Leadership Bloopers: One Simple Test to Avoid Becoming a Punchline

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Leadership Bloopers: One Simple Test to Avoid Becoming a Punchline

For some reason I’ve been running across a lot of “what not to do” stories about leaders lately. Since these always make me want to vent, I’m using this forum to do that and invite you to do so as well. Add your nomination below.

A successful executive in the packaged goods industry recently invited most of the leaders of a business unit on a sweet, company-sponsored trip. She did not invite the non-golfers from the team who are in leadership positions. Her reasoning? It was a “golfers’ trip.”

Let’s start with the obvious. No matter how the event is billed, if you invite some leaders and exclude others, that’s favoritism. If the excluded group shares some distinguishing characteristic—they all have blue eyes, for instance; or are all under six feet tall; or are all left-handed—that is discrimination. Conjure up whatever rationalization you want (“Blue-eyed people hate the dog track!”), it’s bad news.

The leader’s perception of what she was doing does not matter as much as the perception of those affected. Do they see it as a slight? How does that affect the work environment?

Even people who don’t want to spend a half-day hitting a little ball with a stick will see the favoritism in this story. The solution: a team event (and that’s what this outing was; the company even paid for it) should be available for the entire team.

Suppose you’re planning something that, while it doesn’t rise to this level of cluelessness, sparks some doubt. You’re wondering whether your choice of a meeting place or theme for a conference or musical introduction to your next speech really is as benign as you first thought. Here’s a test you can run. Imagine that the facts are in the hands of a newspaper reporter. Could the reporter write a story that you’d rather not see published? Can you write the headline yourself?

New Job Requirement: A Decent Handicap

 No Seat at the Clubhouse, No Seat in the Boardroom

CEO’s Message to Non-Golfers: “You can drive my cart.”

And so on.

Call it the front-page test. My mother used to say that if you’re doing something you wouldn’t want on the front page of the newspaper, you’d better think twice.

Do you forward email jokes? Would you want everyone to see them?

Do you gossip or allow others to gossip in your presence? Many leaders know they shouldn’t, yet condone it by their silence, which can be worse for the team.

What are your nominations for this Bloopers category?

Ed Ruggero is the creator and facilitator of The Gettysburg Leadership Experience, in which participants visit the site of the Civil War battle to learn how to better lead modern organizations.