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.
- A leader or boss who lacks strategic vision and execution skills.
- A leader or boss who takes credit for the ideas or works of his or her subordinates.
- A leader or boss who fears the competitive spirit of his or her subordinates and therefore, stifles the growth of new and potential leaders.
- A leader or boss’s leadership style that is not suited for the people or organization he or she is leading.
- 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.