Based on my experience with turnarounds and reigniting growth at stagnant companies, I believe that the problem at these underperforming companies was that there was too much of the wrong kind of leadership.
In her thought-provoking book, The End of Leadership, Barbara Kellerman writes:
“One of the problems plaguing the leadership industry is its fixation on developing good leaders, while ignoring completely the problem of stopping or at least slowing bad leaders. Stopping bad leadership is as important as creating good leadership.”
How does this bad leadership manifest itself?
1. Too Many Jerks: So many top leaders are really jerks, full of themselves and willing to do whatever it takes and crush whomever it takes to advance their own career. Ask around in any company; everyone knows who these bullies and blockheads are. We all need to be warned. As leaders of companies, the jerk leaders that report to us are undermining our strategic vision and cultural values every single day.
2. Too Much Going on: Employees at struggling companies inevitably are working harder than those at successful companies. Why? Their leaders are deluging them with initiatives, programs and re-organizations to ostensibly right the ship. In reality, all these goings-on create extra work and confusion for the team. And they create the illusion of progress for the leadership team.
3. Too Much Leadership Focus on the Wrong Thing: We see this all the time:
a. Companies focusing on operations when they have a sales, marketing and customer service issue.
b. Companies failing to execute in their current market, that grasp at straws by entering countless new markets (what Jim Collins calls “the undisciplined pursuit of more”).
4. Too Many Leaders and Too Many Layers: Why have so many companies decimated the ranks of the front-line workers and left the ranks of top management untouched? If managers have fewer than six to eight direct reports, is the company really as lean and efficient as it thinks? With all these leaders and layers of management (especially in matrix organizations), you end up with the “bystander effect.” The company is failing, and the right things are not getting done. Yet, lo and behold, nobody is responsible for the failure because leadership accountability is so diluted.
5. Too Much Micromanagement: Do we really need daily (or twice weekly) staff meetings? Do we need all the other meetings? Do we have to check in with our team every two hours? Do we have to know everything that is going on? Do we have to comment and add our 2 cents to every email, memo and PowerPoint presentation? Such rampant micromanagement by us as leaders demoralizes our team, undermines their accountability and emasculates their sense of ownership.
By eliminating or reducing the bad leadership at our companies, we will immediately have better overall leadership. Soon, we will have higher employee engagement, improved customer satisfaction and a stronger business.