Last Updated May 18, 2011 2:41 PM EDT
The truth is that dysfunctional executives and leaders can do well for a while, but eventually, indeed in the long run, their behavior will result in self-destruction. Unfortunately, they tend to take down entire companies and thousands of stakeholders with them.
I actually think behavior is a far better predictor of long-term business success, not to mention serious problems and catastrophic failure, than capability, experience, and motivation combined. Why do I think that?
Well, here's something you've probably never considered before. In my observation, dysfunctional leaders, executives, and managers are all smart and capable. Moreover, and this may surprise you, if you ask what motivates them, they'll all give you a straightforward answer that will resonate with you. And they'll mean it. No kidding.
At his sentencing in 2005, John Rigas, patriarch of the family that bankrupted Adelphia Communications - one of the nation's largest cable TV companies - by stealing over $3 billion to fund all sorts of family enterprises, said this:
"In my heart and in my conscience, I'll go to my grave really and truly believing that I did nothing but try to improve the conditions of my employees."You know, I'm absolutely certain that Rigas meant what he said that day. So, why the disconnect? Well, people can think and say all kinds of things. They can convince you that they're genuine because, on some level, they believe it themselves. But underlying their conscious thoughts are deep feelings and emotions that drive their behavior.
Behavior is where the rubber meets the road, and that's where things are likely to go off track.
So, if behavior can be a predictor of problems ahead, what red warning flags should we be looking for in managers and leaders? Well, when I sat down to list the behavioral attributes that, in my experience, seem to predicate long-term problems or catastrophic failure, it started to look remarkably similar to a list of attributes I'd seen before: The Seven Deadly Sins. Really.
Now don't get me wrong; nobody's perfect. We all exhibit some of these qualities from time to time. And some successful executives have a few of them in spades. But they usually manage to deal with them in some way through personal growth or a partner or second-in-command that offsets or complements their deficiencies.
So, I wouldn't necessarily think of one or two as fatal flaws, but as more of a cautionary sign and a roadmap for improvement.
The 7 Deadly Sins of Management Behavior
- Pride - Desire to be more important than others, excessive belief in your own abilities, narcissistic. This is considered to be the most serious and the source of the other sins. It's hard to dispute; this is likely the root cause of most management dysfunction, IMO.
- Envy - Desire for others' traits, status, abilities, or situation. When the source of leadership drive is status or growth for its own sake, decision-making is compromised. That's one of the reasons why megamergers and grandiose visions so often result in grandiose flops. Like Sony CEO Howard Stringer and, before him, Nobuyuki Idei. In their zeal to create a global media giant, Sony lost its way.
- Gluttony - Desire to consume more than you need. If you look at wealthy executives like Warren Buffet and Steve Ballmer, for example, you'll be surprised to find that they live relatively austere lives. That's a good sign.
- Lust - Lack of self-control, craving pleasures of the body. How timely: IMF president Dominique Strauss-Kahn, jailed on sexual assault charges, Arnold Schwarzenegger's admission that he fathered a child with an employee, and former CEO Mark Hurd getting ousted from HP over a relationship with a contractor, to name a few.
- Anger - Rage, hatred, revenge. While some leadership experts think there's a place for anger in business, I don't. When executives or managers frequently act out in anger, it's a bad sign. In 20 Business Truisms, I said, "Conflict is healthy; anger is not. Get some help for that." I meant it.
- Greed - Desire for excessive material wealth or gain. I think we've recently seen enough greed to last a lifetime. Besides Rigas, there are plenty of examples of dysfunctional CEOs guilty of this sin: Bernie Madoff and Tyco's Dennis Kozlowski, for example. That said, it's a myth that all executive pay is out of control and a mistake to paint all execs with the same brush as those who earn more than they should.
- Sloth - Laziness, indifference, apathy. This sin probably doesn't apply to the majority of dysfunctional leaders and executives I've known, but there are a few who made it big and then sort of "checked out" while still holding onto their title and responsibilities. When that happens, it's definitely a bad sign.
Also check out:
- How to Win Over Your Boss
- Climbing the Corporate Ladder, Beware the Dark Side
- 7 Signs You May Be a Bad Manager
Image: covilha via Flickr