Beware Knowledge-Poaching Leaders

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Two years ago, I wrote an article about things I needed CHRO’s to know about what the organization needs from them. I wanted them to know what kind of leaders their employees deserve. I find myself wanting to have this discussion again after yet another anecdote about an ill-equipped CHRO.

I have often heard that leaders don’t need to be knowledgeable in every facet of their employees’ work to be effective. That may well be true in some scenarios. However, it is my belief that time spent in the trenches is valuable not only for the purpose of understanding what your employees go through – but also so you bring something other than a title to the table when you are called to it.

Some of the best leaders I have known have worked their way from the bottom to the C-Suite. I also know people that haven’t held every role on their way to the top, but are relentless about rolling up their sleeves and keeping themselves current on all things HR. As a business owner, I  know what I know and I know what I don’t know. As such, I seek out the people and resources that are needed to help me execute my tasks and business goals. I may not be an expert in everything, but I am willing to learn and/or I research what I don’t know so I can have an intelligent conversation about the work that needs to be done.

Here’s a thought…

Don’t become a leader , if you choose to be a figurehead rather than a team member. The world can use less people who look the part versus fitting the part. Personally, I have had enough of watching people in the C-Suite sitting in meetings and town halls completely oblivious to what is going on in their organizations. It isn’t becoming to not understand the basic tenets of your niche – when it is that very expertise that you got you hired for the job in the first place. It is equally uncool to take credit for your teams knowledge and expertise.

Experts often say you shouldn’t be working in your business day-to-day as a CEO. I both agree and disagree with this sentiment. I know that going forward I will need to delegate work so I can work on business development and other aspects of my business. Conversely, I have been all things in my business out of both necessity and utility. I now know what has to be done in all aspects of my business and how it should be done.  It would be impossible for me to provide the proper direction and vision to a future employee – without having experienced being in their shoes.

Additionally, if my team members bring something new or innovative to my work that was previously overlooked by me, I have a duty to give them the credit for their effort and ideas. Being a knowledge-poacher is not only disingenuous, it is a morale killer.

Put yourself in the place of one of your employees for a second. Think about how exhilarating  it is to think you have come up with a solution to an issue or to know that you created a unique program or initiative. Imagine the pride you would feel as an employee to hand the deliverable off to a manager or leader realizing its potential for recognition by the right people – only to have said leader take credit for your work. How would you feel?

As a leader, you don’t have to know it all or be everything to everyone. You do have a duty to ensure that your employees efforts and great ideas are recognized. You are not less of a leader, because your employees excel at things you don’t. If you are a knowledge-poaching leader take a good, long look at yourself.  Heed the following warnings because this is your plight:

1) Employees who are victims of knowledge-poaching leaders eventually move on to greener pastures where their talent can not be hidden (I am proof of this).  This likely means high turnover for your organization.

2) When the victims of your poaching do move on, everything will eventually crumble around you. It only takes that one key employee to leave for the weakest links to be exposed. This run of hiding behind other people’s talent never lasts indefinitely.

3) Your poaching affects all of your employees whether they are the ones being poached or not. In the case of one of my colleagues, he questions the ethical, moral, and organizational ramifications of not speaking-up in defense of a co-worker whose knowledge, expertise and efforts are being poached. 

True leaders aren’t insecure because their teams are strong. They celebrate the strength of the team with pride and acknowledgement.

Don’t be a knowledge-poaching leader!


Does Humility Have A Place In Business?

GIF Image courtesy of Tumblr

Humility is defined as “the quality and/or state of not thinking you are better than anyone else.” When you have made it to the huge conference room and are seated with the suits and powerful figureheads in your organization- what changes? Does the title and other executive accoutrements give you a license to forget the plight of another human namely your employees?

Some of the best leaders in our history are remembered not mainly for their professional pursuits and contributions, but because of how they made people think and feel. For years, we have tried to get to the root of what makes for a successful leader. There’s the theory of emotional intelligence, there are 360 assessments, Myers-Briggs inventories- yet with all of this psychological insight- we still have the wrong people in leadership positions. Moreover, the poor underlings remain where they are to scribe the latest and greatest stories of poor leadership via water-cooler conversations, exit interviews, abrupt resignations etc.

How does humility help business leaders?

It allows your leaders to have compassion when an employee becomes terminally ill and needs flexibility due to failing health and ongoing treatment. Humility provides a different framework for viewing an employee that may be having the worse year of their life due to domestic issues. Additionally, it allows you to see your employees as fellow human beings that are deserving of fair treatment in all things pertaining to salary, upward mobility, development etc.- you know the kinds of things that draw people to your company in the first place.

More often than not, I continue to be approached by people that have never or rarely seen humility in their leadership.  What a shame! If you are bringing in business, laying out the new plans for company growth, all while seducing your investors with your witty charm- congratulations you have handily won over your investors, CEO and all the “beautiful people” at the top. The bigger question is how many chalk outlines lead to you? How many casualties have you caused on your road to leadership stardom?

If you have lost track, you may want to rethink your strategy as a leader. Here are some things I know to be true:

1) If you are a jerk and you show no interest in your employees, they will not be productive, they will not enjoy their work and they will use your time and theirs to find something better.

2) If you are a malicious jerk (the kind that goes after people for folly), your employees will not be productive, they will undermine any expectations you have of them. Additionally, they will likely leave and sue those beloved Brooks Brothers pants off of you.

3) If you are a leader and a passive-aggressive jerk, your employees will see right through you and everything I said in 1 and 2 will follow.

How is this helpful?

It’s helpful to know that you don’t have to be a jerk to be an effective leader. You need to know that showing compassion and humility will speak many more volumes to who you are and why you deserve that title where your employees are concerned. I hear the “but, Janine all the other leaders are like this- I can’t be the odd one out?” My answer: tough shit. No one said this leadership stuff was going to be easy. Sometimes you have to be willing to stand tall in your own truth as a person and as a leader. It may be possible that in you doing so, your counterparts will see the virtues of leading with humility and follow suit.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

Just so you all know, I am dedicated to awakening  companies and leaders  to the importance of leading with integrity, intelligence and compassion. I’m also a sucker for companies doing it right. Let me know how you have been successful in ensuring your leaders lead with humility.

Mean Girls In Leadership

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia


There are extreme cases of  “leaning-in” and women asserting themselves in the workplace. In fact, the asserting is more like aggression and the leaning isn’t necessarily “in” but rather on the backs of other employees.

What am I talking about?

I am referring to mean girls in leadership. These are the women that have been given reign over a group of employees and are wielding this perceived power as though it is Thor’s mallet. They are nasty, condescending, backstabbing and will do anything to destroy other women and/or employees that pose a perceived threat. Some are blatant in their attempts to destroy others. In the most dangerous of instances, they will appear to be friendly, courteous and kind; but all the while they are undermining your every accomplishment with a smile.

True leaders don’t get intimidated by employees who know their craft and execute duly. Instead, they champion the strengths in those individuals and elevate their visibility because they know that their superb work is not only a reflection of the individual’s diligence but a testament to your ability to appreciate the strengths of your team.

In my career, I have had at least three lunatics for bosses that just-so-happen to be women. If I am to generalize their behaviors that allow me to categorize them as “lunatics” here is your description:

1) They all were overly friendly to the point that you thought at times you were speaking to one of your girlfriends.

2) They all randomly snapped leading them to micromanage work, lie to create performance issues that were non-existent, and pick fights like grade-school children would in the school yard.

3) Nothing was ever what it seemed with any of them. If you thought you were performing well, you were really doing terrible. Good equals bad and suddenly nothing regarding my employment under their tutelage made sense.

Everything in me despises this sort of toxicity in leadership. Someone is bound to try to challenge me on why I am singling out “women”. Here is your answer: yes, there are bad bosses everywhere and they all aren’t women. Happy? I’m not, because I think these mean girls are a distraction to the overall women’s movement toward total equality and recognition.

I also wonder why companies who see extreme turnover, loss of productivity, or low morale in various departments headed by leaders like this don’t put their foot down and remove the cancer. It’s not reasonable to be nice or to say that this person drives business. Isn’t it far more costly to the business if you have unproductive, disengaged employees?

Stop speaking about issues in leadership like the solution is not within your grasp. You have the ability to shape your employee ecosystem. You also have the ability to create a culture of integrity, respect and all other virtues that attract candidates, retain employees and woo customers.

I am sick of the mean girl game and I am tired of employers dialing-it-in because they don’t want to deal with leadership issues. Additionally, I am disappointed in HR for not being more vociferous and actionable about the negative impact these sorts of leaders have on the organization.

I share some tips on how you can deal with the mean girls of leadership in your organization at the end of the video. Check out my latest  “Ask Czarina” episode below.

“Ask Czarina”- Toxic Women in Leadership Edition



The Leadership Truth of Turnover

A friend of mine posted this blurb on Facebook from an audio book he was listening to (note: I don’t know the name of said audio book):

“Numerous studies have shown us that those given authority are more likely to lie, cheat and steal, while also being harsher in their judgments of others for doing these same things. Science tells us people with power feel less compassion for the suffering of others.

Previous experiments also show us that those who are obedient to authority are capable of the worst forms of murder, and tolerant of the worst forms of abuse. They will even chastise those of us who resist corrupt authority. They become facilitators of evil, believing that obedience to authority absolves them of personal responsibility. “

This blurb above is an explanation of today’s cesspool management and hierarchy that permanently resides in many companies. Although we speak very seriously and regularly about the importance of leadership development as HR practitioners, the truth is very rarely are managers chosen with care. In fact, I have personally observed companies who promote people to management or leadership roles based on their ability to be obedient and play the game.

What happens is the road to leadership then becomes a chess match played by cheaters. The rules are not static, but changed on an as-needed basis to suit the players. People like myself and my colleagues never stand a chance in being promoted or even surviving as an employee, because we live and work by a code of conduct. The code of conduct isn’t some arbitrary manifesto we write down to make people believe we are responsible, discerning, fair individuals; but a construct that guides our work and how we treat others in and out of business.

When we say that employees don’t leave jobs they leave bosses- we really mean they leave regimes.  Within the companies of some of your most beloved brands and products lies a regime that takes pride in beating its talent to a pulp daily with unkind words, unreasonable expectations and in some cases bullying- just because they can.

Recently, I read an article of the CEO of a company I used to work for. The article interviewed him about how he runs this large conglomerate and of course highlighted all of the philanthropic work he does for the community. Great article, nice man, toxic company.  It’s his job to speak highly of his business, but what I know after working there in HR is that the leadership from HR to the actual facilities (in many cases) are toxic and a good 3/4 of the employees are disgusted; but remain there out of necessity.

Turnover is directly linked to these toxic environments. The age of obedience and subservience is dead. People want meaningful work and positive work environments. If they remain in your employ, it is purely out of necessity. Necessity breeds a paycheck- which also means that they couldn’t care less about the success of the company.

I’m not sure when it became cool to lead from a place of pure malice and fear, but it needs to stop. If the ultimate goal of talent management is to retain the right talent in organizations, it’s time we (HR and everyone else) took personal responsibility to be ethical, fair, equitable, and provide a workplace free of toxic leadership. That may mean getting rid of a manager that has high turnover even in light of his or her considerable contributions to the company. It could mean reprimanding a manager for being a jerk, even if he or she is your happy hour cohort.

A lack of personal responsibility, the inability to tell and own the truth; as well as unethical behavior are among the many reasons why your turnover may be high. Pay attention to your workforce. Don’t look the other way and cover your ears when it matters the most. Your talent is your brand. Treat them with the same respect and humility you would want for yourself.

How are you being more intentional about being better leader?

Contact us to help you build a strategy for developing positive leadership.

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