I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately given some of the trends I’ve seen unfold on the corporate front over the last few years.  Let me start out by saying that I have always been an advocate of having a corporate career.  I worked in corporate for over 25 years and for most of those years I felt it was the right place for me. Since then, a lot of things have occurred in the corporate arena that have made me ask whether I would feel the same about embarking on a corporate career today if I were in my 20′s or 30′s. To be totally honest, my enthusiasm to start a corporate career today would be tepid at best. 

For me, there are 4 strong trends that point to why corporations today are at risk of attracting only mediocre talent in the 21st Century.  I will be exploring each of the 4 reasons in separate blogs over the next few days.  Let’s look at Trend #1 now. 

  1. Poor Leadership:  Having both worked in corporate and having interacted with countless corporate executives, I have seen first hand how corporations have lowered their expectations in identifying and retaining outstanding leaders to run their business units and their companies.  Most corporations pay huge sums of money to consultants to help them identify and come up with methodologies or matrices on how to identify their top performers or “High Potential or HIPOs” as they are called.  It’s nice to be able to show something to their Board of Directors or to the outside world demonstrating that they are focused on tapping the very best performers for their leadership pipeline. But when you peek behind the curtain the reality is very different as most corporate employees can attest.  I’m sure most leadership consultants will attest to that as well as they see how their customized methodologies & frameworks are rarely utilized by their corporate clients.

 The reality is that most organizations promote people to positions of leadership that simply are not qualified to be in  those        positions.  Most of the time, there is no clear, consistent criteria applied to identifying people that demonstrate top leadership qualities.  In my experience I have seen the opposite: people promoted to leadership positions for all the wrong reasons.  Here are the top 4:

  1. The person is very good at the particular work they do (e.g. good at sales, good in finance, good tech person) but has never shown any ability to lead the people that do that particular work .
  2. The person’s boss is not a particularly effective leader himself and therefore makes an equally ineffective promotional decision.
  3. The person has been in one position for a very long time and the next step is a manager position. The person is pushing his or her boss for a promotion.  The person can usually point out other employees in similar situations who have been promoted.  Again, because no consistent criteria is used to identify solid leadership potential, the person usually succeeds in getting the promotion.  The corporation rolled the leadership dice once again and only time will tell whether that person was qualified to be in a leadership position.
  4. The person’s boss is “encouraged” to promote this person to a leadership position by those in higher positions in the corporate chain.  I’ve seen this happen a lot and it’s so bad for morale. This is where the boss being pressured to do this must take a firm stand with his or her superior. It only needs to happen once. 

Let me give an example here. Over the years as a boss myself, I was put in that very situation several times by different bosses.  My response each and every time was the same and I always took very hard line.  This was always my response: “You put me in this position because you trusted my ability to run my team which includes the selection of qualified individuals for promotional consideration.  If I allow you do the selection for me, I will lose the trust of my team to make decisions and it shows a lack of trust on your part for me to make the decision.  If you truly want me to do this,  I will go ahead and do it but you must know that I will begin to look for another job immediately.  Not having your trust nor the trust of my team in making decisions makes it very difficult for me to lead and I have no alternative but to remove myself from the process. ”  This has worked every time and the “request” was never made again.

      5.  The person’s boss is ineffective and relies heavily on that person to run the team.  The person is tired of doing this without recognition and wants a promotion.  The boss, fearful that the person will leave, relents and promotes him or her. I’ve seen this happen too often as well.  This clearly shows that the organization has no clue about the effectiveness of it’s current leaders if an ineffective boss has been allowed to stay in a position of leadership for so long.  If the person asking for the promotion is a good leader, then that will be good for the team. If not, it’s another example of bad leadership decisions made.  Rolling the dice again.

The end result of this list above is that it sends a bad  message to employees and they begin to lose trust in their bosses and in their leaders.  After all, if any or all of the conditions listed above are allowed to happen on such a critical component as leadership, what other similar things are taking place in the organization?  People begin to get disillusioned especially those that can truly be effective leaders who are not being identified or given the chance to prove themselves.  With time, the true High Performers either leave the organization or just give up and no longer try to do their best work. 

I see the latter happening a lot in corporations today and it’s troubling to me. But it’s understandable, right?  Why should someone continue to do their very best when they don’t get recognized for it or are overlooked for a position they are qualified and it’s given to someone who simply doesn’t deserve it?  Whether the high performer leaves, or he or she stops giving their best, the organization loses because they are not getting top performance out of their employees.  Mediocrity sets is and so does indifference.  Bad combination to have in a global, competitive 21st Century marketplace. 

Do you see any of these 5 reasons play out in your organization?  What do you think about them?

Coming Up: Trend #2  – “Clinging to Outdated Principles“.