…fall into the sea eventually. Having just spent, in my opinion wasted, years building what I thought was a stable relationship, both internally and externally, with several companies this statement rings so true. The experience also validates another truism – always go with your first gut instinct. Had I done so I would have ditched this company within the first couple of years or, at the very least, at five years when it became very apparent that those in senior management had no moral compass but, even worse, no business instinct needed to grow the firm past where it already was.
From Harvard Business Review, “The problem is about 70% of leaders rate themselves as inspiring and motivating – much in the same way as we all rate ourselves as great drivers. But this stands in stark contrast to how employees perceive their leaders. A survey published by Forbes found that 65% of employees would forego a pay raise if it meant seeing their leader fired, and a 2016 Gallup engagement survey found that 82% of employees see their leaders as fundamentally uninspiring. In our opinion, these two things are directly related.”.
What were the signs you ask. The immediate sign was the lack of leadership skills the senior management had. There was no ability to rise above the petty, personal, and vindictive nature that they possessed. Everything was taken to the personal level – I don’t like so and so because they are friendly with Jesse, or whoever happened to be the flavor of the month. It was akin to mean girls and being in high school again. Talk about those in positions of power wielding that power inappropriately. “Because they could” became justification for tremendously bad judgement. Initially I thought this was just an immaturity that eventually the company would grow out of but, alas, this was not the case. There were so many warning signs but there was also always the hope that the various shortcomings would resolve themselves. Kind of like staying in a bad relationship because you kept thinking the other person was going to change. In the end, however, it became the lack of business acumen that convinced me it was time to the pull the plug on this patient. An inability to understand the difference between gross margin and net margin and figure out why we weren’t making money.
You would think that with all the shortcomings the smart thing to do would be to surround yourself with those of a higher caliber. That would have been the smart thing to do in order to prevent disastrous business decisions being made due to the egocentric nature of the top management. The most polite thing I can say about the inner circle is that they were very entertaining from a Three Stooges perspective. There was Moe with the page boy haircut and whose only claim to fame was his nickname which is the only thing he could speak to authoritatively. Curly was the one who scratched his balls in every meeting and hemmed and hawed when he got upset with something you were saying. Larry was the newest of the group and he was never one to rock the boat, just go whichever way the wind was blowing. Read this as whichever way the senior management said was up. Not one to be bothered with doing the right thing, just do whatever was politically expedient. Against this backdrop is it any wonder that things lurched from one disaster to another. It was life on a roller coaster of one bad decision after another with no one wanting to listen to ways to improve the situation. As I had written in another of my posts – it was going over the cliff over and over again even when warnings were constantly given.
The upside to this is that it personally validated what I have come to see as the sorry state of leadership and management in many firms. In fact, the experience described spans a spectrum of companies across 30 years of experience. It also precipitated a career move which has been very satisfying in validating from a business perspective that there was a better path. Many more stories to share regarding business ethics and morality, stay tuned. A teaser – how wiggling toes in the sand can lead to federal intrigue.
Lesson learned: your first instinct will in most instances be right. If the situation does not feel like a fit you should look to make a change in your environment, not necessarily wait for the environment to change since it may never do so.
From Harvard Business Review, “Dominic Barton, global managing director of McKinsey & Company, says that selflessness is the foundation of good leadership. Leadership is not about you, but about the people and the organization you lead. With selflessness, you take yourself out of the equation and consider the long-term benefits of others. Selflessness does not mean you become a doormat for others and refuse stand up for yourself. Selflessness comes out of self-confidence and self-care. Here is a simple way of checking whether you are selfless in your leadership: When you make decisions, check your motivation; are you doing it for personal gain, or for the benefits of others?”.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.