3 Deadly Sins of Poor Leadership


You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by avoiding it today.  ~Abraham Lincoln

When I was in college in the 60’s there was a popular saying: “What goes around comes around”.  To me this saying seemed to be based on the notion of ‘karma’ and accountability.  In essence, what you do (or don’t do) at one period of time, creates a cause and effect cycle which will at some point come back around as an “unintended consequence” of those earlier actions (or non-actions).

For example, let’s say that a manager discovers a problem in a business process that is owned by another department but which has a negative impact on the performance and profitability of the company.  The manager, now aware of the problem, is professionally obligated to bring it to upper management’s attention in order to find a solution.

 However, because the process resides in another department and that department head is known to be a tyrant and a bully, our manager hesitates, for fear of getting told to mind his own business, or worse.  So he hesitates.  Several days go by, then a week before he summons the courage to finally bring it up to the head of the department. Had he brought the issue up sooner they could have avoided a large customer defection which just happened.  However, bringing it up earlier might also have caused bad blood between him and the other department since it was their process that was broken. Either action, now or later, has consequences and results in lasting impact on the individual and the company.

The 3 Deadly Sins of Poor Leadership

The actions of those in leadership roles at the top of organisations (CEO and senior executives) have an even greater impact on the organization than those of middle management.  They make, or avoid, big decisions that can have substantial financial and cultural impact for the company.

Leadership is not a position or a title, it’s an obligation.

  1. Not Moving Quick Enough on Poor Performers:

“Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”  ~Jim Collins

Most CEO’s coming into a company inherit their management team from the previous regime and one of the first obligations of leadership is to evaluate, and where necessary upgrade team members, either through performance coaching or replacing them.

But how to evaluate and how quick to make a change? That is one of the key challenges facing any leader and, in my 35 years of experience, few do it well, or fast enough.  There are a myriad of psychological profiles, business reviews and other tools that can help, but at the end of the day, a good CEO knows the type of person she wants in a leadership role.  Here are some of the questions to use:

  • Does this person inspire confidence and openness in their staff, or fear and mistrust?
  • Is this person looking at the job and the company through a balanced set of objectives,poor-performance(150x94) or are they just concerned with costs and profits?
  • Do their values and behavior match the values needed for this company?
  • Do they help and support their peers or do they talk negatively about them?
  • Do they take accountability for mistakes or point the finger?
  • Do they think of the customer first, or the company EBITDA first?

Yes, these are subjective, but so is the act of leadership.  It’s not just numbers, its people and customers and culture as well.

schoolbusseatsIn my experience, the number one sin of poor leadership is not moving fast enough on getting the wrong people off the bus!  And leaders early in their leadership careers seem to be the most reluctant to get rid of poor senior staff.  And, the longer poor staff are tolerated, the more it hurts the organisation.  It undermines the culture, negatively impacts the respect for the CEO (because, like it or not, everyone in the company knows who the poor performers are at the top), damages trust and morale, and negatively impacts sales and business performance.

In one company the new CEO tolerated a very weak Head of Sales and Business Development for over 2 years, as company revenue declined by nearly 40% during that time period.  Acting quicker would have allowed time for the right person to be found and to begin to make a positive contribution sooner.  And the rest of the senior team would have gained greater respect and commitment to the new CEO.

Here’s a recent article on Barclay’s about tolerating poor leadership, even though everyone knew what was going on.  Reviewing the reader comments at the bottom of the article are additionally insightful.

People are definitely a company’s greatest asset. It doesn’t make any difference whether the product is cars or cosmetics. A company is only as good as the people it  keeps.  Mary Kay Ash

Stay tuned for Poor Leadership Sins 2 & 3 in future posts.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress


About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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4 Responses to 3 Deadly Sins of Poor Leadership

  1. shaunbicego says:

    You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by avoiding it today. ~Abraham Lincoln
    Great Quote!


  2. Pingback: 3 Deadly Sins of Poor Leadership (cont’d) . . . | John R Childress . . . Rethinking

  3. Raunak says:

    I can so relate to this…leading a company with a huge baggage from the past…great post!


  4. Pingback: The 3rd Deadly Sin of Poor Leadership . . . | John R Childress . . . Rethinking

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