A few months ago, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal titled “How Bosses Waste Their Employees’ Time.” The author, Robert I. Sutton, is a professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and the article is largely based on the research that Sutton and his colleague, Hayagreeva Rao, conducted on businesses.
The article highlights how poorly-conceived initiatives and off-hand comments by executives can often lead to new initiatives by employees in the organization, only to be stopped when the executive realizes what is going on. The basic premise of the research is that employees want to impress executives so much that they read any executive comments as gospel. In my experience, I have seen when an executive suggests an idea which then becomes a major effort that isn’t tied to a deeper corporate strategy.
Sometimes the executive’s comments aren’t fully understood by the employee and then a change of plan occurs, but the executive never acknowledges that the original idea was a poor one. Another issue, “paralysis by analysis,” is when an executive can’t decide which way to move forward and simply avoids making a decision altogether.
These situations have one thing in common—the executives have developed a culture where they are the center of attention and other employees are not empowered to make decisions or not allowed to offer differing opinions. For example, I once worked with a senior executive at a retail pharmacy chain who always complained about how busy he was. We did an analysis of the situation and found that he didn’t let his employees make decisions—and he liked it that way. He was the center of attention and everyone was required to worship him. While he was personally successful, the organization ultimately failed.
All of these issues are very consistent with ideas in the book “Why Smart Executives Fail” by author Sydney Finklestein, who is also a professor of management at the Tuck School at Business at Dartmouth. The question is, why do some executives behave this way and, more importantly, what can organizations do about it?
In general, if the executive likes to operate this way, there is very little that can be done to make changes, outside of getting rid of that executive. Sometimes the executive wants to make changes, but they believe that the rest of their team isn’t aligned with their objectives, or maybe that the team isn’t good at their jobs.
To help combat these issues, Cerebyte offers many transformational leadership programs that are designed to help:
1) Build a strong, compelling purpose for the organization
2) Put employees in a position to succeed
3) Let employees do their job and achieve a high degree of purpose
Advances in the neuroscience of learning fuel programs that Cerebyte offers and can help senior executives and employees become more successful in their jobs.
Are your employees always looking to impress their bosses without putting any thought into their work or are you creating an organization whose employees are empowered and efficient?