Opinion Columns & Blogs

Leaders need help

I received an email last week from an executive of a very large company here in Macon. He said: “HR got me the feedback; now I need help.”

He means he received the feedback from his 360. His Human Resources department sent out a Leadership Survey to him, and then to his peer group, his direct reports, and finally to his boss, (360 degrees) asking over 60 questions about his leadership style. All this data was collated and averaged and sent to him.

This is what he saw: The scores for his business decisions and forcefulness in getting results were off the chart, but his ability to be open and approachable, his listening skills, and the clarity of his communications — were all in the pits.

“What am I going to do with this?” he asked me. “Now that I’ve got the feedback, you’ve got to help me deal with it.”

“I’m retired.” I replied.

“Get un-retired. You are much better than those expensive Atlanta consultants who fly in, dump, and fly out. And, besides, you’re the only one who tells me what I don’t want to hear.”

What leaders “don’t want to hear” is what all of us don’t want to hear. We don’t want someone telling us how to behave differently. Leaders feel they made it to the top, so they must be doing something right. And they’re correct. They are doing some things right — but they’re human, and nearly all of them are doing some things wrong, too. Real leaders, like this executive, want to attack those wrong things and make them right. But they need help; they need somebody who’s not afraid to offend them.

An employee who depends on this boss for her paycheck can’t afford to offend him. That’s why outside consultants are necessary. For example, this executive needs someone to stay with him for six months to ask questions, and observe and coach him. Questions like:

▪  Why aren’t you approachable? What’s going on in your office that you can’t leave your door open? Why aren’t you more open; what are you hiding from your employees: your weaknesses? Hah… they know them already.

▪  Why don’t you listen? Why do you keep interrupting? Do you think you know what they’re going to say? Or are you too busy thinking of something else and they’re boring you? Why do you keep your hands on your computer when they come into your office? Are you able to repeat what I’ve been saying to you? Try it now.

▪  Do you think your memos and emails are clear and easy to follow? They’re not. They’re too verbose and emotional. Just say what you want your people to do, or identify the problem you have with their projects, and then set up a time to talk about it. Think you can do that? Try it now.

Any leader who wants to succeed needs an adviser or consultant who is both knowledgeable and unafraid, and completely unbiased. I’m thinking now about Hillary and Donald. Now that Donald’s horrible sexist comments have been released, who is going to help him with his wife and daughters? Forget the election.

And who is going to tell Hillary to apologize for putting thousands of our military men and women in harm’s way with her arrogant use of a private email server, and then lying about it? Yes, she has said it was a mistake. That’s not enough. Donald’s video was a mistake. What Americans want is the acknowledgement of a deliberate “sin;” a willful violation of the law. Who is the Hillary consultant with the freedom and courage to tell her to stop lying?

All leaders are human, both men and women, and they do stupid things and make statements that are factually wrong. Just because they’re leaders, they are not somehow divinely protected from stupidity. But which employee who depends on her paycheck is going to stand up to that boss and say: “Hey! you’ve got no clothes!”?

Every leader, man or woman, needs someone to tell them the truth and then stay with them until they change. Like my Macon executive, they need help.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His blog is www.progressiveheretic.com.