Leslie Ungar, The Inner Brilliance of Electric Impulse, Inc.

Executives Behaving Badly

Leslie’s Articles

Get Out of Your Own Way

Elliot Spitzer is just the latest example. The long list of executives behaving badly could wallpaper the walls of any bedroom in America. When we look at extreme examples of an executive behaving badly, anyone can identify these high profile examples of transgressions. The examples on a lesser scale may at first be more difficult to decipher.

Dag Hammarskjold, former Secretary-General of the United Nations said, “The longest journey is the journey inwards”. As an Executive Coach, I often lead the journey inwards for executives and their teams. Most of the time, the journey is to enhance my clients’ strengths, to empower them to use their communication skills to improve their world.

Then there are the times I am brought in because an executive is behaving badly. (from now on referred to as EBB). Now the journey is to help the EBB see how to use their communication skills to catapult from ineffective to effective. Or as I like to say, to help them Get Out of Their Own Way.

Let’s first look at five ways executives use communication and their leadership style to behave badly, and how each transgression hinders the organization’s ability to move forward with velocity.

1. Need for constant gratification
The executive who craves constant gratification can never be satisfied . . . for more than an hour. In its extreme, it is an insatiable need. The more this fire is fed the more fuel it requires. This executive behaving badly can be observed in many ways: needing daily praise, no purchases are ever enough, no amount of clients is enough, their website is not updated often enough, their computer is not new enough, they need newer technology, and so on and so on and so on.

This urgency takes a toll on the entire organization. The team and the company’s progress are slowed because tending to the executive’s daily needs becomes the focus rather than the company’s long-range vision.

2. Need to be sole point person
Even Fortune 500 companies can operate like Mom and Pop operations. In 21st century corporate life, executives do not need to know or do everything in their organization. What they do need to be is visionary. To think strategic yet implement the tactical. Executives need to consistently censor themselves:
Is this decision strategic?

If the answer is no, the executive need not be the point person. What the executive does need to do is find the best tactical person, the person who is best with the “how”. Organizations in today’s world suffer when their executive is taking time from being strategic to be the main go-to person on tactical questions that could be answered further down the organizational chart.

3. Need to belittle others to look bigger
Most executives in today’s world would deny belittling others. This is an area where there is no room for error, or opinion as to what is belittling. Playgrounds are not the only place in America where bullying still takes place. If you have to ask if it is belittling, then it is belittling to the other person.

EBB use communication to bully other people lower in the chain of command. Even once, is too many times in today’s world. Team members, employees by any other name, are a valued part of any organization. An executive’s responsibility is to grow the value within each team member, not question or de-value it.

4. Need to consistently prove own value
Value at the top needs to be assumed by and within the executive. The EBB is the one who has to consistently prove their worth. An EBB takes up all the oxygen in the room and in the organization. This behavior takes a toll on the executive team and the entire organization.

Developing next generation leadership becomes a challenge. When they do not receive visibility and viability within their own organization they will look elsewhere.

5. Demonstrate inconsistent leadership style
People want to follow a leader who is balanced. An EBB exhibits an unbalanced communication style. One day praise, the next day criticism, one-day upbeat, the next day downtrodden.

EBB communicate, “The sky is falling” mentality. Operating under a 24/7 crises mode takes a toll on an organization and its people. The effective executive is the consistent voice through positive or negative quarters.

Wall Street raiders and even the marshal of Wall Street are blatant examples of executives behaving badly. It’s the less glossy examples that can do damage within your organization. It is incumbent on executives to use communication in a positive way to move their company’s agenda boldly forward.

Oprah was asked about what seemed like an extravagance at her girl’s school in South Africa: why, did the school need this cutting edge auditorium with cutting edge technology? Oprah simply answered, “my girls are going to be leaders, and leaders need to speak”. Unspoken in her answer was that the journey inwards requires the ability to communicate outward: to speak in ways that empower individuals, get out of your own way, and move a company forward.