Respect for People

Temple of Saturn
Temple of Saturn

A colleague of mine was venting some frustrations last week.  Apparently she had spent 5 hours providing information and slides for a presentation to be used during what was expected to be a 3-hour meeting.  When she received the final deck of slides she discovered none of her information was included.  She almost quit on the spot, and at the minimum she was not productive the remainder of that day.

Here’s a talented young leader of a multi-national company that spent 20% of her week doing something that didn’t matter.  In fact, she said the meeting was mostly a waste of her time as well.  What could I say?  All I could do was to get her focused on the positives of the week, and to have her learn from that scenario as something to never do to her team.  I pointed out she can learn just as much from a bad boss as she can from a good one.

I speak with this colleague often – she’s in a tough situation.  Mary works for a boss that seems to have little respect for her employees.  Meetings called with little to no notice, 0r even being called into a meeting mid-way through the meeting only to be peppered by questions.  Again with no notice.  Most of the team has limited contact with their boss outside of meetings (in fact a few have only spoken with the direct manager twice in 6 months).  Ideas are challenged and criticized to the point that most of the team has stopped offering suggestions.  And worst of all, about 75% of the senior members of that team have left the company.

Mary seems to be in the middle of one of those scenarios where people don’t quit the company, they quit their boss.  It takes a lot of effort to build a good team.  But an unfortunate result of having a talented and motivated group is that when bad leadership is put in place the members of that team are very mobile.  They can leave relatively quickly, and most of them won’t suffer fools for long.  If you see an exodus from a team, look at the leadership first.

In his book “The Rise and Fall of Sony, Panasonic, and Sharp”, Brian Solis writes of the cultural undoing of Sony as the company switched leadership from  Akio Morita to Noboyuki Idei.  When I worked for Sony, I met both men personally.  And I can say that in the first year of Idei-san’s tenure as CEO the company changed dramatically.  A great organization was being dismantled, and I had a front-row seat for the beginning phases.

The company transitioned rapidly to a one that treated employees like family to one that treated them like resources.  Sony had never laid workers off until Idei took the reigns.  Regardless of what was written in corporate documents, respect for employees was no longer a key value.  I left the company within a year.

Five years later, I had the opportunity to tour my old factory.  It was depressing.  Out of 500 or so people in the building, I recognized only three.  It used to be a gleaming facility, now it looked like little more than a dusty warehouse with trash strewn everywhere.  Yet they were still producing product.  Instead of making $100 million in profit each year they were losing money.  It took seven years to build that team from nothing to greatness.  But it only took months to tear it down and leave it in ruins.

I’ll be surprised if Mary doesn’t leave her organization within three months.  In fact I’m doing what I can to help her find an exit plan.  People are an organization’s  most important asset.  Every day as a leader, you have the opportunity to show your respect – or lack thereof – for your team.  So ask yourself “How would I feel if someone did this to me?”  Don’t ask your team to do something you wouldn’t do yourself.

Have any of you ever felt disrespected by or worked for a bad manager?  How did you react?  What long-term impact did that “bad boss” have on you?




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