What an ugly thought that is but it is a fact. As challenging as it is to start here it is also essential to changing the struggle. Here is why.
Whether you started the business, inherited it, or were hired to lead it, if you are the leader the state of the business is the end result of how you are leading the business. There’s a great line in the movie Remember the Titans, which is based on the true story of the racial challenges of integrating a high school football team in the sixties.
In a story out of a Disney International article, puts this into focus. The star players on both teams, as were the entire teams, were having a terrible time putting their differences aside and coming together as a team. The captain of one team challenged the attitude of the star from the other team and this is what he got back,
“Nobody plays. Yourself included. I’m supposed to wear myself out for the team? What team? Nah, nah what I’m gonna do is look out for myself and get mine.” “See man, that’s the worst attitude I ever heard.” “Attitude reflects leadership…captain.”
Actors portraying Julius Campbell and Gerry Bertier on the football field in Remember the Titans spoke these specific lines, but they could just as easily have been spoken in today’s workplace.
Current versions of this are rampant in today’s workplace. Certainly in my lifetime I’ve never seen the struggle so great to pull an organization together and lead it to success as it is today. Our culture seems to be changing at warp speed and that makes leaders challenges even greater but no one said it should be easy. But at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. If my role is to lead then that is exactly what I have to do. Regardless of the challenges of leading. As with any role I have in life when I’m struggling I need to look within myself first, but without a clear picture of what it takes to be a leader and the skills to be a leader it isn’t always that easy to see where the problems start. Of course when it gets bad enough the pain will drive us to seek expert help or we just press on and go broke. Being proactive is a third option and that means looking at the organization for clues to the effectiveness of leadership. And that doesn’t mean just the bottom line. Organizations can sometimes thrive for years with poor leadership but sooner or later they won’t survive.
Let’s start with employee attitudes. Studies indicate that 85% of job performance is dependent on attitude so an examination of your employees is a good place to start. On Restaurant Stakeout, a popular reality show, Jack Diegel, an immensely successful restaurateur from New York is called into to help failing restaurants. The first thing he does is video the whole restaurant so that he, and the owner(s) can see what happens when they aren’t there. And of course, they get a firsthand look at what their employees do when the boss isn’t around. “When the Cat’s away the mice will play”. More importantly though is that in the final analysis, the employee behavior is nearly always the direct result of poor leadership. You find them showing up when they feel like it, doing as little as possible, bad attitudes with each other and the customers, giving goods and services away or taking them home, referring business elsewhere, dressing in appropriate ways, fighting with each other, and on and on and on. They don’t know who is in charge, how to handle issues, what is on the menu, what they can do, what they can’t do and the picture becomes clear. Interestingly, the owner(s) first reaction is amazement that all of this is going on but Diegel puts their dismay to rest right now by telling them that what he sees is no leadership.
And then when the group is brought together with the owners and leaders, the feedback is some version of the same general things, no leadership, no training, no clear directions, no plan, no decision making and mostly chaotic leadership. Why would any employee be a good performer in such and environment? And yet the most common copout I’ve heard for many years is that it is the employees fault because people today “just don’t want to work”. Maybe that’s another way of saying I don’t know how to lead! Sure there is an occasional bad apple but good teams will take care of that in short order. The impact on the business is usually immediate and disastrous and a business that was successful for many years is now in danger of going under. It is also a story that most of us can relate to. And it is to begin with a failure of leadership.
Lead-follow-or get out the way is imperative to survival. The choice is yours. If your business has any of the elements listed above your survival is in jeopardy. Or you can ask for help. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure according to my grandmother who I’ve come to recognize as being a very smart woman!