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Leadership Malpractice

by David Brock on December 8th, 2021

I hate to start posts with a disclaimer, but I will. This post and topic may be viewed as controversial, many executives and leaders will be offended. I hope that some of them have open mindsets and considers questioning their leadership and responsibility to their people and organizations..

Lately, there have been a lot of stories about Better.com’s CEO firing 900 people, 9% of their employee base, in a Zoom call. While it is a dramatic example, other than doing this over Zoom, we see too much of this behavior across too many organizations. Massive layoffs and firings are the result of leadership failure.

Layoff’s may, sometimes, be unavoidable. Changes in markets or the economy, unanticipated events or other things that have impacted an organization, other things management has not been able to anticipate. Each of these may force management to take dramatic actions in reducing employment.

These reductions are painful, both for the impacted employees and for management. They represent no failure on the part of the employees. If anything, they represent a failure on the part of leadership. Misreading markets, adopting the bad strategies, failures of organizational execution. These are all the responsibility of top management, who are accountable for these decisions. Sadly, employees bear the brunt of the outcomes from these failures.

There are other areas of malpractice, for which there is no excuse other than bad leadership.

Too often, leaders fail to take action with performance issues in their organizations. They ignore bad performance, they create toxic cultures, they continue to shift priorities and directions, they model bad behaviors. Too often, leaders fail to take action or do the wrong things. At some point, these impact organizational performance, they resort to layoffs as the excuse for their own failure of leadership.

We terminate non performers for cause. We do this one on one, based on individual performance issues, not en masse. We do this carefully, management bears responsibility for identifying specific performance issues, working with people to address and correct them. If they cannot be corrected, responsible leaders must take action and that may include terminating an individual. In those actions, management bears some responsibility, it is never just the employee’s fault. We may have hired the wrong person, we may not have equipped them with the training, tools, support and coaching critical for success. If we need to put someone on a performance improvement plan, managers bear responsibility to help the people achieve a positive outcome.

In maximizing the performance of each person on the team, managers have the responsibility for identifying and hiring the right people. They have the responsibility of making sure each person understands their specific job and the performance expectations in that job. They need training, programs, tools, processes and support to help execute their responsibilities. They need feedback and coaching from management to help them perform at the highest levels possible.

When they fail, managers have the responsibility to help them understand where and how they are failing, coaching them to improvement. And if they continue, then they have to be moved, not only for the organization’s performance but for their own well being.

When people fail and we have to take action, it’s never about the person (unless they are doing something illegal, immoral, unethical), it’s about their performance in the job. They aren’t good or bad people because they have failed, they are just the wrong person for the job.

Yet, too often, management fails to do these things. They fail to do their jobs and fulfill their responsibility to the people they lead and their organizations.

The example set by the CEO of Better.com is a shameful example of poor leadership. That 9% of the workforce were “stealing,” that so many were performing poorly is likely an excuse. If one made an extreme assumption, these were true, it is management’s responsibility for enabling this behavior across such a large portion of the organization. It is their responsibility for failing to address these issues very early on. Blaming the failures on these individuals, refusing to accept any responsibility/accountability for their own role in these failures is an example of the worst possible leadership practices.

Sadly, he is not alone—he just went public with the ineptness of his leadership. We see the same incompetence, too often, but not publicly.

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