August 12, 2003      



Hello, and welcome to the fourth issue of our Trust and Leadership newsletter and the third installment in our "Leadership Dim Sum" series.

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-Rob and Anne-


The authors

The Trusted Leader

Previous Issues:

Surviving the Porcupine

How Intimate is Your Inner Circle?

It will take courage to restore investors' faith

Next month's serving of Dim Sum: A Grudge From the Past


What do you do about someone who's simply not right for the job? What if, in your heart of hearts, you really don’t have a lot of faith in, say, your CFO? You just know from experience that he’s missed the boat a number of times. But it’s not purely your call. You suspect that a couple of your colleagues on the leadership team feel the same way. But the CEO seems OK with the guy. And his heart is in the right place.

Things to think about: What can you do about mediocrity at the top? Should you share your concerns?

If you’re a member of the inner circle, you have a responsibility to your organization to air your concerns. The question is how. This is a tough one, because there are risks attendant with being a “whistle blower” or the accuser. It's even more complicated in this case, because you’re not revealing a specific wrongdoing.

You should probably move forward on the assumption that the person in question is being supported in their job, and that the CEO is indeed aware of their limitations, though he or she may not show it. And the noble course of action is to try to help the person succeed. (Not by doing their work for them; steer clear of that can of worms. But by providing information in a way you feel they best receive it, and by prompting questions, or concerns, that you feel they may have, but may not be able to articulate.)

Depending upon your role, and your relationship with the CEO, you could go as far as to talk with him about your concerns, trying not to “dis” the individual in your conversation. There’s nothing wrong with asking the CEO, around the time of a particular event, whether everything is really being handled in the right way.

In fact, however, it’s probably better to do so when the evidence of under-performance is closer to hand. Just remember, you walk a fine line in a case like this. You leave yourself open to question about your motives for questioning the other person’s ability. Rob’s father used to say, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

We know of a man who was brought into an organization as a regional head of human resources. (The company had three regional heads.) One of the other HR directors felt strongly that his appointment was a bad idea — that he was not suited to the job. She made no effort to hide her feelings; she didn’t try to help him succeed. She decided, essentially, that he was a goner from day one, and she treated him as such.

Truth was, the guy was a bad hire. He wasn’t happy in his work, and his skills were not a good fit for the company. But because she acted as judge, jury, and executioner, her colleagues and direct reports turned on her when he left, less than a year later. He really shouldn’t have been brought in to begin with. But she was blamed in part for his failure because other people in the organization felt she’d “set him up to fail.”

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How about you? Have you ever expressed your reservations about someone's job performance to your company's leadership? How did it go? Let us know.


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