I write and speak a lot about leadership being hard work. Many leaders don’t appreciate this until the day they face a really tough situation and realize there is no easy way out.
Case in point: I had a conversation with a leader who was 18 months into her role as CEO of her company. She had settled in fairly well, but was having trouble working with the Chief Information Officer, a leader who was a source of concern.
There was considerable noise in the company about the CIO’s dreadful leadership style. The complaints to HR were frequent. The previous CEO chose to ignore the situation but my client was not a leader to continue putting off an important issue like this.
She had several frank conversations with the CIO about his behavior and her expectations. Unfortunately, nothing got through to this guy. He not only failed to modify his behavior one iota, in fact, his behaviour became worse. “It’s as if he was trying to prove a point in terms of how valuable he thought he was to the company” she said.
She eventually came to the conclusion that the CIO had to go. The only question remaining was when. I would have validated her decision, knowing from my own leadership experiences that it’s critical to exit a bad leader from your organization. They have a way of just undermining your culture and what you are trying to get done.
However in this case, things were not as clear cut for my client. The CIO was leading a large transformation project that was at a critical stage of implementation. If she exited him immediately, it would not only put the project at risk, but the company’s credibility would be severely damaged with customers and other key stakeholders. She needed more time and decided to wait.
She did so, knowing that by waiting, and leaving this toxic leader in his place, her reputation would take a severe hit inside the company. She would be seen as endorsing his bad behavior simply by not doing anything about it. That bothered her personally, but she recognized that at the end of the day, this wasn’t about her reputation. It was about the reputation of the company. “I had to remain focused on the bigger picture and not let this become all about me” she said.
After six months, with the IT project well in hand, my client felt she could take action. The CIO’s behavior didn’t improve and she terminated him, much to the relief of many in the company.
As I reflect on her story, I can relate to the dilemma she faced. Leaders often find themselves in these kinds of challenging situations. However, not all of them would have the courage and maturity to lead even when it means taking a personal hit to one’s reputation.
Given the same circumstances, some leaders would have continued to ignore the situation entirely. Others would have seized the moment, using the opportunity to grab short-term accolades from employees. Few would have waited to act, making a sacrifice in the short term for longer term gain.
What would you have done in this situation?
This week’s gut check asks: do you have the courage to take a hit to your personal reputation?