William R Mott, Ph.D. William R. Mott, Ph.D.Consultant Author Speaker



Delivering Genuine Leadership

Published in Board Development, Board Evaluation, Board Responsibilities, Board/Executive Director Relationship, Boards and Teamwork, Independent Schools, News, Nonprofit CEOs, Nonprofit Leadership, Nonprofit organizations, School Leadership

Lessons in Leadership . . .

What Does Genuine Leadership Look Like?

This is the question everyone wants answered and the question for which everyone has an answer. In my book, Super Boards, I describe how a definition of leadership reflects my philosophy: Supportive – Encouraging – Inspiring. When I think of genuine leaders, it is people like this that I believe have a grasp of what leadership really means. Individuals who possess these traits, characteristics, insights, and instincts are in the best position to lead. Leadership is not necessarily related to one’s title or position in the school or nonprofit organization. However, those IN positions of leadership should possess these qualities. In a recent conversation with someone who works at a large nonprofit organization, he was sharing a story about a colleague who was fired on a recent Friday – apparently the preferred date for this activity. He was very upset believing strongly that the dismissal was completely unfair and inappropriate.

Certainly we can all think of circumstances in which an abrupt termination is the right course. These events are emotional and occasionally lead to unpleasant consequences. But it is equally true such terminations might have been avoided. Was it the expedient choice or the right choice? While I wanted to be sympathetic to this individual, I also wanted to learn more about why this person was fired and the circumstances that resulted in this action being taken. I knew the circumstances would provide me with useful lessons in leadership. I had written about leadership in Super Boards, and was very interested in how this story might confirm my strong beliefs about what constitutes effective leadership.

Here were the circumstances. In the process of carrying out a specific task a mistake was made and instead of the group (a consulting firm) who was responsible actually taking responsibility, someone else was “thrown under the bus” and made the scapegoat. This unfortunate action led to the person being terminated. It is clear that my friend should have checked the work of the consulting firm but assumed they would actually do the work they were assigned to do. His mistake is that he did not go back and “double check” their work. That was an important error. The supervisor believed an example needed to be made and terminated the staff member. Prior to this incident the staff member had never even been criticized, much less reprimanded.

What are the five leadership lessons that can be learned?

1. The supervisor and the staff member did not have a strong relationship. A better understanding between the two might well have lead to a different outcome. Listening and researching what actually happened is the role of the supervisor.

2. Did the supervisor take the easy way out? Possibly. He might well have been displaying a rush to judgment before all the facts were known. In light of the termination, it might well have been prudent to try and discover what actually happened. A staff member who has never been reprimanded should have been given a little more consideration.

3. The consulting firm should have admitted their role. Integrity and accepting responsibility when mistakes are made go a lot further than pointing fingers – a tactic all too often used to deflect what really happened. The consulting firm would have gotten much more respect had they owned up to their mistake.

4. Was there an opportunity to make this what is some times referred to as a “teachable moment?” Many times we fail to recognize that there really might be something to be gained by looking at these issues and seeing this as one of those defining moments when something meaningful can be learned should something similar surface again.

5. Should this supervisor be in a position of leading others?” Leaders who fail to listen are among the worst. The easy, sometimes the political, decision is the one that appears to be the best. However, a termination is a serious matter that deserves a look at all sides of the issue. The leader’s decision was questionable at best and a gross disservice to the staff member at worst.

Certainly reasonable people can disagree. However, there were several other alternatives instead of termination. The same may well be true with the governing board and the organization’s CEO. Often this “grass is greener” mentality serves neither the nonprofit organization nor the individual well. Did the supervisor (or board) consider these options or was there more interest in making a black and white decision when there was a lot of gray that should have been taken into consideration? You decide.

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