A Failure of Leadership

Being fired from a job is one of the most traumatic events a person could experience in their lifetimes. Researchers say it is up there with the death of a loved one, divorce, imprisonment, and personal illness. 

The decision by a leader to dismiss someone from their job is not a decision that should be taken lightly. It can and often does have huge life implications for the person being fired; the feelings of failure often linger even after they find new employment. 

But the person being fired isn’t the only one who should feel a sense of failure. So should the leader who fired them. 

Here’s why I say that. If you’re a leader and you have someone working for you who isn’t getting the job done then the likely cause is either that you hired the wrong person or you’re not providing them the tools or training they need to succeed. 

Either way at least part of their failure is on you. With that in mind you may want to think a little harder before firing someone who isn’t meeting your expectations.

I suppose you could use the excuse that you inherited a person that someone else hired. That may let you off the hook a little but only a little. Leaders build and develop people no matter how and where they find them. If you have someone reporting to you that you are unable to develop then that’s at least a partial failure of your leadership. 

Now, here is another failure of leadership: NOT firing someone who needs to be fired. 

No matter how someone got to a point where they need to be fired, no matter who is responsible for that person’s shortcomings, when they need to go then they need to go. Allowing  an unproductive, possibly disruptive person to damage the morale or productivity of the greater team is a serious failure of leadership. 

You might believe you’re avoiding conflict by ignoring the problems caused by a poor performer but what you’re really doing is fermenting greater conflict throughout your organization. 

You do not have to be angry when letting the person go, you do not have to be overly critical, you can allow them to save face if possible but you must let them go. Keeping them around, for whatever reason only adds to whatever shortcomings they bring to the team. 

Accept your role in the failure, learn from it and move on. Remember, failing does not make you a failure, only not trying to succeed can do that.

Privileged Leadership

There are many different “types” of leaders today and two of them are privileged leaders. Yes, privileged counts twice because we have those who feel privileged to lead and those who feel leading makes them privileged.

One of those groups have an opportunity to be excellent leaders, the other not so much.

Let’s look first at those “leaders” who believe leading makes them privileged. (I put leaders in parentheses because identifying these people as leaders is a very generous use of the word.)

Leaders who feel privileged separate themselves from their people. They provide themselves with “perks” not available to most people. They somehow have convinced themselves that their title or position entitle them to extra benefits or stuff. They will even brag about their special status to the people they are trying to lead. These leaders build walls between themselves and their people, the walls are built from egos but the “leaders” don’t even realize they exist.

Leaders who feel privileged don’t understand the significance of the words they use…. or maybe they do. When given the choice of identifying their people as “our team” or “their staff” they invariably choose staff so there won’t be any doubt as to who is most privileged. These privileged leaders feel it’s important to keep people in their place.

Leaders who feel privileged have separate rules for themselves. The believe in the adage that “rank has it’s privileges” and that’s how they lead. They expect more from others than they expect from themselves. They hold their people to standards that they talk about but fail to live up to themselves. 

People who believe leading gives them privileges demoralize their people. They tear their people down to make themselves appear somehow better, at least in their own mind. Leaders who believe they are privileged steal every bit of “credit” from their people and leave their people believing they have no true chance at success. 

A leader who feels privileged creates an environment of despair for their people.

On the other hand following a leader who feels privileged to lead is a truly remarkable experience. Leaders who feel privileged to lead feel a responsibility to those they lead to help them succeed. They celebrate the success of their people more than they celebrate their own success. 

Leaders who feel privileged to lead give extra credit for success to their team while accepting more than their share of responsibility for any lack of success. The support the show their people is unwavering. 

Leaders who feel privileged to lead take their people where they couldn’t go alone. They coach, they mentor, they develop and they care about their people. Leaders who feel privileged to lead invest themselves in the success of their people, giving all the effort they have and then giving a little more.

Leaders who feel privileged to lead don’t only build more followers, they build more leaders. They know that ultimately their success is completely dependent upon the success of their people and they extend their leadership by building leaders to leave behind when their own leadership days have passed. 

Leaders who feel privileged to lead create an environment of hope and possibility. They have earned the right to be considered leaders and they hold that title with honor. Watching a leader who feels privileged to lead is like watching poetry in motion and when you see one watch closely because they are the model of successful leadership today.

Leadership Accountability

Everyone, and I mean everyone, does better when they have accountability in their lives. When we know we will be held to account, for a budget, for a timetable, for a goal we’ve set, or for any particular outcome, we are far more likely to put serious effort into achieving that outcome.

It seems to be human nature.

But there is a problem with accountability as well. 

The problem with accountability is when you as a leader hold your people to a level of accountability to which you refuse to hold yourself. You expect more and demand more of your people than you expect and demand of yourself.

It’s pretty easy to hold other people accountable. It’s not so easy to hold ourselves as accountable as we hold everyone else. It’s FAR easier to have principles than it is to live by them. It is far easier to to require others to have the discipline that we only wish we had. 

But here is where the real problem comes in: your people will do what you do far, far faster than they will do what you say. 

When you hold your people to a standard higher than you hold yourself, you destroy their morale and you destroy your credibility. When you destroy your credibility you also destroy your ability to actually lead because people cannot follow someone that they cannot trust.

Authentic Servant Leaders do not have one set of standards for themselves and another, higher set of standards for their people. Authentic Servant Leaders know that they are the model for successful behavior and they act and talk the way they want their people to act and talk. 

They do the things required for success so their people can see success in action. 

Nothing destroys morale faster than being held to a high standard by a person with low standards. Don’t hold others accountable to a standard to which you refuse to hold yourself.  

Leadership requires that you do the same things you would have your people do and it requires that you do them first. That’s why it’s called LEADING!

Accountability can lead directly to superior outcomes when and only when the accountability starts at the top. If you as a leader are not able to hold yourself accountable then don’t expect to be able to hold others accountable either!