I grew up in an orchard and as beautiful as the fruit blossoms on the trees looked and smelled, nothing smelled quite as nasty as rotten spoiled fruit. The truthfulness of the statement, “A bad apple can spoil the whole bunch” was on display during harvest season. You could walk by a bin of apples or pears and even when the ones on top looked ok, if there was a spoiled piece of fruit in the bin you could smell it. Most of the times you could also pick up on the other signs, such as fruit-flies swarming about and an ooze leaking from the bottom of the bin. If you reached in to remove the rotten fruit you’d quickly find mushy ones all around it.
Here’s the truth: A spoiled piece of fruit NEVER changed the fruit around it to a greater state of freshness.
Even though the spoiled ones were always out numbered at the start by the fresh fruit the bad rubs off on the good and eventually the whole bin is spoiled.
Today I spend less time in orchards and more time inside the walls of companies, but some of the lessons apply. Spoiled anything smells bad. It has an effect on the things surrounding it. If you have spoiled or rotten (or spoiled rotten!) leadership inside your company it will ruin your harvest.
What are some of the signs of rotten leadership?
Nobody speaks up at meetings
Have you ever been in a meeting where nobody seems connected or alive? A meeting where if they are listening, they are just barely listening? When asked a question, they give minimal responses or just agree with the leader?
That’s the smell of a rotten leader.
The causes can be diverse, but it’s a sure sign that the leader is well on the way to being a spoiled piece of fruit. You know how fruit goes soft just before it gets really nasty? That’s what is happening.
The causes could be:
The leader has been dismissive of feedback in the past.
The leader is in love with the sound of their own voice and opinion.
The leader breaks confidences.
The leader is just lazy and unfocused so nobody cares what happens at this meeting because frankly nothing ever happens out of these meetings!
Everybody leaves the office at a predictable time each day.
That could be early, right at five, or staying late. The issue is it’s predictable.
That’s the ooze of a rotten-leader. It just is showing itself in your people oozing out of the building.
The causes could be:
Everyone stays late because they need to “prove they are dedicated!”
Everyone sneaks out early because there is no discipline.
Everyone leaves at five because, “Why would I give one more minute of my life to this place?”
Now, don’t jump to conclusions here. I didn’t say that anyone who leaves at a predictable time is a sign of a spoiled leader. I said, when everyone leaves at a predictable time. Sometimes a person leaves at a set time because of the kids or another obligation, BUT if everyone is on a set cycle, it usually means that they are not energized by their work. They never get “caught up” in the moment at work and stay much later than they planned or cut out early because they have a family engagement (which we should encourage them to do once in awhile!) because they fear being labeled by the leader.
Trust me. As a leadership and sales development consultant, I get the chance to see a lot of companies and their employees at quitting time. You can feel and smell the difference if the leader is rotten.
The Size of the Policy Book
If you have a gigantic policy book you have some rotten leaders.
The causes could be:
They write a lot of policies because it’s easier than actually talking to their people.
They write a lot of policies because it gives them a sense of power and control.
They write a lot of policies because they don’t believe in their people.
They write a lot of policies because they’ve sat next to other rotten leaders and they are starting to act, look and smell like them.
They write a lot of policies because…well because…what else would they be doing?
Great leaders lead by setting great standards. I remember my folks saying, “The Whistman family doesn’t do that.” We understood the standard. The policy wasn’t needed.
If you are a leader I encourage you to use this article to give yourself a bit of a squeeze, maybe a sniff! Are you a little soft? Are you starting to stink? If so, take action.
Another curious thing I noticed in the orchard. Fruit always started to smell extra sweet, right before it turned nasty. If you feel things are great, that you are an extraordinary leader, make sure you aren’t overconfident. Overconfidence turns to apathy, turns to nasty.
Let’s not end on a rotten note.
A great leader or one that is positioned to blossom embodies these three things:
They are Authentic.
They are Accountable.
They are Active.
If you have experienced these signs of rottenness click the thumbs up at the top of this article and let me know you were here. Feel free to add your own signs of rotten in the comments.
Oh, and if you are the leader of rotten leaders…
This post was originally published on LinkedIn. Join the conversation HERE.