Leaders are judged by the results they produce, however, not all results are about the profit or loss. How you behave with those around you — your family, your colleagues and those in the trenches who actually do the work — also counts for a great deal.
I am blessed to know some great CEOs who have achieved remarkable things in their careers. They are among the best of the best, and several are in the top two or three of hospital turnaround leaders in the country.
One of the toughest challenges faced in leading a turnaround is striking the right balance between being demanding and tough to ensure that business goals are achieved, and leading in a way that engages the workforce to ensure that individual members of the team excel in performance.
There are far too many leaders who actually believe that to be successful, you have to be “take-no-prisoners” tough, demanding, and willing to publicly ridicule an underperforming executive in order to create an example for others. When challenged about their style these executives typically offer an excuse masquerading as a pillar of integrity — that they owe people something called unvarnished honesty. What a nice sounding phrase for a publicly demeaning experience in front of colleagues.
All leaders, especially the really good ones with high expectations, become frustrated or angry when someone is dropping the ball. It is way too easy to let that frustration or anger rush out in a meeting. If a leader has to regularly resort to this approach then they have a senior team composed of the wrong people. Moreover, this type of noisy reminder should never zero in on one individual in front of his of her peers. That will most certainly be devastating to the victim, possibly limiting their ability to be an effective member in the future and will serve to destabilize the chemistry of the group.
The financial results you achieve and how you treat others are not mutually exclusive, yet too many high performance executives have convinced themselves that their tough guy image is necessary to achieve targets.
Something I call Strategic Refocusing with the senior team can have a positive effect, dramatically — noisily or sternly — re-emphasizing the attention to details that are central to success. There is an import distinction between this concept of Strategic Refocusing and uncontrolled explosions of anger, an act I call Disruptive Anger. Certainly most of us who have led organizations will admit to occasionally losing our cool. We are, after all, human beings and stuff happens, but a regular dose of Disruptive Anger destroys an executive’s credibility and damages their brand. It can most assuredly lead to career limiting barriers in the future. The real danger here for executives who are guilty of regular hair-trigger disruptive responses to bad news is to allow themselves to believe that this undisciplined approach is actually an effective and acceptable leadership strategy. It is NOT!
So we return to our central theme: the challenges CEOs and other senior leaders have in producing successful results within organizations that are struggling or, worse, mired in failure.
Here are my three suggestions for leaders at all levels:
- When you accept a turn around assignment, do NOT accept any hard-wired board-imposed restrictions on who stays and who must leave the organization in order for success to be achieved. Board counsel is important, but if they set unrealistic restrictions on personnel moves you must have the courage of your convictions and say no. Walking away on the front end will prevent what almost certainly will be a mess at the end of the relationship.
- Do not wait too long to replace members of the team who are not achieving their targets. This is actually a very common problem, even for some of the best leaders. Sometimes they see something in an individual that they like and hope they can continue to nurture it and delay a decision on letting that executive go, especially if they recruited him or her. Have the courage of your convictions, even if you are the reason that person is in the organization. Not acting undermines your credibility with the other high performers on the team.
- Maintain a disciplined messaging campaign. So many executives lose the battle because they fail to effectively, and consistently, communicate the message — values, behaviors, goals and vision for the future. This can, and probably will, include occasional Strategic Refocusing sessions. Executives who find themselves in the morass of Disruptive Anger are not being disciplined and the end results will probably fall short of success.
Some troubled organizations have only one shot at achieving sustainable success. Executives who aspire to work in turnaround situations should ask whether they are cut out for this type of work, intellectually, and emotionally for this style of leadership.
This is a challenging balancing act.
Now, as you prepare for the New Year, take some personal time to set career goals for 2018, from the overall management of your brand, to specific areas in which you feel improvement is needed. This is a time for reflection and some honesty. And, not to sound like a broken record, if you are not currently keeping a career journal, now is a great time to start this important career management practice.
Thanks for listening. I appreciate it very much. If you find these podcasts helpful, please share them with colleagues. You can subscribe on iTunes. We are also available on LinkedIn, our company Facebook Page and, of course, at JohnGSelf.Com.
From my family to yours, Happy New Year.
See you in 2018!