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Don't Be A Clueless Leader!

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By Steve Moran

I originally titled this article “Don’t be a Stupid Leader”, but it was too harsh and inaccurate.  

This is one of those . . . the facts have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty, articles. I also know the title is harsh, but this story, this article needs a shocking title because what is happening is obscene.  

There is a reader who, from time to time, feeds me interesting stories that inspired this article. This person works for a modest sized senior living organization that is producing mediocre-to-terrible results. The reader is convinced the reason for the poor-to-terrible results is because the top leadership is well meaning, but arrogant (meaning they can’t see their own flaws, as opposed to stuck-up) and clueless . . . a toxic combination.

I am convinced this person is right because I know this person to be an incredibly successful leader who is effectively handcuffed to the organization because of his compensation package . . . though if I were to bet money, I doubt this person will be there a year from now.  

Because of the nature of the organization and the reader's relationship to the organization, I would never disclose the organization, whether it is a for-profit or not-for-profit, their location, the types of care they provide or even the gender of my reader. In setting the stage, I do believe that at some point in the next few years, this organization will hit the wall and implode in a very public way unless one of two things happens:

  1. Top leadership gets a clue,

  2. Top leadership is replaced.

I think both are extremely unlikely.

One more thing . . . because I have had this happen before . . . if you are thinking of calling me up and asking if I am writing about your organization I will answer truthfully, but I am 99.99999999% convinced the leaders of this organization, even if they are readers would not even think to call me and ask that question. So I can confidently say . . . if you are wondering . . . IT IS NOT YOU!

The Impact

I started this article describing what is happening to this organization as obscene and I think it is a fair characterization. Here's why:  

  • As this organization continues to decline they will waste money on ineffective initiatives rather than investing in things that will benefit families and residents

  • Residents will end up being poorly served

  • Family members will be badly served

  • Team members will be badly served

  • They will make senior living look bad

Lessons

I want to talk for just a few moments about why this is happening because it may be insightful for others. Here is what makes them clueless:

  1. They Don’t Listen to Their Own People -- My reader is not the only really good, really smart person in the organization. This person and others actually know what it takes to make the organization powerful, effective and profitable. The problem is those ideas don’t fit what top leadership wants, so they don’t even listen.

  1. They Don’t Listen to Their Consultants -- They have actually brought in consultants to help them figure out what needs to change, but they only listen to the consultants who tell them that nothing needs to change and ignore the rest.

  1. They Get Bogged Down in the Weeds -- Hard to do this one without a practical example, but I will use an example from a failed company. There was company that built a new senior living community and it was way over budget so they decided they could eliminate 2 elevators since they did have a ramp to get to the second floor where the dining room was.   

    Here is the problem, they never took the time to realize that in this location over much of the summer it could get well over 100 degrees and that asking residents to make the hike to the ramp was a recipe for disaster. All they could see was that they could save hundreds of thousands of dollars by eliminating elevators.

  1. They Hire People Who Tell Them What They Want to Hear -- While it is critically important to hire team members who are are philosophically on the same page with you, it is equally critical that you hire really right people who are willing to say, “Hey wait a minute”  or “I think that won’t work” or “How about we try this instead”.  

The saddest part of this whole hairball is that I bet the leaders think they are doing a great job and that they are loved by their people when nothing could be further from the truth.

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