Jim’s Wisdom #20 February 18, 2021 Intentional Leadership and Management Misbehavior Patterns Part Two: The Ingredients of Failed Leadership In Th

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Jim’s Wisdom #20

February 18, 2021

Intentional Leadership and Management Misbehavior Patterns
Part Two: The Ingredients of Failed Leadership

In This Issue:

The Ingredients of Failed Leadership

Permitting Insidious Unethical Behaviors

Coming up in part three:

The Psychology of Misbehavior

Risk Addiction

Why Am I Talking About This?

Right along with a number of compliments about the insights these discussions are providing, there are also questions about why I am talking about this. Several of my colleagues have commented that they have never seen these kinds of behaviors at any time in their career. Without talking to them, my suspicion is that their level of experience has yet to reach high enough into the management organization to be exposed to these types of circumstances.

The main reason I’m writing about misbehavior is because these issues need to be explored much more deeply and consistently. In my experience misbehavior can begin anywhere in an organization but it is largely found in the upper reaches of management. More importantly, staff functions, when exposed to questionable behaviors are reluctant to take action. This is the big problem: the failure of those around misbehavior to speak in plain language, thus enabling misbehavior, and bad decisions rather than stopping it.

When I am coaching professionals who see themselves getting to the C-suite, one of the questions I always ask them is, “Do you really have the temperament to be in an environment where just about everything is competitive and potentially combative?” One of the survival tasks in this upper atmosphere is the willingness to engage in combat for combat’s sake. To be insulted, demeaned, even chastised simply because it’s part of the decision making and behavior ritual. You will need to know what behaviors to expect in a variety of circumstances, to be prepared to work ahead of the behaviors to mitigate them and get to useful resolutions faster.

This newsletter, Number 20; the last one Number 19, and one to follow, Number 21, are really saying, in sum, “This is the way it’s going to be. Simply, suck it up and deal with it.” You need to remember the principal caveat of advising senior management and leaders: all problems, issues, questions, and negative circumstances are problems, issues, questions and negative circumstances for management, before they are subject to staff analysis and action. If your habit is to launch right into a solution based on your area of expertise. (communications, human resources, security, etc.) you are starting someplace other than where management is. To be effective, and heard, you need to start your arguments and suggestions from where management is now or, at the end of the day, you generally wind up in different places and management goes its own way, because it can.

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The Ingredients of Failed Leadership

The real value of this list is as an alert for leaders themselves and those around leaders. Those around leaders who witness negative or risky circumstances need to get and inform leadership immediately. Time and time again, leaders excuse their misbehavior, shifting the blame for their intentional mistakes to, “those around me who should have alerted me or caught me”. Leaders who become perpetrators are prepared and practiced at shifting blame, if exposed or caught. There are recognizable prior events that signal existing or pending misbehaviors.

1). Established values and cultural systems and norms are gradually ignored, neutralized, or displaced by whatever become accepted yet questionable behaviors.

2). A management-imposed emergency or attitude of urgency that goes unchallenged. The phrase, “Do whatever it takes,” is among the most prevalent of excuses for breaking, changing or ignoring rules. This phrase is taken as an order and an authorization to literally ignore all rules and constraints to achieve whatever the objective happens to be.

3). A sense of ongoing top management pressure to “get on the program”, without challenge or without reporting through compliance channels. Too often, in today’s organizational structure, goals are taken as permissions, authorization, or orders to ignore the rules. Those in charge (through their own behaviors and stated or implied expectations) change the rules or establish new ones unilaterally outside of normal compliance channels. Crises rarely start, “in the mail room”, or by “a bunch of rogue employees", or by junior people. Crisis behaviors and attitudes start at a much higher level.

4). Early warning symptoms are ignored, deferred, or actively defended. Who wants to be the first to vocalize something negative about a boss or point a finger? Invincibility and omnipotence triggered by incivility are among the major features of management behavior these days. Male or female, getting an MBA and the MBA culture confers the ability to leap tall buildings, become inherently smarter than anyone else, and to treat rules and cultural norms as options.

5). An atmosphere of invincibility that overshadows or simply blinds participants to infractions, questionable decisions, and stuff that should work but doesn’t.

6). Corner–cutting. One of the most common starting places for leadership failure to begin.

7). Increasing resistance to or minimizing compliance and oversight. There is a natural tendency to resist compliance and oversight. The greatest resistance generally comes from the sales and marketing sectors of a business organization and that resistance is induced by the pressure to perform, the pressure to succeed, the pressure to beat the competition, and the pressure to beat peer organizations.

8). Decreasing responsiveness to regulatory requirements. Once an organizational culture moves away from responsiveness to regulatory requirements and begins selectively ignoring or degrading the importance of these requirements, the pattern of failure grows on itself.

9). Persistent, rigid, disciplined silence. The implied or direct order to remain silent is powerful and toxic.

10). Risk addiction, continuously making ever larger compromises to accommodate or cover up previous intentional misbehaviors. Once a manager decides to cross a line which is always intentional, they become a perpetrator. Still, they are surprised that there is no real reaction, the tendency is to cross another line to see if that works too. Surprise, surprise, it also is ignored. All too often, when an autopsy is done on failed leadership, a crucial element in the pathology sounds like, “I took a chance, nobody noticed, so I took another, nobody noticed, so I took another, and it became a habit,” “Why didn’t those people say something or do something when they found out about it?” and, “It’s really their fault for not catching me and warning me or turning me in that all these bad things happened.” The description that best describes these expanding intentional executive misbehaviors is Risk Addiction.

Insidious Unethical Behaviors

Besides the more obvious mistakes that lead to unethical behaviors, there are other, less apparent, more insidious kinds of unethical behaviors that can lead to problems. Sometimes these less obvious behaviors are the precursors to illegal behavior. When you can identify these behaviors in your vicinity, there is trouble ahead. Act promptly to correct these situations.

Lax control: A manager’s careless enforcement, education about, and monitoring of ethical standards.
Lack of tough, appropriate centralized compliance within each area of the company.
No one charged with responsibility of teaching, enforcing, and disciplining in cases where ethical breaches occur.
Leadership that allows supervisors to overlook bad behavior.
Leadership that allows employees to experiment with methods and tactics outside established guidelines.
Emphasis on “doing whatever it takes” to achieve appropriate business and financial goals.
Managers and supervisors who minimize the importance of oversight and compliance processes.
Structuring incentives in such a way that they can compromise the ethical behavior of people, the quality of the products and services we deliver, and allow shortcuts to be taken for a variety of obviously questionable reasons.
Avoiding confrontation with managers who chronically misbehave or chronically overlook misbehavior.
The tendency to operate “on the edge,” always pushing for more than is appropriate.
Management that ignores the signs of and doesn’t question rogue behavior.
Management tolerating the inappropriate behavior or management by individuals who are “critical to the organization’s mission.” These are the folks who are the super sales people, the high achievers who are allowed to break the rules to maintain the altitude of their performance.
Belittling or humiliating those who suggest or seek ethical standards.
Dismissing or destroying the careers of employees who report bad or outright wrong behavior.
Demeaning the internal or external credibility of those who blow the whistle, those who report or bring management’s attention to lapses in ethics.

In part three of this newsletter, coming soon, will be two interesting and powerful ingredients in this area of leadership misbehavior, risk addiction that causes ever-expanding misbehaviors. And, The Psychology of Misbehavior broadening a subject first clearly discussed in an article of the same name from the Harvard Business Review.

Feel free to send questions and concerns. I will respond promptly. Until next time.

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Successfully Injecting Decency into Business Culture and Life

The Decency Code provides a fully developed and actionable model for building a decent workplace culture.”-Ranjit de Sousa; President, LHH; Zurich, Switzerland

The true test of civility is a commitment to verbal, written communication and actions that are positive and declarative and behaviors that are simple, sensitive, sensible, constructive, helpful, empathetic and benefit the recipient far more than the sender.-Jim Lukaszewski; Co-Author

“The Leader’s principal role and yours in successfully fostering, stimulating, modeling, spreading and requiring civility and decency is to be obsessed by the task.” -Steve Harrison; Co-Author

The Decency Code is a much-needed antidote to the prevailing incivility we see in both the workplace and the nation. Harrison and Lukaszewski plot a practical approach to regain civility, integrity, and empathy in our relations with others. This is a must-read for leaders, investors, employees, and engaged citizens generally.”-Helio Fred Garcia; President, Logos Consulting

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