The People Problem

Much has been written about good and bad leadership and, specifically, how good leaders build and promote thriving organizations, while bad leaders quickly kill any progress. I recently had an experience with bad leadership (really bad leadership!) and saw firsthand how bad leadership was made worse by the organization’s own people – the very assets that organizations hold dear.

While poor leadership is one thing – and there are ways to manage this issue – the organization’s assets – its people – can sometimes do more damage to the organization than its inept leaders.

In an organization where I was recently involved, here is what I observed about its people:

  1. Complacency. Those that are complacent don’t care about what happens to the organization. They believe their life is good and can’t see outside their own shells to notice that the organization is struggling. They don’t care to make a positive difference in the organization – they are content to keep the wheels turning just as they are and just for themselves.
  2. Self Interest. Like the complacent, those with self-interests will never speak up on behalf of the entire organization. These people only care about themselves. They will sit on the sidelines instead of speaking up, or they may even side with the bad leader if it serves their interest. Those that work for their self-interest are not individuals in whom one could place any trust for the benefit of the entire organization.
  3. Fear. Those afraid of “rocking the boat” are another problem in the organization. For whatever reason – perhaps it’s fear of change or fear of losing their jobs – those that fear speaking up may stand behind someone who will speak for them and they don’t particularly care where they’re standing. However, when it’s their turn to speak, they never will. These people grumble, but not when it matters or to whom it matters.
  4. Incompetence. Sadly, there are incompetent people in any organization (starting from the leader and downward). The incompetent will try to sound smart, but one can easily see through their veils. Sadly, a lot of people can be duped by an incompetent leader’s BS.
  5. Talker. The long-winded gas bags take up too much time, and even if they may say something useful in the end, because they talk so long, people lose interest in listening to them. Gasbags need to learn to get to a meaningful point quickly if they expect to be taken seriously.
  6. Inability to Walk the Talk. Those that spout off a myriad of things that need to be fixed in the organization but when it comes time to fulfill their promises and get things done, they do not follow-through. Eventually, others realize that these people are full of hot air and can’t be relied upon for any positive change in the organization.

The bottom line is that while people are necessary for an efficient organization, the type of people that make up an organization is as important as the type of leaders in the organization. Quality over quantity cannot be over stressed.

What I learned from my experience in this particular organization is that it is impossible for one person to make a change. One person can certainly initiate change, but if the people of the organization don’t support the change, there is nothing to be done.

The bottom line is that organizations not only need exceptional leaders for organizational success, but the organization’s people are just as important. Without the right mix of leadership and culture, organizational progress can be impossible.