In my leadership development work, there are back stories that come from my real world business experiences that serve as the foundation for how I work with my clients. The same is true with information that I share on this blog. Earlier, I discussed Five Ways that Employees Both Get Mad and Get Even. Today, I want to share the back story on that post.
I still remember that day years ago when I made a special trip to the office of a trailblazing female executive. In a time when being a woman executive at her level was rare, she showed through her talent and toughness that she was fit for leadership. I like others learned that she also really understood people.
I went to see her to get her take on the organizational upheaval that was taking place at the highest levels of our company. With the organization in turmoil, it had been difficult to separate rumor from fact. I knew her to be direct and ethical in past dealings so I knew I would get an honest assessment from her. As we talked about the reason for the swift decline of a senior executive’s influence in our organization, she related the following to me:
It’s important for managers to treat employees fairly and with dignity. When managers don’t, they will find that their employees both get mad and get even. Employees have much more power than many managers and leaders realize. They are not powerless pawns in the organization at the mercy of bosses who lead by bullying or manipulating others.
As a young manager, I respected her experience and the truth of what she was saying, but the swift decline of this senior executive still confused me. This senior executive had weathered organizational reorganizations before. Further, he had always been able to get whatever he wanted in the organization.
As a young manager, it seemed to me then that management, particularly at the higher levels, held all of the power in the organization. There had to be more to explain how this executive’s power and influence could degrade so quickly. This executive’s power was melting away like an iceberg in the Sahara Desert.
He was now without support as his peers and seeming allies abandoned him in the face of mounting organizational criticism. His junior executives who once worked hard to position themselves closely to him were now running away from their association with him. What I did not understand then that I fully understand now is that this executive had no real goodwill with his employees. In fact, their resentment toward him had been building for some time. Essentially, they hated his Machiavellian management style.
As people understood that this powerful executive had lost his influence, they began coming out of the woodwork to complain about him. They were mad and now they were going to get even!
Although it took time, the balance had finally tipped against him. The organizational cost of keeping him in his senior role was more than the organizational cost of removing him. He was forced out.
I learned from this situation that treating employees well is the key to effective leadership and management. I also learned that managers do not need to be bullies or unscrupulous masters of intrigue to lead effectively. When managers lead through bullying or manipulation, they create an environment where employees both get mad and get even. These were valuable lessons for me as a young manager as I worked then to become a better leader myself.
This trailblazing executive had it right. Now, as I coach managers and conduct business seminars, I plant my own seeds of wisdom as I tell them:
It’s in your own best interests to treat your employees fairly and with dignity even when you are taking tough action. Treat them badly and they’ll both get mad and get even!
And now you know the rest of the story!