Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Five Bad Habits of Leaders in Poorly Performing Organizations

Five Bad Habits of Leaders in Poorly Performing Organizations

There is a cultural war taking placing within the enterprise. It is between the unwashed commoners and the executive ranks. Between those that are adding value vs those focused on advancement. 

In recent years we have seen many bottom up efforts that introduced agile and lean practices into IT and software development organizations. Much has been written of the value realized by such efforts. 

While Agile has focused on effective self-directed teams, it has not addressed a key blocker, dysfunctional leadership. Since Agile values visibility, transparency and courage, it is time to name the blockers manifested by dysfunctional leadership. Once we have named the blockers the next logical step is to remove the blockers.

Remember, a poor performing organization should be laid at the feed of it leaders. The organization performs as it has been led. Lead poorly and the organization is likely to perform poorly.

Below are 5 bad habits of leaders frequently witnessed in poor performing organization. How many have you witnessed?

1. Managing up
Since the first and foremost goal of the eager executive is to get promoted, he or she must focus on those that have the power to promote. Consequently,  a fast riser can little afford to spend time where the work is being done. Instead he or she will focus on being visible to ones superiors. Remember, it is the bosses boss that has the power to promote.

Identifying behavior : ask the staff about their leader. Is she or he available to communicate goals and vision, coach the team and remove blockers or does he or she spent the bulk time in corner offices with other executives.

2. Manage perception
While managing up, the ambitious executive has to influence his or her superior’s perceptions. A favorite matra is "percetpion is reality". It doesn’t matter if you are actually adding value, what matters is that your superiors perceive you as adding value. This will require great presentations and speaking skills. You won’t have time to actually add value as you are consumed with managing the perception of your superiors.

Identifying behavior : ask the staff if they see their bosses boss. Communication is frequently filtered by the boss and never goes directly outside the organization, especially upward.

3. Avoid accountability
By “holding underlings accountable” you can avoid blame. Instead of taking ownership of the system, i.e., they way work is done, and utilizing root cause analysis and the flow of work between departments, the dysfunctional executive finds someone or some group to blame. By doing so he or she is seen as being a strong leader because he or she has identified the guilty and were swift to dole out the consequences.

Identifying behavior : avoids risks and accountability at all cost. Does well at placing others on the hook for any deliverable.

4. Claim credit for other’s successes
This is the sister bad habit to avoiding accountability and blame. Once something has been viewed as successful, a dysfunctional  leaders will attach his or her name to it. It is important that the leaders superiors see him or her as the reason for the success. Should a leader attach his or her name to something that later fails, he or she must declare it a success anyway. Remember, a ambitious leader must avoid fault at all costs. Nothing can bring a fast climb to an end sooner than a highly visible failure.

Identifying behavior : finds out what his or her boss views as valuable and claims credit.

5. Optimize Locally
Since everyone is at risk for being judged by the performance of his or her organization, it is essential that one do all one can to make it appear ones organization is highly functioning. If it means one should sub-optimize the whole i.e., negatively impact a neighboring organization or the company, so be it. What is important is not the end result to the company but how others see a leader’s organization.

Identifying behavior : person has little interest is what is good for the company. He or she is only focused on what is good for his or her organization.

There is one more unspoken dysfunction a leader of a poor performing organization. It is not being caught with any of the 5 dysfunctions identified above. If accused, said leader must deny practicing any of the dysfunctions identified above. A real career killers is to admit to possessing any of the above dysfunctions. Odd thing is, the dysfunctions are very visible to the rank and file but are touted as exective skills by the leadership. The emperor has no clothes.