More DC Lessons: Leadership Edition

Two months ago, I posted some lessons from DC.  Because DC (and more accurately, the current occupant of the White House) continues to be the gift of organizational lessons that just keeps giving, this post provides some more lessons for every organization.  We’ll call this the leadership edition.

There’s good leadership.  There’s bad leadership.  There’s truly atrocious leadership.  There’s a failure of leadership.  In all cases, leadership has a role in creating healthy workplaces. Healthy workplaces, regardless of waist-line sizes and the existence of lots of fruits and veggies, are places where employees thrive, feel valued, and are built on a system of fairness.  They are also compliant workplaces.

Over the past few weeks, there have been some truly spectacular examples of atrocious leadership.  A few examples are below.  These examples demonstrate how a workplace can go off the rails and foster environments that are not compliant with the law.

Loyalty as blind devotion is badTrue loyalty to a leader and/or an organization means sharing opinions and taking action in the best interest of the organization – especially when the organization has made or is about to make a mistake.  Loyalty has costs, and those costs can sink an organization.  Take for example, Uber.  When employees signed a petition to return former CEO Travis Kalanick, it was a signal that the culture at the center of Uber’s six-month catastrophe was an even bigger problem than a single individual.  Potential fix:  Define loyalty as raising voices to share problems and solutions.

Threats are bad.  Leadership by threat is perhaps the worst kind of leadership.  Employees in fear perform poorly.  Potential fix:  Build trust with employees.  Let them try something and fail in a safe environment.  You’ll be better for it.

Not recognizing and celebrating differences means there won’t be any.  The value of inclusion has been rightfully gaining traction, not only because it has real benefits, but it is also where we’re going as a world.  When we don’t recognize differences or choose to be “colorblind,” we automatically discount groups in the workplace.  This drives employees out and makes it harder for us to find new employees. This will bring a workplace out of compliance with diversity under an affirmative action plan.  Potential fix:  Embrace (please, not literally) the diversity already exists in your organization and work towards building a more inclusive workplace.

Narcissism has more cons than pros.  Narcissistic leaders, including Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Bonaparte, and both Roosevelts, accomplish some great and not-so-great things.  They have loyal (see above) followers, but their blind spots are huge and often spell their downfall unless checked by internal leaders, shareholders, employees, the press, and consumers. In fact, at least one study found that narcissism is a bad leadership trait.  Potential fix:  Encourage leadership to seek out different opinions and understand that the best ideas may not come from the leader.

Criticism in public is a mistake.  The adage that leaders “praise in public, criticize in private” remains solid advice.  When leaders publicly criticize their teams, they undermine the organization’s own progress.  It may inspire the targets of that criticism to leave, but other leaders could look to leave too.  Plus, it is not a good look.  We don’t celebrate parents who eat their young, so why would we celebrate leaders who do the same?  When an employee believes she has been criticized unfairly, she is more likely to bring a lawsuit.  Potential fix:  Handle differences and performance criticism behind closed doors.  (Isn’t this HR 101?)

Get & keep your facts straight.  This one should go without saying, but don’t lie.  Employees are smart.  They figure out your lies and will leave because of them.  Fix:  Don’t lie.

While I would really love to use DC as an example of a great organization doing right by its employees and customers (i.e. us), it looks like we’re in for more lesson learning.

 

Photo by srikanta H. U on Unsplash

SHRM National First-Timer

This year, I was given a great opportunity – attend my first SHRM national conference in New Orleans.  I got to spend three days with 17,000 of my HR friends, meet the people I have been following and listening to, and learn from some smart speakers and attendees.  It was amazing and downright exhausting.

Here are some of the things I took from the conference:

The worst loss to deal with is the loss of life and love, followed closely with trust. Kat Cole got everyone craving Cinnabon and thinking about how we build trust with the right doses of humility, curiosity, courage, and confidence.  We fail when we’re too far away from the front lines of our business, are unwilling to do the right thing, and don’t change policies to keep up with the organization’s needs.  We need to consider whether individuals can trust us, how we rebuild trust when we do something to harm it, and put integrity at the center of our organization.

Some healthy skepticism is important. Much of Laszlo Bock’s keynote was super – give your work meaning, trust your people, hire people better than you, etc.  But when he discussed paying people “unfairly,” there was a healthy dose of skepticism from the audience and twitterers.  Mr. Bock believes that you should pay people based on how well they perform and how much they are “all in.”  These disparities can be up to double the amount you may pay someone else in the same role in Mr. Bock’s opinion.   This is really something given Mr. Bock recently left Google where his pay practices are now subject to a significant lawsuit that The Guardian headlined as “extreme” gender discrimination.  While I agree that paying people based on their performance is good in theory, when the discrepancies appear to include a dose of discrimination, we have a problem.

Be disruptive.  Jennifer McClure‘s presentation about DisruptHR included some nuggets from these events, including my personal favorite, “Respect the data, but make human decisions.”  Jennifer encouraged her audience to be disruptive, but that doesn’t mean that they need to revolutionize.  Small changes can be disruptive too.

If you have a brain, you’re biased. Yes, I knew this before, but David Rock’s discussion on the neuroscience behind unconscious bias was great.  Mr. Rock started out talking about how to sell diversity initiatives – it’s not just about improving the bottom line, it’s also about making better decisions.  He spoke about how it is very difficult to work against individual biases, so work on the bias at work as a team.  I was both fascinated and challenged by his presentation.

My favorite HR tweeple are super. I love Twitter.  I’ve met some great people online, who I had not met in real life who I could call up to ask questions or ask for a smidge of reassurance.  I got to meet these people IRL at SHRM, and they are just as cool, friendly, and smart in person.  It was so great!  John Friend is right, “SHRM is HR Christmas.”

I can’t wait to go again next year!