A Matter of Rust

Paul Heagen Uncategorized Leave a Comment

Corrosion.

It eats away – slowly, insidiously, pervasively – robbing objects of their strength, utility or appeal. We understand it in structural terms – bridges, cars, tools – but what about in business?

What is the most corrosive force in business?

In my experience and observation, it is the CEO who fails—for whatever reason—to deal with the bad behavior or poor performance of some member of their senior leadership team.

We’ve all seen it, and maybe experienced it. It’s that person who people mutter about in hushed tones in the break room or in the parking garage. Arrogant, boorish, condescending, lazy, controlling, incompetent, temperamental … the adjective list goes long. People wonder: “How long do we have to put up with this?”

I’ve heard all the reasons why the hard decisions are not made or seem to languish – that person gets a lot done, or I’m still waiting to see if they will get on the bus, or other things matter more right now, or I’ve not seen it myself … whatever.

Meanwhile, the rust settles in. People wonder if their best efforts matter, whether culture really is the priority it is claimed to be.

I’ve spoken often about what I see as the three judgments that people make when they see a decision being avoided or delayed. They wonder if the boss is:

Ignorant – simply unaware (intentionally or not) of what is really going on (stay there long enough, and it changes to “clueless”);
Incompetent – they are aware of the issue but they just don’t know what to do about it, or they are paralyzed by the trade-offs or risks; or
Indifferent – they are aware of the problem, are capable of dealing with it, but choose not to. That’s the worst; that’s when people lose heart.

People will align with a strategy. They will get behind a great idea. But, ultimately, they follow people. How we do our work can be as important as_ what_ we get done.

You can get by with a bad apple at the top of the tree, if getting by is good enough for you. When we deal forthrightly and promptly with a bad culture fit, it refreshes and reaffirms the whole organization.

It’s a great rust inhibitor.

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