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THE SURPRISE CALL




 Disturbing leadership behaviour...

 

You probably get them from time to time and I certainly do: the surprise call out of the blue from an old professional acquaintance. Some time ago, I received a call from an old colleague, Michel. Several years ago, I was working in a large manufacturing company and Michel was the number two in our security department. He asked the department I headed up to organize several training programs for his team of security guards and we got to like and respect each other’s work.

 

We both left the company within a year of each other, but over the years we occasionally checked in on each other. At one point I got a brief notification that he had joined another organization, this time as its head of Security. Just six months later I got a call from Michel. You know this type of call is not just out of friendly politeness.

 

Sure enough, after briefly talking about our family news, Michel came to the point of his call. He was seriously thinking about leaving his new employer. I expressed my surprise, because he had just started in the most senior position he had ever held. Then he told me a story that explained everything…

 

As head of Security, he reported directly to the Owner/President. Like us all when we are new in a job, he wanted to quickly make a good impression. He found out that one of the company’s most trusted employees, with over 20 years’ seniority, had defrauded the company of more than $25,000. So, he went to the company’s owner with the evidence and his recommendation for action. Michel then told me that it was his boss’s response that triggered his decision to leave the company.

 

His boss told him that he knew the employee well and respected his work, so the company was going to transform the stolen $25,000 into a long-term loan to pay back over time.

 

This path of action did not square at all with Michel’s principles. He immediately thought that if this was indicative of the company’s culture, what other skeletons were being kept hidden in the closet? What other problems were not being addressed in the hope of maintaining a false impression of harmony?

 

For those of you who are familiar with the Human Synergistic’s Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI) this style is a classic example of the Approval style, where problems and conflicts exist, but are not addressed, for fear of upsetting people. Although criminal behavior may not be tolerated, other serious issues are frequently not addressed in an Approval-oriented culture. For example, poor performance management because goals and objectives are designed not to ‘over challenge’ employees and to maintain a superficially friendly atmosphere.

 

The results tend to be very negative. The most talented individuals are not encouraged to develop themselves and others to their maximum potential and, like Michel, they quickly leave the organization. And Michel? He quickly found an excellent position within three months of his call with me, and we still keep in occasional touch. 

 

 

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