Suck Leadership

The Zen path to creating a healthy happy workplace

For the suck leaders of the world…

Admitting you have a problem is the first step towards solving that problem. The problem is, most upper managers in corporate America think that they are doing just fine. How do I know this? Well if they realized they didn’t have it nailed and they were working on their leadership acumen, they would be doing a better job of leading their teams. From everything I’ve seen, read or heard about when speaking with my peers, leadership in corporate America pretty much sucks.

“Kudos!” as they like to say in corporate America, if you’re reading this blog. I’d wager there is one of two reasons. Either you’re sick and tired of dealing with suck leaders and you’re ready to take your head out of the sand  and place your professional fate squarely  in your own hands or you’ve acknowledged you may fall somewhere on the suck leadership spectrum. Either way, you have just distinguished yourself from the hordes of corporate drones or the larger pack of incompetent managers, senior managers, directors, associate directors, chief officers of something or other etc. etc. etc. My assumption is that you do believe there may be some, as they yet again say in the corporate world, opportunities for improvement – quote…unquote.

It’s important to note that sucky leaders are defined not by the mistakes they make but rather by the number of mistakes they make and their attitude about those mistakes. All leaders make some mistakes – if they didn’t then they would be making the mistake of not taking appropriate risks. But there are some folks who seem to consistently do stupid stuff. I’d say the threshold of incompetence hovers around 5 mistakes a week. If you’re consistently making a dumb managerial move every workday then you can consider yourself to be a sucky leader. That tolerance threshold drops down to 3 times a week, if you consistently don’t take accountability for your mistakes. It plummets to 1 if you blame everyone else for your mistakes.

A huge surprise for me when I entered the corporate world was sucky leadership seems to be directly proportional to how high your box is on the hierarchical organizational food chain. I had thought it would be the opposite, fully expecting the VPs, senior VPs and C-suite occupants to be bastions of wisdom, courage and ethical fortitude. What I’ve found is that this elite group seems to be made up of a disproportionate number of narcissistic sociopaths.

My choice now is to either rage against the machine or figure out a way to improve it –or do both – and so I’m writing this blog as an attempt to jump-start leadership competence and/or empower competent managers to challenge their leadership to adopt better, if not, best practices. Rather than follow the approach of other authors and thought leaders who have chosen to focus on what good leadership IS, I’ve chosen a Zen-like path to illustrate what it is NOT. I’ve realized that I can learn as much from people who suck at what they do as I can from those who are masters and it’s been way easier to locate and fixate on the former.

So I’d now like to present you with the pillars of dysfunctional leadership. Principles that, if adopted, will perpetuate the legacy of incompetent, unethical and just plain not-nice organizational culture that is currently embraced by most corporations, non-profits, and governmental and academic institutions.

Should you choose to go the opposite route and eschew these practices and thus set yourself on the path of healthy, sustainable, intelligent and ethical leadership then God speed and God help you…

1. Be a Manager

The absolute best way to suck as a leader is to be a manager. Actually, the best way to suck as a manager is to be a manager. Why do I say this? Because being a manager is about maintaining the status quo and there is nothing status quo-like about our world at this point in time. So embracing stasis is an utterly inappropriate response to the current business environment.

If you really want to suck by honoring the precepts of management please do the following (I know you all love bullet points):

  • Resist change
  • Discourage innovation
  • Play it safe
  • Be afraid to fail
  • Make others afraid to fail
  • Encourage conformity
  • Demonize risk
  • Tie compensation to profit
  • Worship efficiency
  • Embrace incremental change
  • Prize compliance above all else
  • Value perfectionism above improvisation

While you’re at it, empower your entire team to be managers. It can be part of their professional development program. Just imagine, an entire army of little managers running around the office stopping any change dead in its tracks.

An important corollary to this is to buy into the corporate concept of change management. This thoroughly dysfunctional practice proposes that you must always keep the group balanced by shielding them from or minimizing the impact of change. By all means, if you want to suck as a leader, take change out of the equation. God knows your team isn’t professional or competent enough to handle it, let alone leverage it to empower them to be more resourceful, innovative or adaptable.

Make sure to shun the concept of change leadership where you would proactively seek change and use it to your and your team’s advantage. Change leadership should be avoided at all costs.

more pillars to come…

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