Why do good leaders fail to create a great workplace-3?

A great place to work is one that produces sustained business results. What kind of leaders do they have? Charismatic leaders like Steve Jobs and Jack Welch have been chronicled in the business press for long.

Yet, when you read the list of companies identified by author Jim Collins in his bestselling books like “Good to Great” or “Built to Last”, you will have a tough time trying to recall the names of their current CEOs. This is because charismatic leaders rarely create a sustained business, even though some of them create successful businesses while they are at the helm.

Enron, the poster boy of corporate greed and bad governance, was led by a CEO who, by most accounts, was extremely charismatic.

Think of strong political leaders. Few, if any, have created a political organization that flourish after they retire (or are forced to retire).

Dr. V Kurien is well known in the sub-continent as someone who created the brand Amul, one of the most valuable brands in India. Sadly, his organization The National Dairy Development Board is a pale shadow of what it was earlier, being controlled by different factional politicians.

Why do good leaders fail to create a great workplace? Here are some of the reasons:

  1. The emperor has no clothes– A leader is often someone who has mastery in critical aspects of his business. Over time, this mastery also starts producing a sense of arrogance. The leader becomes impatient with others or is patronizing in his or her tone. While those who have been with him for long will endure it, others will not. A good example is Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister whose premiership lasted from May 1979 to November 1990. She was deposed by her own party when she was in Paris in 1990. Most people attribute her downfall to unbridled arrogance which made her treat her colleagues poorly, and her inability to take feedback. Her fatal flaw was putting down her colleagues in public. Even though she is probably among the top five prime ministers of Britain, she is a rare case of a leader with a winning track record being deposed.
  2. Distortion of reality – Apple would not be Apple if Steve Jobs was not such an impractical, uncompromising idealist. The ability of leaders to distort or ignore reality is what creates winning companies. Alas, beyond a point leaders who are out of touch with ground realities, and who cannot show personal competence, do not create companies like Apple. They end up creating frustrated team members and a failing business.
  3. No time to keep promises – Almost everything that a leader says or does builds expectations. For example, if an employee gives a suggestion and the leader says, “it is a good idea,” but does not close the discussion with next steps, for the employee it means the leader’s action does not match his words. A leader has hundreds of interactions, imagine the cumulative effect of all such interactions!
  4. Inability to let go – This is particularly true for leaders who have created a business from its inception. As they grow old, their energy and physical abilities no longer match the requirement of the role, but their desire to lead is not diminished.
  5. Employee is not as important as a customer – By far the biggest reason, and one that can address many of the other reasons is the lack of a mindset that employee is equally important. Would you put down a customer, even one that is not giving you much business, in front of another customer? What do you do with your employees? Would you be routinely late for your external customer meetings? What about your internal meetings with employees?

The role of a leader who creates great workplaces is to build confidence in his people and help create awareness that enables his people to take their own decisions. If you want to be mindful of just one thing, just ask yourself this question after every interaction – “Has the trust levels between us gone up or gone down, basis the way I handled this interaction?” We all know trust is the foundation of a great place to work that delivers sustained business results.

Prasenjit Bhattacharya is a Director at Great Place to Work® Institute, Sri Lanka, as well as, the CEO of Great Place to Work® Institute, India. Views expressed are personal. To view this or other articles of Prasenjit visit http://www.greatplacetowork.in


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