[November 03, 2013] We’ve all seen it; supervisors who give excuses for employees who are failures in their jobs. Like the alcoholic whose family enables the alcoholic’s drinking behavior, leaders can also enable failure.
Whatever the reason or excuse, there is a emerging trend in U.S. organizations where leaders fail to take quick, effective action to deal with employees who do not do well. A feature of leadership is to take care of our employees, but accommodating failure is a misinterpretation of that requirement.
Some senior leaders blame the litigious society we live in, others blame the complexity of their jobs absorbing all their attention, 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 poor customer service, reduced production efficiency, and greater risks to effective performance.
“99% of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.” – George Washington Carver
This enabling of failure by leaders is especially destructive if it has been happening over a long period of time. It becomes that much more difficult to correct and leaders can expect to dedicate even more of their valuable time 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.
My personal experience suggests that even senior executive leaders can fall into this trap, which then reverberates downward into the organization, doing long-term damage. In effect, the senior leader has now changed the organization’s culture to one of accepting low standards of performance.
Senior executive 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 of it and by discussing the problem openly. The better employees will know this is happening and they will be reluctant to tell leaders about it.
Enabling failure is the best way to severely harm the organization’s culture. It is insidious and, like the old idiom says, “one bad apple spoils the barrel.” Employees will be poisoned. Finding a senior leader today to take this task will be enormously difficult, in particular for large organizations.
I see this poison everyday as I travel across the U.S. Anyone spending time in an airport, major department store, 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 who possess relevant leadership experience in a diversity of 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 senior leaders be successful.