Business Posts

The Fine Art of Handling Corporate Terrorists…And Who To Blame

The Fine Art of Handling Corporate Terrorists…And Who To Blame

By Lee Bason

11 years ago




Far more often than you’d imagine, we discover that a competent president or CEO is struggling with “terrorism.”  Who is the usual terrorist?  A member of their own senior leadership team!!  Invariably, the terrorist is a seriously talented but heavily constrained leader.  In every case, this talented individual contributor is wreaking havoc with his/her boss and teammates.

Our CEO clients haven’t been successful in their attempts to make it work with this key leader and they’re hopeful we’ll provide the solution.  Unfortunately, even the strongest CEO’s struggle with the feedback we give them. It goes something like this:

“Dear CEO: I recognize that this individual is a superstar in their area of expertise. However, they’re a huge distraction to your team and they are terrorizing their direct reports.  Furthermore, I’d give them less than a 20% chance of being able to take responsibility for their behavior and modify it to align with your company’s values.”

Oh and one other thing…It’s YOUR fault!”

Why are these bad actors tolerated?

  • They’re really good at what they do…and they know it!
  • Their “boss” is reluctant to let go of such a strong performer and is somewhat fearful of conflict with them.
  • There is too little accountability and too few meaningful consequences for their unaligned behavior.

I just received the following from a strong leader in a very tough environment: Kabul, Afghanistan.  He writes:

“Lee, perhaps the worst thing I’ve done to the our program was hire [TERRORIST].  I’ve been leading people for 33 years and [TERRORIST] is the second worst leader I’ve ever come across (had one worse in Iraq).  Abusive, divisive, egotistical, incompetent, and dishonest.  The second worst thing I’ve done was hanging onto them as long as I did.  I’m almost a 10 on both the need to nurture and the willingness to defer scales [of The Flippen Profile].  I struggle to manage these constraints—and this creates blind spots for me.  [TERRORIST] was like a cancer, yet I hesitated to make the tough decision.  It’s an obvious case where the organization could not rise above the constraints of its leader…ME.  My failure to manage my constraints prevented the organization from capitalizing on the talents and skills of the employees.  Since the overdue departure, the effectiveness and morale of the department has skyrocketed.  Good anecdote that I don’t mind sharing to illustrate the veracity of the Flippen model.”

This is just one of too many examples I had to choose from.  I’m thankful that, while not in every case, in many of them we’ve been able to help these folks develop the courage and skills to outperform their personal constraints and appropriately address the unaligned behavior occurring right under their noses.  We’ve also turned many terrorists into great teammates!

What about you?  Are your personal constraints playing themselves out in a way that’s keeping you from addressing an issue with a teammate, family member or friend?

At The Flippen Group our mission is to build relationships and processes that bring out the best in people, so if we believe this then we’ll take the risks.

Have you considered the rewards for yourself, your teammates and our mission if you do?

Have you considered the cost of not doing so?

Being great requires great courage!

Lee Bason

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