Really good leaders are tough to find—type in “leadership” on Amazon’s website and 195,206 books pop up. Obviously, with all that written (and more leadership books being introduced daily), no one has yet broken the code on how to find or groom or train quality leaders.
Real-life situations support the fact that good leaders are few and far between. I once sampled readers of a professional journal about their leaders,* and one-half stated that their recent bosses were either good or magnificent. Good stuff.
But the other half of the bosses were rated as mediocre, poor, or moronic! Figure 1 shows the distribution of the five choices respondents were given. Sad but true. It appears that along with the everyday success challenges we all face, about one-half of us must deal with the daily challenge of working with limited, negative, or no support.
To better understand the leadership situation, survey participants were asked to write a short descriptive phrase that supported the designation of the bosses they categorized as poor or moronic. Here are some of their exact words:
Description 1: “Had no leadership skills. I was one of the partners of the firm, and he would laugh and dismiss any sort of discussion about leadership or management or HR. Ran everything by [the] seat of the pants. Barked at people and then hid in his office.”
Impact 1: “After I had committed significant investment in the company (financially, professionally, emotionally, building regional offices that had positive culture, etc.), I ended up selling my shares and joining another firm. The result was that the previous company lost business, momentum, goodwill, closed offices, and is now barely alive with four people.”
Description 2: “This boss is constantly stirring the pot. He goes around managers and directs the employees himself. He yells at meetings and pounds the table. He criticizes in public and very seldom gives praise.”
Impact 2: “Made me afraid for my job and my sanity!”
Description 3: “He was indecisive and afraid to make a decision by himself. The smallest issue had to be discussed by a committee and decided upon with consensus, which led to very slow progress, inconsistency, lack of strategy, and inefficiency. He was unable to stand behind any decisions that were made and hid behind the ‘committee of the time’ and was unable to confront anyone.”
Impact 3: “As someone who directly reported to him, I had a hard time getting work done and approved. It was very challenging to plan for the long term when strategies changed with every committee, and I never had his support on more challenging issues, even if I followed his direction.”
Description 4: “His decisions were not always based on the best interests of the client; he was not always ethical in his approach to business.”
Impact 4: “I lost respect for him and his abilities. I felt like a ‘cog in the wheel,’ serving his interests versus the client or supporting my staff.”
Description 5: “She came from the outside and was handpicked by the CEO (she was with him at his last gig). She came in with no domain expertise and spent no time trying to understand the business. Instead, she started out of the gate dictating. The worst kind of boss or colleague is one who knows nothing, makes bad decisions, but thinks he or she knows everything. As a result, any suggestion or attempt at dialog is met with hostile resistance.”
Impact 5: “My paper is on the street.”
If you have experienced some of the above, you too have had a moron for a manager.
Managing Moron Managers
The moron manager malady described above is brought about by the convergence of two deadly sins: incompetence blended with arrogance. These people are not smart enough to know they are incompetent, nor humble enough to listen to or seek feedback that would put them on the path to performance improvement. So, when I mentioned managing the moron manager, I misspoke. You just can’t manage morons.
With that understanding, here are three personal strategies to consider:
- Life is too short—if you work for a moron, quit immediately. This is the best strategy, and it feels really, really good.
- Yes, you work for a moron, and yes, you agree that life is short, but you have expensive tastes, kids in school, and a big mortgage. Okay, so you can’t quit immediately, but start networking like crazy, find a moron-free outfit, and go work for them as quickly as you can.
- Think about everyone you deal with. There are customers who are morons, partners who are morons, family members…(whoops, I’ve gone too far); develop a plan to sever these unhealthy relationship ties. Who needs the aggravation!
* Professional Services Journal. April 2004.