Danger: Leadership Laceration (Repost)

July 31, 2013 — Leave a comment

Leadership Laceration is a common disorder found when people complain about the leadership that has been placed over them. This is not only harmful to the leader, but it can be fatal for the group. The symptoms can be difficult to detect and are often mistaken for benign interactions. Those without a strong immune system can easily become victims, often unable to differentiate antagonism from healthy criticism. This condition is highly contagious and anyone found to have the symptoms should be quarantined right away…

All kidding aside, those individuals who choose to verbally lacerate leadership can be a serious threat to organizational alignment and morale.  Because neither employees nor organizations are immune to employees with the propensity to lacerate leadership, you will need to be aware of the signs, symptoms and impact of leadership laceration.

It is your job, as an organizational leader, to create an environment where brilliant people of all backgrounds, personality types, and work styles thrive. Companies where smart people with diverse backgrounds and work-styles can succeed have significant advantages over those that don’t. However, sometimes really smart employees develop agendas other than doing what is in the best interest of the company. Rather than identifying weaknesses, so they can be overcome, these employees look for faults in leadership to build their case. The smarter the employee, the more destructive this type of behavior can be. Don’t underestimate the fact that it takes a really smart person to seriously lacerate leadership – otherwise, nobody listens.

It can be very difficult to amend the behavior of these smart, but destructive, employees. Once an individual takes a public stance, the social pressure to be consistent is enormous. If he tells his closest colleagues that the CEO is an incompetent, reversing that position will cost him a great amount of credibility the next time he slashes away at the leadership team. Most people are not willing to take the credibility hit.

Colleagues of a Lacerator often recognize the issues and try to resist catching the negativism. However, this disorder is contagious and can severely impair a company. A Lacerator will eventually infiltrate your employees, customers, and can even affect your product or service quality.  A Leadership Lacerator can slash away at the energy of your organization and wound the business atmosphere, making it difficult, if not impossible, to lead effectively.

The toxicity of this disorder is insidious, and can drag the organization into an abyss of low morale and decreased productivity. But there is hope, and it begins by recognizing the characteristics of these destructive people. Generally the employee guilty of Leadership Laceration is:

  • Critical:  Is highly critical of any action or communication from the leadership team, always finding a reason to disagree or negate what is being asked of them.
  • Negative: Is overly negative, and always blames leadership for his problems. He fails to be held accountable for his actions, and yet is very vocal about what he feels he is due.
  • Creative – He always finds ways to draw unsuspecting co-workers into viciously lacerating the leadership team.
  • Disruptive: Consistently sabotages others efforts to support  leadership. He is skilled at the art of “hall talk”, where malicious opinions are offered and rumors fly. He avoids approaching leaders directly with his concerns, choosing instead to communicate by hearsay and innuendo.

Remember, a Leadership Lacerator can be quite bright and resourceful. It’s how he uses his talents and energies that get in the way of a productive workplace. However, short of eliminating the employee, there are several ways that you can deal with the Lacerator:

  • Try to determine the cause of the toxicity. When did it start? Has it always been this way? Is it just in certain situations or is it pervasive?
  • What motivational forces are at play?  Taking time to look at the big picture is essential to understanding and dealing with the problem.
  • Confront the employee about his or her behavior and note examples.   Provide clear information about your expectations and the potential consequences of failing to meet them. Be specific, be prepared for a defensive reaction, and be ready to offer positive suggestions. People will often change their negative behavior if it is brought to their attention.
  • Continue to give others credit for contributing to your team’s success. Immediately thank and acknowledge those who made a success possible. Lacerators don’t thrive in an environment where peoples’ contributions are recognized in a consistently positive way.
  • Ask your Lacerator to take responsibility and address the problem by asking them to follow a very simple process: Before speaking, ask yourself four simple questions: 1) Will this comment help the company? 2) Will this comment help our customers? 3) Will this comment help the person I am talking to? 4) Will this comment help the person that I am talking about? If the answer is consistently “No”  – Don’t say it!
  • Do a thorough cost-benefit analysis in regards to keeping the Lacerator on staff

Leadership Lacerators can spread negative attitudes like wild fire, generating bad feelings across the organization. They will create division and break apart any team.  A Leadership Lacerator can be like having a low-grade infection. You can live with it for a while but, if not properly treated, it can develop into a full-blown infection – making you, and your business, suffer.

How do you avoid Leadership Laceration?

Please engage the discussion and let us know how you avoid Leadership Laceration. Feel free to contact me at  Sheri.Mackey@LuminosityGlobal.com or by visiting our website at www.LuminosityGlobal.com. Check back soon for the next post on Leadership Across Boundaries and Borders.


Title adapted from talk given by R. Barnes.



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Sheri is The Global Coach, founder of Luminosity Global Consulting Group, Global Executive Coach, Speaker, Writer and Global Business and Cultural Expert.

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