“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”
Leadership is something that is taken for granted these days. As generations have evolved (or not evolved), leadership roles have changed. There is a core foundation of leadership principles that have remained the same over the years, but seem to have been pushed to the wayside in the name of progress. Progress is good, provided that it leads to a healthy end.
There has been a trend of toxic leadership plaguing every sector of society. Now, toxic is sometimes perceived as a harsh word when relating to leadership, but if the results of the leadership make for an environment that doesn’t encourage growth or maturity in the those under you, then it’s toxic. Healthy leadership grooms and tailors itself to create successes on every level below it and above it. If those under your leadership are flourishing, then it’s easy to expect the entire company or department to flourish.
In far too many areas of business, leaders are more worried about maintaining their own “nobility”, that they care very little for actually investing in the success of others. This type of elitist attitude will ultimately lead to the destruction of a company.
If leadership fails to ensure growth of those under them, they are setting an expiration date for success.
The business will not just stop when the current heads retire or move on, it will continue on. If leaders are not investing in the growth of those under them, they are creating a toxic environment where the working class is stifled and kept beneath the current regime without a chance of advancement or growth.
When those under faulty leadership are kept without proper guidance, mentoring and grooming, they will do whatever it takes to thrive. This may include promoting resistance to current leadership or it may be a rebellion to directives or policies or it may be less productivity. Let’s face it, any of these options are bad in any realm of business.
What we need in place of this “elitist” leader, is a servant leader. A leader who is knowledgeable, humble and willing to invest in the success of those beneath him/her. We need proactive leaders who are in front of the problems and behind their people. Reactive leadership at it’s core is already behind the curve. If you’re a team leader and look at those leaders under you and honestly assess them what will you find? A servant leader is respected, trusted and followed. An elitist leader is not respected, not followed and will never be trusted.
A true Servant Leader will not just act as such when it is convenient for them, but more appropriately when it is least convenient. Noble Servant Leaders won’t look for an angle from which to extrapolate favor later, but remain as low key as possible when acting within the scope of this cause.
A true Servant Leader leads from the trenches whenever possible. As a retail sales manager, I worked the register, stocked shelves, cleaned toilets, vacuumed and worked at least one weekend night shift every week. The object was to show my younger managers how to effectively lead a team. Not from behind a desk (yes there were times my job kept me behind a desk), but in the arena where the real work happens. I would never ask the youngest Customer Service Reps to do anything I would not do myself.
Working the front end, also allowed me to identify potential problems, trends and bond with my employees. As a result, I was given “problem” stores that weren’t functioning to their full potential and transition them in a few months time. The process was tough, it was never easy, but paid dividends in the end.
Bad leaders fail badly. It’s true, but good leaders also fail. The difference in the two, is that a good leader learns from his failure. Bad leaders lack moral strength to admit they have failed. Let’s face it, it’s hard to admit to someone you have failed. Bad leaders fail twice. When the first failure occurs they refuse to learn from it and create a new failure. How can growth ever happen without failure? I’ve never met a successful person who didn’t fail. The courage it takes to stand up and not let the failure win shows ownership and empowers those under you to do the same. If we are not empowering those who look to us for leadership, how can we ever expect growth?
Those in a position to be up and comers, crave fairness. Being consistent from every aspect of your jobs creates an atmosphere of expectation. When leaders aren’t consistent with their actions from discipline, praise, expectations and standards, it creates chaos in the minds of those trying to following. Teams with multiple leaders should be united in expectations, goals, discipline, praise and agenda. A child may have a different expectation of consistency from parent to parent. But when the parents are united in all matters pertaining to their child, the consistency is evident. The same should be expected of those in roles of leadership.
Genuine criticism with a plan to correct the problem should be an obvious tool used by all good leaders. How are we promoting healthy growth if all we do is criticize, but offer no help to remedy? Likewise, praise should be doled out accordingly and in a manner that reflects honest appreciation. The world we live in now, has evolved into a criticism friendly environment where it’s easier to judge actions from the sidelines and cast dispersions on actions than to take the time to honestly assess and address issues head on privately.
With the same breath, we must praise openly as loud, if not louder than we criticize. Let that sink in for a second. If all an employee sees is criticism it won’t make for a healthy environment to grow. For years a steadfast remedy to address an employee issue, is conversation. Think about it, if you encounter someone who is always negative, how open and receptive will you be to what they say? You won’t. No one would.
Simple conversation can work wonders. When addressing issues, I found a simple formula that I was taught decades ago still works well. Instead of constantly barraging our people with what they wrong, start out praising them about something they did good, then move forward into addressing what needs to be fixed and end the conversation on a positive note. If we bring people in and hit them with only negativity without explanation, how are we promoting growth? The short answer is we aren’t.
Perhaps the biggest problem plaguing leadership in any field is integrity and morals, or the lack thereof. It is so much easier to follow someone who is upright, just and of sound character. When subordinates witness flaws in character and see those exhibiting it rewarded with more power and “esteem” it is deflating. Imagine being a law enforcement officer and seeing a supervisor get a conviction for a crime that amounts to a breach of moral fiber? Is that the kind of “leader” that men and women, in a field of Honor, Integrity and Ethics, are going to follow?
They will be repulsed by the shame brought on the field by someone lacking true character.
Along the same line when “leaders” are observed or appear to have moral lapses while on the job the credibility and desire to follow diminishes further. I used to spend time with my wife’s grandfather, when I would depart from him I would say, “Stay out of trouble.” He would shake my hand, look me in the eye and respond, “Conduct above reproach.” That always stuck with me. That’s what we should all be striving for, but as a leader, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard.
So where do bad leaders come from? They come from almost anywhere you could imagine. Some have achieved status simply due to attrition and satisfying a set list of requirements. They have never done anything more than show up to work and they got promoted. Some have spent enough time in the office saying the right things or doing the right things outside of the workplace to achieve rank.
Sadly, when people are put into a leadership role without inspiring others, without a minute of training or without an ounce of qualification, we are promoting disaster. Those on the ground floor know the way these leaders got to where they are, and they won’t buy in to their legitimacy simply because of a title. If those below won’t accept the leadership of someone they know isn’t qualified, again we are crippling the business.
Look, I get it, we aren’t here to appease the masses, but if we are constantly making moves that are disruptive to the bottom line how are we going to defectively move forward. I guess we could get rid of all our qualified workers and hire a mass of “Yes” men, but once again, that spells disaster for our company.
If your team of leaders is cloaked in adversity from those below them, what do you do? If your first inclination is to beat them into submission with policies, directives, reprimands or unattainable goals, then congratulations, you’re part of the problem.
So, what do you do if you inherit a group of sub par leaders. There is no easy answer. Moldeable leaders can be found among the rubble sometimes. When I say moldeable I mean they MUST have some legitimate substance to work with and the wherewithal to take an honest look at themselves and be genuinely accepting of harsh criticisms.
I’ve worked under several “leaders” in many facets of life. I’ve seen cronyism, lack of morals, poor planning and many other failed leadership types absolutely gut businesses, departments and staff. The problem with bad leadership is it takes a stronger leader to turn it all around. That leader has to talk to as many people within the department or business to get a grasp on what is actually going on.
If a new leader is brought in to mop up past issues of previous subpar leadership, they simply can’t count on the opinions and guidance of current leaders that have broken the spirit of the department, and have been indoctrinated in broken. That’s like asking a a blind man to read your map for you.
Creating a successful environment for everyone in you reach is hard. It takes planning, determination, ability to understand multiple viewpoints and the right backing to make the changes that need to be made. Simply walking in and trying to put lipstick on a pig isn’t going to change what it is at it’s core. True servant leadership is humbling, it requires an ego check. Being an elitist leader who pays no mind to those on the bottom, is the quickest road to failure. You will be stressed, inundated with complaints and will have to attempt to reign in or quell any uprising that has been caused by years of poor leadership.
Eric Haskins is currently an Officer with the Choctaw (OK) Police Department where he serves as a Patrol Officer, CIT, Crisis Negotiator and Collision Investigator . Eric started his law enforcement career in 2005 with the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office. He is married to his beautiful bride, Rachel, and they have three kids.
“Good attitudes among players do not guarantee a team’s success, but bad attitudes guarantee it’s failure.” — John Maxwell