Every so often, someone acts out in a way that is so totally destructive and outrageous that you know it’s nothing short of reckless. Like a child flailing themselves against the tile of a supermarket floor in tantrum, reckless leaders push well beyond the bounds of common sense, decency and civility. They seem totally clueless about the impact of their behaviors.
A reckless leader’s outbursts are certain to have consequences — both intended and otherwise. When leaders throw civility and decency to the wind, the results are always corrosive and damaging to the organization. In a world where the integrity and perception of your brand is paramount, reckless leadership creates huge financial risk for your brand and your organization.
If you’re wondering how reckless leadership could hurt your pocketbook and your brand read on. Douglas A. McIntyre writing for 24/7 Wall Street identified nine well known and generally well regarded firms with the most damaged brands. Companies such as J.C. Penney, Apple, Groupon, Boeing and others made the list in one of two ways: by aggressively promoting a product or a business strategy and failing badly, or being involved in a corporate or personal scandal.
And it’s not just major corporations or brands. Small organizations are at risk as well. In late October the Washington Post ran an investigative report describing how a large number of not-for-profit organizations have quietly lost millions of dollars through significant diversion of their assets — fraudulent financial transactions, embezzlement or other criminal means.
According to the Washington Post, the “diversions drained hundreds of millions of dollars from institutions that are underwritten by public donations and government funds.” Ranking Congressional leaders have announced they will launch investigations into the matter. Demoralizing doesn’t begin to capture the impact. So, how else does dysfunction and reckless leadership surface in organizations?
Dysfunction 1 –Believing your solution is the only solution. Talented leaders are adept at listening to input and ideas from direct reports and colleagues well before settling on a path forward. The Reckless Leader is more prone to decide they know exactly what to do from the start and are likely to demean the ideas of others along the way.
Dysfunction 2 – Publicly demeaning people or berating their ideas. I’m not talking about engaging in honest and open exploration of ideas here. I’m talking about the business equivalent of bullying. Recent published profiles of Jeff Bezos, Chief Executive Officer at Amazon paint a disturbing portrait of a highly adversarial culture where positive feedback from superiors is rare and promotions even rarer. While some suggest intensity is a trait commonly found in technology leaders, (think Steve Jobs at Apple) some of Amazon’s practices seem ready-made for the a path to reckless leadership. Being the Queen of Mean creates real hazards. Act accordingly.
Dysfunction 3 – Using e-mail to deliver your communications. (see Dysfunction 2). No, e-mails don’t count as communication — especially when they become personally demeaning tirades — aimed at the recipient. Leaders need good intelligence — ground truth — to make decisions and respond to developing problems. Reckless leaders have great difficulty understanding why no one wants to work for them. Having strong and healthy relationships with your teams is essential to really understanding the current workings of your organization. Anything less is truly less.
Dysfunction 4 – Failure to share the blame and give credit where its due. Reckless leaders are distinctive for their singular practice of blaming others for the failures and shortcoming within the organization. Oftentimes these blame assessments are one-dimensional views of events in which the reckless leader often is complicit. People afraid to admit they share part of the responsibility for organizational failure create a culture where blaming others becomes the default whenever something goes wrong. Beyond destroying accountability, how likely are you to take a risk essential to success or a breakthrough development? What’s that sound? Oh, it’s innovation dying.
Dysfunction 5 – When process becomes more important than people. Having a plan is not the same as having a working plan. Demanding adherence to stale procedures, outdated protocols and unworkable plans isn’t leadership, it’s organizational suicide. For reckless leaders, the unwillingness to recognize rapidly shifting conditions or changing circumstances arising in the marketplace oftentimes results in overlooking the urgency and value of re-direction or redeployment of resources. When that happens reckless leaders will revert to some variety of dysfunctional tactics all over again.
The circle of dysfunction and reckless leadership remains unbroken. That’s a sad reality for many organizations. How will you make sure it’s not yours?