[November 8, 2023] We’ve all seen supervisors who give excuses for employees who are failures in their jobs. Like the alcoholic whose family enables the alcoholic’s drinking behavior, leaders are also enabling failure in other leaders.
Whatever the reason or excuse, there is an emerging trend in U.S. institutions where leaders fail to take quick, effective action to deal with people in their organization who perform poorly or conduct themselves unprofessionally. A feature of leadership is to take care of people in our care, but accommodating failure misinterprets that requirement.
Some senior leaders blame the litigious society we live in, others blame the complexity of their jobs absorbing all their attention, and others blame our “politically correct” world – but the real reason is simply a lack of moral courage to face problems head-on. This translates directly into terrible consequences.
“99% of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.” – George Washington Carver
This enabling of failure by leaders is incredibly destructive if it has been happening for a long time. Correcting becomes much more challenging, and leaders can expect to dedicate even more of their valuable time to dealing with old problems. Leaders who enable failure should be identified, retrained, or removed so they do not further spread this de facto method of employee accommodation and pandering.
My personal experience suggests that even senior leaders can fall into this trap, which then reverberates downward into the institutions, doing long-term damage. In effect, the senior leader has now changed the organization’s culture to one of accepting low standards of performance or activities that clash with fundamental organizational values.
Senior leaders need to be on the lookout for anyone enabling failure. Yet, the best way of discovery is by actively engaging other leaders to make them aware and by discussing the problem openly. Good employees will know this is happening anyway and will be hesitant to tell leaders about it or leave. That builds a bad reputation and possibly a spiral into uselessness.
Enabling failure is the best way to severely harm the institution’s internal culture. It is insidious and, like the old idiom says, “one bad apple spoils the barrel.” People dependent on that organization will be poisoned. Finding a senior leader today to take on this task will be enormously complex, particularly in institutions adopting the current craze of Woke ideology.
I see this poison daily as I travel across the U.S. Anyone spending time in an airport, major department store, university/college, or large government office would be blind not to see it and see that little is being done to stop it.
This is why we must have senior leaders with relevant leadership experience in diverse organizations that ideally reach across geographic and intellectual boundaries. Only by tackling the problem head-on with the strength of moral courage, the will to do so, and experience will leaders be successful.
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