When the chips are down, pundits love to blame leadership, or the lack thereof, for poor outcomes and lackluster results. Yet, whether we’re talking billion dollar right offs by corporate leaders at Microsoft; Presidential seats, like the one newly filled in Nigeria, or the sports scandal that resulted in FIFA’s desire for a new leader, leadership is rarely the real reason troubles occur. Leaders may be scape goats, the ones left holding the bag, or the ones who claimed to hold all the cards, but the very essence of leadership is about leading OTHERS, not going it alone. So, unless, leaders make decisions while sitting behind the closed door of a small dark closet with no internet connection, chances are their results and mishaps came from one of three other, likely missing, traits.
Accountability went Missing Consistently
If a company the size of Microsoft were led solely by one man or one woman, sure, their decisions that led to a $7.6 billion dollar write off, or engagement in the phone market, would have been, and still may be, a terminable, instead of turnaround, offense. Who writes off multiple billions of dollars? Even a larger looming question is who was holding people accountable when the tally only had 6 digits? There are likely details we will never know, but what becomes obvious and starts to show is that someone didn’t do their homework about Nokia’s strategy. Maybe someone didn’t do what they said they would in reference to turning around an already failing brand. Maybe one of impending nearly 8000 laid off were not held accountable, instead of just caught up in the mess. While this acquisition that is now leading to layoffs and write offs, was predicted to be a failure, it is equally predictable that if a leader does not hold fellow leaders, team members, and front line employees to the old adage of being true to their word, that same leader will receive blame, be given a severance and left to do the same thing somewhere else, all over again. (sad, but often true) Who do you need to hold accountable that you’ve looked at with a blind eye or let their performance deviances slip by?
Expectations went Wrong too Long
The words “wealthiest nation of Africa” are not ones someone who doesn’t live there would associate with Nigeria. Then again, this is the home of so many deceased millionaires who want to send you their fortune, with no next of kin, via email. Kidding aside, the newly elected President Muhammadu Bohari was sworn in last Friday. All articles indicate expectations are very high, despite equally emphasized challenges of endemic corruption, economic struggles and terrorist threats. Wait a minute. The expectations are high that the people of Nigeria will be “mature” and that the new president will turn around decades of deception and a struggling economy in the wealthiest nation. Hmmmm…A closer inspection might suggest that the expectations are a teeny bit out of alignment with what economists could call reality. Are yours? You may not lead a nation, but are you expecting an inexperienced team to execute your plan flawlessly and catch the things that when you first took on the task, even you didn’t see? Do you expect your boss or bosses boss to see the good things you did even if revenue shows as a loss? Our expectations create blame and eliminate the ability for us to see real solutions. Just because you expect someone to do something, doesn’t give you the right to get mad when they don’t. It’s you who had the expectation. Were they wrong or have you simply insisted adherence to unrealistic ones for too long?
Consequences Failed to Appear for Real
Blogs and forums and sports circles in Europe are abound with discussion about Sepp’s supposed step down. On one side he claims no responsibility for the corruption at play. On another, casual, and more rabid fans point out that a leader in his role for a decade and a half, who has committed half a dozen acts of ignorance apparently every season, could not have been blind to what was going on around him. The trick here is there are no consequences for real. No matter one’s ethical stance, corruption in some countries is the way of the economy. That aside, is the blame really appropriately aimed at this one guy? Who else was complicit? Who looked the other way? Who ran the committee for checks and balances or let the president’s role get out of control? Human behavior exists for two ,maybe three reasons: 1) there is no immediate consequence for behaving that way, 2) there is no reward for making a behavioral change, 3) the behavior has become a habit. In your organization, likely less corrupt than is referred to here, what consequences come into play immediately upon an employee’s or leader’s behavior showing a deviation?
One could argue that keeping employees accountable, aligning your expectations, and doling out appropriate consequences IS essential or included or understood in the role of a leader. You’d have no argument from me there. Where I differ in the blame game is in areas where personal responsibility or organizational culture, are clearly missing or prohibitive. Where I differ in the blame game is when one person is repeatedly blamed, but the problems remain the same.