was going to be easy, did I?


Author: Helen Caton Hughes

Leadership and Team Coach based on inspirational and practical tools. Works with leaders around the world; trains coaches to International Coach Federation standards. Passionate about finding best ways for leaders to inspire themselves and get the best from their teams

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