Why Organizations Cannot Afford “Can’t Do” Leaders

Recently I conducted a series of workshops for new supervisors. Most of the participants were eager to learn skills that would help them be effective managers and generally make their lives easier. Among the group, however, was one “outlier” – i.e., an individual whose consistent response to all ideas, tools, and skills was to identify reasons why they would not work. He stubbornly refused to acknowledge that, in fact, some of these time-tested tools and techniques could work in his department. As one workshop participant told me quietly yet emphatically during a break, “I’m glad I don’t work for HIM!”

Here are eight reasons why organizations cannot afford “can’t do” leaders:

    1. “Actions speak louder than words,” and these leaders are poor exemplars.

    2. Organizations that tolerate this perspective and its concomitant behaviors send the message to employees and other stakeholders that it’s okay.

    3. In looking for negative things, these leaders will find them. Conversely, because they aren’t looking for positive things, they will not find them.

    4. Consistent negativism kills creativity and innovation.

    5. Employees won’t want to work for them, and other managers won’t want to work with them.

    6. Because their expectations tend to be very low, employees are likely to meet those expectations by performing at a low level regardless of their ability.

    7. Morale and productivity will decrease.

    8. Turnover is likely to increase: research shows that the #1 reason why employees leave organizations is dissatisfaction with the immediate supervisor.

What are the options for dealing with a supervisor like the one in this workshop? Here are some choices:

1. Insist that he change his behavior

The organization must communicate its performance expectations and standards clearly; identify how his performance will be evaluated and by whom; provide the support necessary to help the individual change; give him sufficient time to make the changes; hold him accountable for meeting or exceeding the performance standards; and let him know the consequences if his behavior does not change.

2. Accept the behavior

This option requires that the organization be willing to accept the costs listed above.

3. Find him a job for which he is better suited

Not everyone has the talent required to be an effective supervisor. This individual’s “can’t do” attitude may stem from a poor fit with his new management position. If this is the case, then all parties would be better off if he were moved to a different position.

4. Fire him

This is the option of last resort. While it should not be taken lightly, it should be on the table. The organization has a right to insist that its employees, especially managers, meet or exceed its performance standards.

© 2010 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

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One Response to “Why Organizations Cannot Afford “Can’t Do” Leaders”

  1. Pat Lynch says:

    Hi Carlos,

    Thanks for your comment. While I’m not surprised that others share my opinions, I have to wonder how many managers actually take the actions that are in the best interest of their respective workplaces. I see too many who choose to accept “can’t do” behaviors.

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