Leadership – Lost Along the Way

All those leadership books I ever read speak about the negative effects of having a strong ego while in a leadership position and the importance of building a strong capable team for succession. I often wonder if actual leaders have ever read these books, because so many of them focus on the “I”, “me”, “self” and “my”. Leaders feed their egos with accomplishments, achievements and the failure of others. When the failure falls squarely in our yard, we are without words.

An effective leader should start with being a genuinely good person with sincere goals and aspirations and all else will fall into place. I think in the business world, they call this quality having good business ethics? As soon as we start to think we can short circuit the process to achieve quick success, the success is usually not sustainable and will come crashing down.

There are a number of factors that impact a newly appointed company President or CEO. They have to serve a range of stakeholders from staff, to suppliers, shareholders, customers to board members. Their challenge is balancing all these interests but at the same time ensuring the core values are being practised.

Sometimes, the pressure to deliver maximum profits with minimal resources is too much and knees start shaking and values start getting compromised one at a time. You think you no longer have the luxury of time to work with an Executive on achieving deliverables; instead you use shame and embarrassment to propel action with the risk of eroding the relationship. Bit by bit, no one Executive wants to be the weekly shame recipient so a blame game, and a passing the buck game develop. Not long after, a highly collaborative culture marked by mutual respect has turned to petty blame passing culture where everyone keeps every piece of documentation since trust no longer exists.

One of our local Trinidadian politicians once said “Politics has a morality of its own”. I sometimes wonder if this holds true for company leaders as well.

During this financial crisis, strong leadership is critical to keep the people focused and motivated against all odds. Now is not the time to crumble under the pressure of a falling share price, as employees need a steady hand with a clear focus. Now is not the time to deny employees from attending free training saying that attendance means time lost productivity and money wasted. Penny wise and pound foolish decisions will mark the spot for the inexperienced leaders who want to be everything to the wrong people.

Leaders must demonstrate a strong concern for their people during this time not by showering gifts, but through open sincere communication, inexpensive tokens of appreciation, recognition of hard work using the intranet, increased flexibility and other such non cash ways. People should not be taken advantage of by their employers during this time of recruitment and salary freezes.

Too often, a lack of humility, hasty decision making, a dismissive attitude and an intimidating manner serve to define new leaders. These leaders must find themselves back to themselves and re-start the game by revisiting their core values.

Leaders must be confident in who they are, be confident in what they know and in what they don’t know and be willing to learn and develop others and let the technocrats do what they do best, which is their own jobs.

Denise Ali

Robust Performance Management Systems

A performance management system is only as good as the people who use it. The system design can certainly shape and reinforce the desired behaviours while discouraging the poor work behaviours with minimal subjectivity but essentially the extent to which it delivers on its design is dependent on the users of the system. 

All the training, coaching, seminars, workshops, one to one assistance still yield managers crafting appraisals for employees that are not truly reflective of performance but are designed to meet the minimum target to receive a bonus. It seems that managers would rather alter appraisal scores and compromise the integrity of the system and all the subsequent triggers than to have an honest discussion with an employee about performance challenges.  

This is unfair to the employee who is probably none the wiser about the performance problems and this is unfair to the actual high performing candidates who now have to share their bonus pool with people who did not deserve it all due to the lack of courage by few managers. The said employee may not have the good fortune of having a developmental plan designed just for them to help them out of their performance slump. 

Senior Management then asks to see the distribution of performance scores across the company. When the results are skewed, everyone looks like a star but the overall company performance is poor. Then we all wonder about the disconnect. 

We suggest sanctions for the managers and holding them accountable for producing proof of high performance. HR must not be tolerant of poor appraisers. We must police the appraisers to ensure the integrity of the system. “Police” may be a strong word, but we have to actively support the managers all throughout the year to ensure they provide all the performance feedback necessary for optimum performance.  

As a Caribbean People, we must be comfortable with having difficult performance discussions with employees even if they are our friends or family outside of work. Historically, our Caribbean societies are close knit where our family, extended family, and friends are all interconnected and these relationships make it even more so challenging to have difficult performance talks. 

We must use tact, sincerity and facts to help these conversations along where we communicate the truth in manner that retains the relationship. 

Denise Ali