The man stops the falling dominoes. Concept of crisis management.

When Crisis Hits, Leadership Development Should Become a Priority

In Part I of this post, we looked at the first five signs that you need to invest in leadership development. These signs create stress within management. Not just conflict, which can often be good; STRESS

And stress has a way of flowing downward. Zig Ziglar used to call it Kicking the Dog Syndrome. If you are a dog lover, you may prefer using Kick the Cat Syndrome. Things are bad in the office and the manager takes it out on the employee. The employee goes home and takes it out on the dog. Psychologists call it “Displaced Aggression”.

Fix the Problem, Not the Symptom

Whatever you want to call it, it means things go bad and often quickly. Productivity suffers and you start to see some of the signs that there might be a leadership problem

The First Five Signs 

  1. High Turnover
  2. Lower Customer Satisfaction
  3. Employees That Don’t Seem to Get It
  4. Poor Communication
  5. A General Air of Discontent

The Next Five Signs

Trust Doesn’t Exist

The presence of trust is a door opener. Stephen Covey said that

Trust is the glue of life


The foundational principle upon which all relationships are built.

The absence of trust becomes a barrier to effective open communication. It keeps people from working together well and being productive. In fact, when trust exists it’s been proven in multiple research studies that productivity AND PROFITABILITY increase substantially. One study found that the most trustworthy companies OUTPERFORMED the S&P 500 Index companies.

The lack of trust typically exists in two ways. You don’t trust them and they don’t trust you. Undoubtedly, these two are tied together.  Yet unlike the chicken and the egg question, it’s quite clear which of these comes first. Like a landslide, it erodes from the top and flows down. When you don’t trust them, they know it. And once they know it, they also know that they can’t trust you.

The erosion or non-existence of trust is a major indicator for leadership development.

Managers Spend More Time in Their Office Than Out of It

manager stays in office playing with toy instead of meeting employees

In his book In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters talks about a concept called MBWA – Management By Wandering Around. The idea, backed by what he observed in top performing companies, is to get out of your office and be where the work is getting done. If you are doing that you have opportunities to be one-on-one with the people who are making things happen. 

This is not an excuse to look over the shoulders and micromanage them. It’s the chance to care and know more about the people who make you a leader to begin with. 

Leaders who “don’t have the time” to get away from their desk send a message to their employees – that they just don’t care. 

There is a Carrot or Stick Mindset

carrot and stick metaphor

If you are one of the few who is unfamiliar with the Carrot and Stick metaphor, it works like this. The driver of a horse-drawn cart wants the cart to move forward. In order to do that he has to somehow get the horse to move. He figures he can do that in one of two ways.

He can dangle a carrot in front of the horses face. The horse will attempt to move towards the carrot in order to get it and the cart will consequently move forward.

He can beat the horse with a stick. Hitting the horse on the rear with a stick wants to make the horse move away from the reach of the stick. Since they are attached to the cart everything moves forward.

The problem with either approach is that it is effective only in the short term.

If you use the carrot, then after a while the horse gets frustrated that they can’t seem to reach the carrot and give up. If you let the horse get the carrot as a reward, they eventually fill up and the carrot is no longer a motivator. 

If you use the stick eventually the animal gets used to the pain and learns to live with it. The stick now is no longer a motivator. You either have to use a stronger negative motivator or change tactics.

The biggest problem with the entire approach is that it assumes the subject is so dumb that an extrinsic motivator is all they need to be productive. 

Fear Rules the Roost

This is a tricky one! You know why? Because realistically if you ask any leader they would not admit to using fear as a method of command and control. Usually because they don’t realize they do. But you see the signs everywhere.

  • The leader who seems to have a Jekyll and Hyde personality. One minute they are kind and the next they are a raging bull. You never know what to expect. 
  • They like to measure everything. Every facet of work has to have a metric of some sort. Measurement is the only meaning.
  • Employees are constantly walking on eggshells.
  • Blame is assigned. Finding fault is more important than fixing the problem.
  • Truth is a casualty. No one wants to tell the truth because the messenger often gets killed for the message.

Fear-based leaders have two consistent characteristics. One is they thrive in dysfunction and, in fact, will manufacture it constantly. The other is that they are typically short-term leaders.

You Don’t Think Any of This Applies to You

It’s a strange phenomenon that the leaders who most need to work on developing their leadership skills will look at this list and not see a single situation that applies to them. Everything is just fine.

They will go down the items like a checklist and cross them off.

  1. Yeah, our turnover is at 25% but that’s just the nature of our industry. 
  2. We just need to market our product better and customer satisfaction will improve.
  3. Hire some people who are smart and work hard. That’ll fix it
  4. Employees just need to listen better
  5. These people I’m stuck with are just a bunch of whiners
  6. They don’t deserve my trust
  7. I need to be in my office so I am accessible
  8. You gotta motivate them somehow
  9. Sometimes putting the fear of God into them is a good thing
  10. This list is a waste of my time!

With poor leaders, it’s never their fault. Smart leaders recognize the signs and know that their path is one of constant growth. We, all of us, can always become a better leader than we are today.