[November 24, 2014] Ask senior leaders about the people they lead and the conversation will eventually turn to the difficulties caused by a small group of well-meaning people. The question we should ask is, “Who are those well-meaning people and should leaders exercise caution with them?” Successful leaders who act with knowledge and wisdom in their dealings with such people have achieved good by having a plan – knowing when to act and what to do.
“I wanted a happy culture. So I fired all the unhappy people.” – A CEO who asked not to be named
While I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this quote, it certainly carries with it a bit of truth. Nonetheless, senior leaders rarely have the convenience of choosing all that follow. Even those in private businesses cannot pick and chose everyone that works for them. In politics, as in other endeavors, it is a matter of the strength of quality leadership that determines who may follow.
It has been said of senior leaders that certain people will love them for who they are and others will hate them for what they are. So, who are these people – well-meaning, often intelligent, and accomplished – who cause problems and are a source of constant trouble? I’m not writing about those who are involved in illegal, immoral, or unethical behavior, but those who want to be helpful but the results are unfortunate.
- The Entitled: Somewhat narcissistic, these are the folks who believe everything is owed to them and they can do no wrong. If leaders ignore them, they do so at their own risk for this is one of the most dangerous followers. The entitled will take extreme measures to get what they want. They see themselves as morally righteous but also as victims of some form of oppression. For them, it’s “all about me.”
- The Know-it-All: These are people who constantly overpromise since ‘they know everything’ but under deliver because they don’t actually know it all. They have inflated egos, crave attention, make unrealistic promises, and yet struggle in actually making things work.
- The Manipulator: Often charismatic, witty, and energetic, these people accomplish things by using unsavory and controlling tactics. They pit people against one another and use the feelings and needs of others to the manipulator’s own purposes.
- The Bad Attitude: People with a chip on their shoulder, those who always see the bad in the world, are the ones who add to toxic work environments. They exist in their own miserable world and seek to impose it upon anyone in their vicinity. Entrenched in an unhappy world, they poison others and are an example to the maxim, “one bad apple spoils the barrel.”
Convincing these people that their behavior and thinking is not for the good of all, will be time consuming and not likely successful. Leaders should exercise caution with them. In some business circles, it is highly recommended that such people be quickly identified and fired. While this option is available to some, it is not possible in other settings. Regardless of the venue, senior leaders need to plan on encountering them and have a realistic plan to overcome the obstacles that they will certainly encounter.
Failure to have a plan to deal with these folks is one of the major mistakes a senior leader can make. Most figure they can handle well-meaning but troubled people with grace and respect. However, the most common experience is that this rarely works.
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