As leaders we all gaffe (make a mistake). As a matter of fact, in a lot of cases we make more than the average employee. Many times in secret and most of the time with high consequences. If you’ve had a title of Director of above, chances are you’ve been in a spot where you questioned your own call.
When you’re right, you’re relieved. When you’re not, you learn, maybe pick up a book or talk to an advisor, and work to never make the mistake again. As a matter of fact, that’s who leaders are – people who’ve made a ton of mistakes. They make them, learn from them, and consequently have more to offer.
THE MOST DANGEROUS QUALITY IN A LEADER
Given that leadership is learning, one of the most dangerous habits of a leader is the trend of denying or going through great extremes to hide a wrong instead of actually working on a fix.
In a New York Times article on Watergate, one of the greatest cover up attempts in history, and President Nixon, Michael Useem, a Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania professor offered, “It was the inaction, the cover-up, that absolutely ruined his reputation in history forever.”
Whether you’re talking sexual harassment, harsh words, short-term thinking, or, God forbid, mismanaging money, the instance is rarely the only problem. The biggest problem in some of the most memorable leadership gaffes (think Enron, Anthony Weiner, and I could go on) is that when the stories unraveled, the bad behavior had been happening for years.
THE SCARY PART OF THE C-SUITE
On the other side of the fence, we, as leaders, through no fault of our own can end up in hot water over something as simple as chasing a deal. When you’re liable for designing a work experience for people (whether 20 employees or a thousand), there’s a healthy fear that kicks in when you’re making choices.
Did we choose the right retirement plan provider? Are outside contractors going to do good work? Will the security team be able to keep employees safe? And, there are a ton more.
There are a ton of little worries that come along with executive leadership that most people don’t pay attention to. If you answer them right, no one cares. If you answer them wrong, you (or by association, your company’s name) ends up in the news.
No one works on a brand day and night, early and late, to have it associated with below-the-belt inappropriateness, drug abuse, or discrimination. For decision makers, those moments are one of our biggest nightmares.
We have to ask a question no one on earth has to: Whose hands am I putting my employees into?
THE POWER OF A SIMPLE SEARCH
These days, answering the “who” question is a lot easier than a lot of us demonstrate. When you’re weighing spreadsheets, security reports, and consultant recommendations, you can easily forget the power of the simple.
While we’d like to think “the experts” know it all, we’ve got to remember back in 1980 high-dollar consultants told one of America’s largest cell phone providers, the trend of mobile wouldn’t really catch on.
Then, if they had Google and social media, they might’ve saved themselves an acquisition and egg on their faces twelve years later.
For us as leaders today, we don’t have to wait 12 years or until a major scandalous headline to spot a hairy service provider. Today, through review sites, social media, and the millions of other data feeds we can easily find the obvious danger zones and service providers whose association will jeopardize our companies and brands.
At the end of the day, they’re our employees. The big question we have to remember ask when making decision is, “Whose hands?”
And, that’s not just company past performance, it’s people. So, to expand, let’s say the real question is
“When I look across the executive table, would I put my employees in that person’s hands?”
If the answer’s not a complete yes, we may need to rethink the deal (no matter how good it seems).
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