Jim’s Wisdom #19 February 11, 2021 Intentional Leadership and Management Misbehavior Patterns: Part One Powerful, Important, and New Multi-Part Ex

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Jim’s Wisdom #19

February 11, 2021

Intentional Leadership and Management Misbehavior Patterns:
Part One

Powerful, Important, and New Multi-Part Exploration of Something Almost Never Talked About: The Real Reason
Leadership Failure Occurs

In This Issue:
• From Leader to Perpetrator
• Common Intentional Leadership and Management Misbehavior Patterns That Transform Problems into Existential Crises

In Future Issues:
1. How Misbehavior Leads to Failed Leadership
2. Permitting Insidious Unethical Behaviors
3. Crossing the Line – Explained
4. The Psychology of Misbehavior
5. Risk Addiction


From Leader to Perpetrator

Crisis events present more opportunities for bad thinking, avoidable mistakes, and intentional errors of judgement. This document is a much-needed guide, or at least a template, for bringing management and leadership attention to the added risks and frequently intentional misbehaviors that occur during crisis situations. Okay, okay, so, this idea of intentional mistakes is irritating, nonetheless, very true. If you’ve been through a crisis, you know in your mind, if not in your heart, that some of these intentionally foolish and sometimes serious decisions are made in the face of unwanted, unappreciated, even sensible information. Fallacious behavior takes over.

Here are just a handful of the fallacies that can dominate management and leadership’s minds when embarrassing, irritating, and “what were they thinking?!” events arise.

“It’s never a crisis, it’s just a bad day, crises don’t happen around here.”
“We can manage the velocity of events if we control what we all say and do.” (say nothing, do nothing)
“It was just one stupid guy in Cleveland, why are we on the front page of the Wall Street Journal?” Can we sue?
“Things we’re hearing right now do not seem possible.”
“Why are people blogging, broadcasting, and writing articles about it?” (Who’s talking to them? Let’s find out.)
“If we say it didn’t happen, it didn’t happen.”
“No one has any business talking until we know all the facts!”
Is there a way we can slow this story down?”

Sometimes the only way to help organizational leadership and senior management avoid embarrassment, humiliating visibility, enormous litigation, and just plain stupidity is to illustrate dramatically the patterns of intentional misbehaviors and actions that lead to catastrophic reputational trouble. Leaders and managers do make decisions they know are wrong, inappropriate, even unconscionable, because they can.

Most misbehavior begins in small ways but grows as misbehavior is allowed to proceed, often to the surprise of the leader/manager who now, having crossed a line, or several lines, unchallenged, has become a perpetrator. When their misbehavior is met with silence and without objection, the perpetrator is encouraged to try it again, but on a larger scale. Many sources express concern at the increasing number of misbehaviors occurring in businesses and organizations of all types.

After more than 40 years in the trenches, dug by misbehaving executives, I have learned that all questionable, inappropriate, unethical, immoral, predatory, improper, victim-producing and criminal behaviors are intentional. Adults and older teenagers consciously decide to do or permit actions and decisions they know are wrong. I also believe that all ethical, moral, compassionate, decent, civil and lawful behaviors are intentional. The choice is always obvious.

Guidance #1: Stop Calling Every Problem a Crisis

Senior management and leadership process the word “crisis” very differently from staff functions. Too often staff people clamor for leadership attention by referring to every problem or adverse situation as a crisis. STOP. Here’s what the word crisis causes in the minds of leaders and top managers:

Invokes the Chicken Little Analogy, about you.
Causes an initial response of the “Can’t happen here or on my watch” pushback.
Stimulates over confidence. “I can handle anything that comes up.”
Triggers, in some cases, privately consulting trusted outside advisors, peers, and trusted outside voices, leaks to reporters. CEOs and outside counsel are the chief leakers in most crises. (Remember, all managers and leaders think they are better communicators than everyone, including you.)
Pushback behavior that silences those nearby.

Business and private organizations of all sizes have lots of different kinds of problems; most of which can be handled in the normal course of business. After all, that’s really what the job of management supervision is: problem identification, response, and resolution.

Guidance #2: Silence Drives, Even Authorizes or Sanctions Misbehavior

Those around leadership who remain silent or refuse to challenge misbehavior before it starts, are enabling leaders to become perpetrators. Staffers and advisors, attorney’s, consultants in the room fail to successfully object if they even try. These are the pathways to irreversible trouble, likely unemployment at the top (though often with a big departure bonus). Loyalty is no excuse for remaining silent.

There are some common excuses I hear for remaining silent. They go like this: “I can change things if given enough time”, “He/she has always been this way”, “He/she is our biggest producer and if he/she goes, we go”.

Frequent Intentional Leadership and Management Misbehavior Patterns That Transform Problems into Existential Crises

If you follow my writings, this is a familiar list, originally titled Profiles in Failure. More importantly, these patterns exist as a series of enabling steps that are obvious to anyone who has worked in the C-Suite for any length of time. These are the behaviors bosses impose on those around them, and obeying these sometimes silent commands is a sign of loyalty. When there is silence the boss thinks nobody notices. It’s delusional, but it’s what happens. It’s why they get so irritated when people do speak up or confirm the misbehavior at some later date. In one of the future parts of this series we’ll talk about the psychology of misbehavior, using a recent Harvard Business Review article to open your eyes, ears, and hopefully your mouth when you recognize the patterns we’ll be discussing there. This is a good start. Note especially, #8, Unconscionable Behavior.

1). Silence: The most toxic strategy possible. Makes you look like a perpetrator, whether true or not. There is no credible way to explain silence in the face of crisis. Silence is the most frequent leadership career-killer in crisis situations. It’s why the boss gets fired first.

Literally every crisis of consequence in any large organization, where the failure to communicate anything is the way the response is started, is always remembered for the silence and the loss of the top executive. Literally every crisis of consequence in any large organization, where the failure to communicate anything is the way the response is started, is always remembered for the silence and the loss of the top executive.

2). Stalling: Speed beats smart every time. Failure to act immediately, even mistakenly, is impossible to explain or apologize for. Doing nothing, even for what seems to be good managerial reasons, is never explainable. Delay and stalling are the #1 response criticisms, along with the appearance of nothing significant happening for a period of time. The most common excuse provided sounds something like, “We were afraid of making a mistake.” The result is the conversion of what is often an important and serious business problem into an existential disaster.

3). Denial: Refuse to accept the fact that something bad has happened and that there may be victims or other direct negative effects that require prompt public acknowledgement and action. This is the second most corrosive response.

4). Victim Confusion: Irritable reaction towards reporters, angry neighbors, and victims’ families when they call asking for help, information, explanation, or apology. “Hey! We’re victims too.” Baloney! Perpetrators can never be victims.

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5). Testosterosis: Look for ways to hit back, rather than to deal with the problem. Refuse to give in, refuse to respect those who may have a difference of opinion or a legitimate issue. Double down, rather than pursue solutions, remedies, and empathy. Being abusive, disrespectful, suspicious, spreading false rumors, unconscionable behavior, and doing things that the executive or senior management knows himself are wrong but does them anyway drives up the cost, raises visibility, and corrodes reputation.

6). Arrogance: Reluctance to apologize, express concern or empathy, or to take appropriate responsibility because, “If we do that, we’ll be liable,” or, “We’ll look like sissies,” or, “We’ll set a precedent,” or, “There will be copycats.” "People we don’t respect will get credit or recognition they don’t deserve.”

7). Search for the Guilty: Shift blame somewhere else while digging into the organization, looking for traitors, turncoats, troublemakers, those who push back, and the unconvinceables. These behaviors actually stiffen, strengthen, and embolden the opposition, while angering the victims enormously.

8). NEW: Unconscionable Behavior: Personal attacks on organizations, individuals, even victims, demonized, humiliated, disbelieved, and denigrated. Threatening and menacing, belittling respected experts and expertise, ignoring valid and reasonable information and data. Making things up. Persisting in using information that is known to be false.

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9). Whining: Head down, finger in your navel, shuffling around, whining, and complaining about how bad your luck is, about being a victim of the media, zealous do-gooders, wacko-activists, or people who are nobody’s, who don’t know anything; about how people you don’t respect have power; and, that you “don’t get credit” for whatever good you’ve already contributed.

Management in America and increasingly the business world in general live in a culture of invincibility led by “really smart people”. Predictably when these intentional misbehaviors are disclosed or revealed even “smart people” cannot talk their way out. Bad news always ripens badly. Misbehavior makes everything worse faster. Choosing misbehavior is a high-risk strategy. Intentional misbehavior is knowingly and carelessly transforming a business problem into an existential business crisis. Crisis always start at or near the top of an organization, usually by those who are paid to prevent it.

And, by the way, when caught, perpetrators will immediately blame those in the room who failed to stop them from making mistakes.

The Decency Code provides a fully developed and actionable model for building a decency workplace culture.  1
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