Even when I am at a party I somehow find myself in conversation about leadership and the impact that it has on the success of a business. Last weekend was no exception.
I met an extremely interesting man who had a long and illustrious career in a global company for almost 30 years – let’s call him Bill to protect his anonymity.
A couple of months ago Bill was “sent home” because the new owners of the company decided that he “thought more of his staff than he did of the other directors.”
He related so many experiences of poor leadership that I found my mouth actually falling open with incredulity on at least two occasions.
One was about a long serving employee who had taken ill – seemingly a stroke – and whose medical insurance didn’t cover the treatment she needed. She couldn’t even access a hospital bed. As soon as he heard about this he went to the hospital and paid her medical bill. His only concern was to treat a valued and loyal employee with the respect and dignity she deserved.
When he called his own boss to tell him what was happening and what decision he had taken, his boss’s response was not only to be concerned about the cost, but also to question why he made such a decision without consulting his fellow directors and also any resulting liability for the company. He didn’t even ask about how his employee was.
Bill’s only was response was to hang up the phone and return to the bedside of his work colleague.
Although he smiles when he tell this story, the disbelief and the hurt are obvious. He simply shakes his head and looks down.
Having left the company a few months ago, he has since set up his own business and a large proportion of the workforce left with him, including, unsurprisingly, the member of staff who’s medical bill he paid and who subsequently made a full recovery. He has also decided to run an employee owned business, as he is adamant that this is just as much their business as his.
Over the past few days this conversation has left me thinking, yet again, about why so many people fail to understand that this kind of toxic leadership inevitably and invariably has a devastating impact on any business, large or small. This global firm has now lost some of its star employees and the risk of reputational damage is very high indeed.
And while Bill may not have wished that his boss were dead (he has far too much integrity to harbour such views), I know of many companies where this is exactly what their employees are feeling and thinking.
Doesn’t it make you wonder what values this company has, how productive people who feel like this about their leaders can possibly be and what they might be doing to overcome their sense of injustice?