There’s nothing worse than a bad leader.
Have I said that before? I’m pretty sure I have. But it’s a perennial truth. Any working person knows it firsthand.
There’s nothing worse than a bad leader. But when you have a good one. Well. Let’s just say following is not only a pleasure, it’s a joy.
When your boss, the man or woman who leads your organization knows who you are and appreciates you, or shows quite clearly that he or she believes in and acts in the same important ways that you do, it means something. A less than stellar manager, a heavy workload, even a lack of resources cease to be a mild horror to be endured and become a challenge worth cutting one’s teeth on.
On the other hand, when leadership at your organization is poor, work becomes work, hard, occasionally miserable work. We who go to offices each day, on time, keeping our noses to the proverbial grindstone, toiling away perhaps for less than is optimal, know that work isn’t always fun. I’d wager most of the time it’s not fun at all.
Sitting at a desk, away from the sun, away from people you love or who love you for the prime hours of each day takes fortitude. You have to have a will to stand being around people you would not always choose to keep company with. You need grace to listen without retort as bad leaders yap in your ear or swan around puffed up on self-importance and a questionable authority or skill. You need patience as they deliberately get in the way of you doing, or even thinking clearly about doing, your work. Without a good leader, doing that day after day, week after week, and so on, becomes a punishment for a crime you voluntarily commit.
Work needs a sweetener. It needs purpose, which the right leader can provide. Selling the most widgets, creating the most attractive or useful products, even trying to save some small but vital part of the world become important, possible, worthwhile activities with the right leader providing the wind beneath your proverbial wings.
In that way, bad leadership is tragic. It doesn’t just send the wrong message, it creates discord. It compromises productivity and progress. It shames, damages brand and turns away customers old and new. It makes a mockery of plans for the future, of that which is defensible in the eyes of the law, whether that’s strictly legal or perhaps more important, moral and ethical.
We want our leaders to be moral. We want them to stand on the side of right versus wrong. And people are forgiving. Some may revel or crow when our leaders put their foot wrong. Others understand that we are all human, thus we make mistakes, and providing we learn from them and make amends, we can be forgiven.
But when leaders dissemble, when their inaction promotes a negative, horrible reaction, when they silently condone, or openly lie, well. People aren’t stupid. We can see the writing on the wall even when it’s written in partially invisible ink. The result is a cover for the New Yorker where leaders ride down stream in a small boat with a KKK hood for a sail.
President Trump’s response to the incident in Charlottesville, Virginia suggest a stance that many, including prominent leaders of the global business community, could not abide. As Dow Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris said in an op-ed a few days ago: “Wherever and whenever we encounter prejudice or acts of violence, we are obligated – as citizens, as moral beings, as members of the same national community – to speak out. Clearly, firmly, and without apology.”
Liveris was explaining why the President’s Manufacturing Jobs Initiative was disbanded and why he could no longer serve as its Council Chair. He drew a strong, clear line between President Trump’s response to Charlottesville and other relevant situations and a misalignment with the principles upon which Dow’s culture successfully operates.
And he wasn’t alone. Merck CEO Ken Frazier kicked things off. Leaders at Johnson & Johnson, General Electric and a host of others also resigned their council positions or publicly condemned the violence in Virginia that Trump seemed indifferent to. CNBC reported that Corning CEO Wendell Weeks released a statement saying: “the events of the last few days have transformed the council’s laudable mission of job creation into a perception of political support for the Administration and its statements. This runs counter to my original intention and is inconsistent with Corning’s Values.”
That’s what good leaders do. They assess a situation. And when the original intention has been compromised, when they can no longer connect the good work they intend with the actions that have been taken, they step back.
They value company culture over prestige. They value reputation over potential power. Before the world they step back from anything that would suggest that by their participation they are complicit with activities that are disgusting, violent or bigoted.
That’s why leadership means something. Men and women who are unafraid to take a stand in the face of a travesty are worth following. The products and services they represent are worth buying because when we do, we’re buying values, convictions, beliefs. Whether we buy with money in a store or online, or we buy-in with our time, intellectual capital and sweat equity in the workplace, we buy what our leaders – and the organizations they represent – stand for.
Great leaders know that what they do and say matters. They understand their power. They respect it, and they value it with the same fervor that they value their talent, their reputation and their purpose. Real leaders understand that the only thing worse than being a bad leader, is the perception that you are in collusion with one.
So, the global business community has turned up its collective nose at the President. They’ve expressed their doubts and distaste in a way no one could misinterpret. See, real leaders understand that they are but one piece of a complex and nuanced puzzle. They understand that their followers, their customers, their partners, their talent, their cultures and brands, the other valuable pieces of that puzzle, must be protected. Even if that means stepping away from the President of the United States of America.