Leadership Lesson: Fire General Stanley McChrystal and Then….

I don’t care if you like Obama or not, or if you support the policy on the war in Afghanistan.  Apart from political beliefs, there are leadership lessons here for all of us. What I’ve learned about business leadership tells me that President Obama did the right thing when he fired General McChrystal for his public sniping.   At the same time, the President was not blameless; he allowed this problem to develop by not managing internal dissension within the administration more effectively.

This is a common scenario in business management: A staff member disagrees with the boss publicly, or misbehaves (under-performs, ignores direction, snipes at team members, etc.), and the boss ignores the issue, hoping it will go away on its own or attending to “things that are more important.” Mistake! Left unchecked, the individual staff member’s behavior can be very damaging to company morale and strategic momentum. As the staff observes unchecked misbehavior or public dissension, they start to lose faith in their leader’s ability and focus. This leads to more sniping, encourages more bad behavior and soon, employees are spending more time working on office politics than on strategic goals.

It seems that Obama realizes he needs to get the team back on the same page.  His comment, “I welcome debate, but I won’t tolerate division,” is the right thinking. Can he deliver?  He took the first right step by taking action to address the renegade employee.  Too bad it came so late in the process, and so publicly. Often, I find the boss hesitant to address and employee issue for any number of reasons.  Often he or she is worried about getting the job done without this “challenging” employee in position.  Certainly, the decision to take action is even more difficult when the employee is a high performer or the head of a major initiative.  In that case, the boss may feel trapped:  the person in place may appear to be the best, or even the only person who can do the job.  That thinking comes at a price.  Let it be a lesson to all of us in leadership to get our teams aligned and to develop bench strength.  There should be very few instances where losing a single person shuts down an operation.  No one is irreplaceable, for the good of the company, not even you. As the boss, or the coach, it’s part of your job to develop the team so your company is not put in that position.

I’m not saying any of this is easy.  Good leadership is hard work, but it’s necessary if to forestall disasters. The boss (or a trusted delegate) must make the time to address issues as they arise.  How?  First by understanding, what are the issue(s)?  Do they have merit? This takes time and requires serious listening, considering the issues and/or criticisms, and then taking action. 

Taking action can mean many things: negotiating with the employee(s), incorporating their thinking, disciplining them, or even educating and/or advising them, etc.   In short, the boss must lead people.  If the boss is not strong in this area, he or she needs a trusted advisor to assist. The boss must pay due respect to employee concerns or misbehavior and then must do whatever is appropriate BEFORE a situation spins out of control.  Once addressed, if a particular employee cannot get on board, then that person probably does not belong on the team. 

As a general rule, public dissension cannot be tolerated unless it exposes legal or ethical wrong-doing.  When an employee criticizes the boss, the strategy or the company publicly, they cannot expect to keep their job. Private debate and discussion should be welcomed, considered and then a direction set and agreed to by all.

Obama is now at this juncture.  Can he deliver?  I guess we’ll wait and see.

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Date: Thursday, 24. June 2010 13:29
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Career & Finance, Uncategorized

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