by Kamran Rizvi
Kamran Rizvi came to Pakistan and pioneered the self-improvement and organisation development movement under the banner of KZR

Irresponsible leadership can be deadly for any business particularly when it results in talented people leaving your organization just when they are most needed.

Your organization hemorrhages internally particularly when the people who make positive contributions decide to leave, and those you would rather lose, hang around. Irresponsible leadership is toxic.

It is surprising to see senior managers in some organizations seeking approval from head office for minor expenses.

These are the same managers who are able to hire people, without knowing how to leverage their talent. Instead of getting the best out of people, they demotivate them. As a result, attrition goes up, costing their company millions!

The main cause of high turnover in organizations is poor leadership. It is often the assumptions such leaders have about people that are at the heart of the problem. They think that people:

  1. Are only motivated by money;
  2. Seek instant gratification;
  3. Look for short-term gains;
  4. Are calculating in their relationship with the employer;
  5. Cannot be trusted, and therefore need to be monitored closely.

Such beliefs sap the very spirit of leadership, which is actually meant to be ennobling and inspiring.

It is a leader’s primary responsibility to get the best out of people by making them feel understood and valued. But this needs to be done in a firm and in a fair way. Balancing courage and compassion is the real challenge.

How can you ensure that leadership at all levels in your organization is maximizing human potential? You can start by observing whether your leaders in all functions and departments are:

  1. creating a fair working environment where people respect each other and cooperate across functions to achieve common goals
  2. treating people in a transparent and impartial way
  3. giving their teams legitimate challenges
  4. recognizing and rewarding genuine contributions by people to the corporate mission
  5. encouraging dissenting voices and listening to ideas, no matter how crazy they may sound at first
  6. coaching and mentoring by adapting their style to meet the development needs of the different people in their team

Failure to do any or all of the above signal trouble ahead.

Imagine the astronomical financial burden to companies that employ say 5,000+ people and suffer from a staff turnover of over 30%! Who is held accountable for such internal hemorrhage?

Responsible leadership is the key to arresting unhealthy attrition. Those who lack the commitment and capability needed to lead only drive good people away. You cannot afford an unnecessarily high turnover over time. It is ridiculously expensive to keep hiring new people repeatedly and training them to be productive and successful employees.

Of course, people leave companies for a variety of reasons. It could be retirement, dramatically better career prospects elsewhere, or change in family circumstances. Such attrition is only natural. However, people leaving on account of unfair treatment or for not getting opportunities for learning and growth, or for not being recognized and rewarded for their contributions, is a matter that cannot be ignored. 

Insecure managers fail to provide desired leadership and have a knack of finding a way to keep their jobs. They spend most of their time preserving their position instead of focusing on achieving business goals and attending to the development needs of those who report to them. A reason for this could be that they lack the necessary coaching skills and/or the desire to groom successors. Your organization cannot grow and compete if you and your leaders fail to engage, delegate and empower people.

Managers must be held to account. This is tough, but necessary. Such managers are great at playing on your fears and habitually offer false assurances of future outcomes. You will often find them speaking the language you want to hear. They are skilled in ‘personal survival’ and brilliantly create smokescreens of efficiency around them.

Here are some red flags to look out for:

  1. The blame game. This allows attention to be diverted from them to others in their team in case of failure. It may seem to you that they are managing their people but in actuality they are creating work imbalances within their team. This causes unnecessary overtime for some and underutilization of others.
  2. The ‘telling’ style. Such managers find it a waste of their time listening and explaining the reasoning behind their decisions to their subordinates. They prefer to dictate rather than adopt a consultative style when appropriate.
  3. Emotional instability. Personal and professional matters are mixed up. They usually bring their personal problems to work. Their inability to manage their emotions while trying to deal with people causes immense frustrations and resentments in the team. 
  4. Urgency syndrome. Poor leaders are found jumping from one crisis to another. They fail to prioritize and plan and give clear directions to their team. They are mostly reactive and leave important things pending till matters come to a head.
  5. Fear of mistakes. A climate is created where making a mistake is unacceptable. Threats are commonplace. This slows down decision making severely and ‘upward delegation’ becomes a pattern. They fear being held accountable for wrong decisions, and this fear paralyzes their environment.
  6. Public humiliation of employees/s. Such leaders fail to reprimand in private and praise in public, which dampens morale severely.
  7. Exposing subordinates when they fail. They leave their people to fend for themselves when things go wrong. Espirit de corpse is eroded.
  8. Cultivating favorites. Such leaders reward ‘yes’ people. They encourage sycophancy and reward people who play to their tune. Dissent is shunned.
  9. Chameleon like behavior. This is an indication of low self-confidence. They have doubts about their own ability to lead and they will act subserviently in the presence of an authority figure. A confident and self-assured person acts consistently with everyone.

Responsible leadership is tough, but necessary. It helps create conditions in your organization that attract and utilize the best people.