Tag Archives: Execution

Lessons Learned from Bad Bosses and Misguided Leaders

It is sad to admit, but many of us have had bad bosses or have followed misguided leaders. Moreover, we have probably been in those situations more often than we would like to admit. However, I am here to tell you that although you experienced unwanted stressors, not all is lost. If we reflect on those experiences, we can come to believe and yes, say that bad bosses are not necessarily roadblocks to leadership development (Kouzes and Posner, 1995). Instead, the lessons learned will help us become a better boss and/or leader.

James Kouzes and Barry Posner (1995) believe that our best strategy for working with bad bosses or leaders is to treat them as we wish to be treated. We need to deal with them in an assertive, but not confrontational manner, and, at the same time, remain positive about ourselves. Kouzes and Posner argued that bad bosses “may not be pleasant to work with, but they can be great examples of what not to do” (p.331).

So today, I will begin to address five things I have experienced from bad bosses or leaders. I will also offer commentary on what not to do, or better yet, offer possible options to consider in your role as a leader or a boss.  Let us begin with my five bad leadership pet peeves. 

  1. A leader or boss who lacks strategic vision and execution skills.
  2. A leader or boss who takes credit for the ideas or works of his or her subordinates.
  3. A leader or boss who fears the competitive spirit of his or her subordinates and therefore, stifles the growth of new and potential leaders.
  4. A leader or boss’s leadership style that is not suited for the people or organization he or she is leading.
  5. A leader or boss who leads from the premise of what is best for him or her; not what is best for the organization.

 So not to overwhelm I will discuss one item per post. Let us look at number one.

 A leader or boss who lacks strategic vision and execution skills

How many great ideas have been stunted and organizations on the verge of decline or failure because of a lack of strategic vision and/or execution skills at the top? In most organizations, ‘the vision thing’ is one of the key responsibilities of the CEO or the boss. Vision requires knowing your organization, listening to your staff and to your customers. It also requires networking with your peers and studying both the industry and political tealeaves. What happens, unfortunately, is that after a few years on the job, the chief stops learning. He or she gets comfortable. They have arrived, tenure so to speak, and so they stop doing their homework or even worse, they refuse to learn new things. Continual education or lifelong learning has been forgotten or “I will get to it when I can” and can never comes.

 The chief becomes too busy. The chief will send someone else in the organization to the critical conference or training and he or she can be informed later. “I have been here a long time; I have seen it all.” “There is nothing new to learn; it is a phase or an old trick with a new name and a new twist.” Wrong.  Our world is ever changing and these changes affect organizations. In such a fast-paced global environment, the chief must pay attention to how the world’s changes are affecting the organization and influencing the customer that the organization serves.

 It is at this very moment that the boss should be envisioning where he or she wants to take the organization and how he will get there. However, in her mind, the whole idea of strategic planning is drudgery and ‘I am doing it because it is forced upon me by policy or by the board.’ Hence, a strategic planning process is conducted, but not much thought was put into the planning process and therefore not much will come out of it; like an inspiring future vision, a plan and the means to execute our vision/plan. The most likely scenario was an agreement to keep the same vision that has been around for many years, the one that has lost its purpose, outdated in a fast-paced competitive environment.

Strategic visioning and execution skills do not come naturally. It requires the chief to be a vigilant student and observer. It requires him to ask questions of his staff and his customers. It requires him to compare his organization to the industry standard. It will require the chief to do several things listed here:

  • subscribe and read industry trade magazine(s) and related trade and business magazines and newspapers;
  •  stay on top of current events by reading the local newspaper; especially for insight into local politics, local business trends, and the impact that the local community and its politic is having on your organization’s customers;
  • obtain feedback from your customer and make it easy for the customer to provide feedback. Give the customer an opportunity to give feedback at any time. Nevertheless, it is still critical to conduct formal feedback surveys, probably at least twice a year.
  • allow you staff to offer feedback, without repercussions, and be willing to try out some of their recommendations or suggestions and finally;
  • be willing to listen to your trade association members and the community at-large. It is impossible for you as chief to gather all of what is going on alone.

 With these various feedback mechanisms, a leader can begin to formulate ideas for a strategic vision. As the editors of Harvard Business Review OnPoint, remind its readers: “vision doesn’t come from divine inspiration. It comes from research, thoughtful discussions, reaching out, and looking inward” (p.2).

One way to look inward is to conduct a SWOT Analysis. SWOT is the acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threat. The SWOT strategic model is an excellent tool and can be used for early stage charting of the company’s execution process (who, when and how). The execution is all about accountability; it is not to point fingers, but to work as a team to live out the vision and to assure success in serving the customer. Nothing frustrates me more than to be given a clear vision of where we need to be, but little or no actions are taken to get us there. We are in a stalled mode. We have to process our strategy more. Let us together get on with it. External threats are real; timing for right opportunities is limited. Let us execute.

Execution in itself is a full topic; see (http://www.upwardedge.com/2009/03/executive-supervision-part-iii.html) and I hope to bring you an extensive topic on execution later. However, for now, execution consists of communicating the strategic vision to everyone. Breaking the strategic vision down into specific, measureable objectives and given the right resources to makes it achievable. Assign objectives to key staff members, track the objectives and have formal reviews to hold people accountable and to facilitate problem solving; again, this is not to point blame, but to work as a team to assure successful outcomes.

 Remember there are uncertainties in our world and gearing an organization for future survival takes a vigilant, studious and curious leader. Consider what happened on Wall Street and the many Fortune 500 Corporations several years ago. Although they employed the “best of the best” quick profits and greed overtook disciplined execution and strategic planning, which led to organizational failures and financial losses.

Organizational survival takes leadership that is ever vigilant, learning and studying business trends, industry directions, and economic and political pulses.  A bad boss often forgets this. A bad boss has no vision and blames bad execution or lack of results on others. A competent boss and a visionary leader will communicate the vision often and to many and will establish a mechanism to assure a successful execution process.


*Kouzes, J.M & Posner, B.Z. (1995). The Leadership Challenge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Company.

 The Editors. (Winter 2010). Make a difference. Harvard Business Review OnPoint, 2.

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Executive Supervision, Part III: Execution

This article is an expansion to a presentation that I gave to doctoral students at Old Dominion University on October 16, 2008. The presentation related to administrative supervision in a community mental health center. However, the principles outlined in this paper are useful in any organization.

Today’s discussion is about execution. It’s about getting results. This is a challenging topic to write about. In fact, this topic humbles me because successful execution is difficult to do. However, the effective Executive must know how to execute and to challenge his or her team to do likewise. Results are often delayed or never reached because the Executive and his or her team are caught in the “whirlwind” of their daily jobs. According to Franklin Covey, “The whirlwind is all the work you do every day just to keep things going. It is all about urgent priorities that come at you and demand your immediate attention” (p.4).

Let me say it again. Execution is about results. Leadership knowledge and skill mean nothing if the Executive cannot execute or produce results. According to Peter Drucker, effective Executives focus on results and work “to produce sustained results” (The Effective Executive in Action, p.40). Peter Drucker also believes that “direct results of an organization are clearly visible…. In a business, they are economic results such as sales and profits. In a hospital, they are patient care, and so on” (p.45).

The Franklin Covey Group asserts that to effectively execute, a plan must be in place. Franklin Covey believes that the plan gives the executive controls to help move the organization to its desired results. The plan is what you want to accomplish and the execution of the plan gives the Executive a road map to reach the goal or desired result. Without a plan, and understanding of how to execute the plan, obtaining the company’s desired results will be lost in the daily “whirlwind.”

Even with a plan, execution gaps are still possible. The Franklin Covey Group asserts that there are four reasons for such gaps. The first reason is that people don’t know the goal. The goal can be as simple as seeing 5 billable clients per day. The problem, however, is that 5 billable clients are not coming in on a daily basis. So, what should the plan or revised plan be to make that happen. That leads to execution gap 2: people don’t know what to do to achieve the goal. In fact, the Covey Group writes, “whenever a new goal is set, someone somewhere must do something they’ve never done before; and until they do that, there is no execution. They must change their behavior (p.1).” Harold C. Lloyd in his book, “Am I The Leader I Need to Be” argues why try to “solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions… come up with new answers…don’t let great ideas wither on the vine…develop an action plan and see it through the end” (p.36).

Execution gap number 3 happens when people do not keep score. Measuring what you do is critical. However, in many nonprofits and small governmental agencies, “real time” data are hard to come by. These agencies either don’t have the expertise, the will or the right software to collect lead indicators or measures. Data is still collected the old fashion way. “We do it by hand.” This method takes time away from other critical tasks. “We rely on someone else to give us the data.” The data received are often lag measures and the results often are too late to make the desire execution changes needed to have an impact in a given funding year.

You need to know your numbers. Lloyd asserts that an effective Executive or a genuine leader will find a way to measure, know their numbers, and then effectively manage the numbers. Effectively managing the numbers provides information to fix, re-adjust or revise the execution plan. Lloyd writes, “Any organizational endeavor’s success is best measured with numbers. Although a leader doesn’t have to know how to perform every function within his/her span of control, he or she must be able to read and understand the performance indicators of each of those functions. A leader must also be able to detect impending problems and spot wide-open opportunities before they slip away to the competition (p.76).”

Lloyd goes on to say that “Genuine Leaders are capable of making decisive and calculated decisions based on facts and figures rather than on feelings and emotions (p.76).” The Franklin Covey Group also strongly believes that everyone should know the score; not just management alone. I agree. I encourage and explain to my managers why it is important to know their targets and I encourage them to help their direct/front line employees know their targets as well. When we know our score and then achieve our score or target—the customer wins, the employee wins and the company wins.

Even with the knowledge of where we need to get to, breakdown in the execution may continue. The Franklin Covey Group argues that execution breakdown happens because people are not held accountable. The Covey Group asserts that accountability must happen at all levels in the organization; from the very top to the front line. Holding someone accountable is not necessarily a negative outcome; especially if the person or the team did their best to obtain the desire goal or goals. In their book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution, the Franklin Covey Group advocates having weekly accountability sessions. These accountability sessions are conducted after the organizational unit has set “wildly important goals” (WIGS) and have agreed on the measurements and the winning score to achieve the company’s desired result. Team members in each session make a commitment to each other to achieve the “winning score” and if barriers arise other team members often will offer suggestions and in some cases, assist in removing the barriers so each individual and therefore the overall team accomplishes the desired outcome or target score. The bottom line is to be able to measure your production, provide and review measurements on a set schedule and assure that all team members know what is being measured and what the target score is.

We cannot end our discussion without addressing decision-making. Execution requires the Executive to be decisive. Although decisiveness is not simple, it is attainable and there are some key things an executive can do to help in decision-making. One key is to be observant. An executive cannot be observant if he is chained to his office. Therefore, an effective Executive must move around the plant. This allows him or her to interact with the employees, the stakeholders and the customers and practice active listening with each of them.

Another step in being decisive is having critical information to review. Often this information will be known by examining your own facts and figures (know your numbers) as we explained above; gathering information by reading and reviewing trade journals from both inside and outside your industry and again talking to key stakeholders (staff, customers, board members, etc.) within the company. Finally, it also helps to seek out the advice of your peers or colleagues. Your colleagues may have had to wrestle with the issues before you now and can offer invaluable insight and direction from their own experiences.

After a decision has been made, take the time, if possible, to explain to those who are impacted by your decision why you chose one course of action over another. This extra step of explanation empowers the team and offers a way to mentor your team on leadership execution.

In conclusion, if you cannot execute or obtain the desired results, you will eventually lose your own compass and your team’s attention and focus. The reverse of that, effective execution, is a motivated team who has identified targets and is equipped to reach them.

In part IV, we will discuss some necessary business acumen an effective executive needs to move his or her organization to the next level.

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