Friday, July 20, 2012

Sorry. But leadership is not a popularity contest.

My partner and I were chatting with the President of a large advertising agency earlier this week.  This individual was bemoaning the fact that he couldn’t ‘get to the big stuff’ because his was too busy with the day-to-day.  That sort of comment started me on the ‘Why of the Why’ sequence of questions.

Quick digression, I stole the ‘Why of the Why” information and insight gathering technique (keep asking “why’ and you will find that you get to a point that is a clear and logical jumping off point) from one of my favourite creative directors Joe.  Joe is not scared to ask the difficult questions that will lead to work that makes a difference.  He displays some great leadership traits: passionate, holds people to account and, perhaps most importantly, he is decisive.

Back to our conversation with the President.  It soon became clear that the real issue was that he could not deal with the fact that he would have to make some difficult decisions.  Decisions that would be unpopular and would have a human impact.  The ironic thing is that by trying to maintain his short-term popularity he was undermining his long-term credibility as a leader.

At the end of the day, when you accept the mantle of leadership (at work, as a volunteer, at school, or on a team, etc.) you must also accept the fact that you will have to make some decisions that will be unpopular.   As they say ‘it is lonely at the top’.

Creating a culture of decisiveness, from the President down, is essential to team, task and individual fulfillment.  And, for the leaders, the periods of unpopularity will be shorter in duration for all concerned.

Joe is also not always the most popular creative director, but he has done some great work.  And, the thing that I love most, is that the best people want to work on projects that he leads.  No surprises there.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Bad apples cost twice as much

Last week, in preparation for the upcoming Canada Day celebrations on 1st July, I bought a bag of apples to make one of my celebrated ("legend in my own mind") apple pies.  As I was putting them away I noticed there was a bruised one.  Shrugging, I reckoned that the pie would be long baked before the apple went rotten, so I did nothing about it.

In many organizations, from for profit to not-for-profit to volunteer, there is often an individual who is a bad apple.  The trouble with a bad apple in your organization is that they have the potential to negatively impact the organization in two key areas: the people as a whole and implementing strategic plans.  

For your talent (like the rest of the apples in my bag) the bad apple is festering away slowing spreading discontent and negativity.  In terms of strategic plans (my apple pie) the bad apple is undermining them by possibly forcing compromise or subverting the passion and skills of those engaged in the endeavour.  

Dealing with bad apples is never easy; often our default choice is not to deal with them at all.  Which is an odd leadership decision as we know intuitively that not dealing with them, through remediation (preferable) or letting them go (worst case), tends to end up costing us more emotionally and/or financially.

But back to my bag of apples.  By the time I got around to making my pie I discovered that now half of the apples were bad.  Cursing my laziness for not having dealt with that bad apple when I first noticed it (maybe saving the good bits and snacking on them or, if it had been past salvation, composting the whole thing).  At least then I would have only had to deal with the short-term pain of getting a single replacement apple.

But, with the shops closed for the holiday and no time left, I now had two problems.  One, not enough good apples to make a pie.  And two, I had no dessert for the family feast.

On telling my partner, her first question was: "Why didn't you deal with the bad apple in the first place?"