Posted On 12 Jun 2019
Mediocre Mike was a card shark.
He lived for the weekends. Saturdays and Sundays were the only mornings I ever knew Mike to leap out of bed. It was in his blood. Mike couldn’t wait to hit the casinos. Every weekend and holiday sunrise, he was among the first to start tossing out his homespun version of “fish bait.” Mediocre Mike loved to brag.
Slowly but surely, each Sabbath unsuspecting, wannabe gamblers migrated into the club where Mike hung out. It seldom failed. A few of the less fortunate souls would land at Mike’s table. No worries. Mike and his cronies were poised for the pleasure. With friendly smiles and sinister hearts, they shook down every novice card player who came their way. What could be more entertaining?
In his mind, Mikey worked hard Monday through Friday sharpening his craft. He stayed up late into the evening hours swigging bourbon, practicing his moves, and watching YouTube videos. When it came to hustling newbies, Mike was good. He was always prepared. He took pride in his winnings. It gave meaning to his life and made his son proud.
Of course, someone had to pay the price. In Mike’s case it was his corporate employer. As they say, one man’s loss is another man’s gain.
Mike got lucky and his bankrupt band of gypsies was bought out by a high-quality Fortune 100 company. Mike couldn’t believe his good fortune when his new ship came in. The sharp household logo added to his prestigious cover at the casino. Mike was on a roll.
So what does any of this have to do with leadership failure? Plenty!
In the first year with his new employer, Mike maintained a low profile. He hid out and let a hundred or so direct and indirect reports do whatever they liked. After all, who was Mike to blow the whistle on anyone else? He figured as long as his fingerprints weren’t on any egregious errors, his gig could go on forever.
And for a while, it did.
Mike sharpened his corporate gaming skills as he flipped the switch on his region to autopilot.
Like any looming bar bill, someone ultimately has to pay the price. Yep. Mike’s employer took it on the chin. Just one floor below him, one of Mike’s managers, Rambling Roger, started running a different racket. Roger began practicing a few new moves on his administrative assistant. Who knew? Everyone. Except Mike, of course.
Mike’s elevator never stopped on the second floor. It was essential to his third-floor strategy.
Yet, Roger’s seedy habits came to light anyway. His once loyal admin turned the tables on him and sued the corporation for sexual harassment, mental duress, and psychological cruelty. Mike wasn’t worried. This manager wasn’t one of Mike’s political buddies. Mike simply ushered in HR and pretended to be appalled by the findings. Meanwhile, he brushed up on his shuffling skills. And Mike shook off the losses as a necessary cost of doing business. At the company’s expense, of course!
Over time, Mike’s regional salespeople were found to be cheating on their commission plans. His operational leaders turned blind eyes to cost overruns. His staff took plenty of time running personal errands and convening for smoke breaks. The billion-dollar brand faltered.
You wouldn’t need to be a member of Mensa to calculate the cost to his company of Mediocre Mike’s leadership failure. It was high into the six-figure range. Likely higher.
What can you do if you have an employee or leader who has poisoned the well?
a. Do nothing and hope s/he doesn’t mess up too badly? Don’t chuckle. It happens daily.
b. Fire the person and replace him/her with someone from outside the company? That’s often an illusion destined to fail.
c. Replace the person internally? Perhaps, but it will be most effective if you do the following:
- Reset the culture of the company, division, or team by replacing the leader internally and bringing in an outside leadership consultant to re-instill the values of the company.
Don’t gamble on your losses with a leadership failure like Mediocre Mike. The bar tab will leave you with a hangover that may cost you your company’s reputation.
Keith Martino is head of CMI, a global consultancy founded in 1999 that customizes leadership and sales development initiatives. Martino is the author of “Expect Leadership“, a series of leadership books – The Executive Edition, in Business, in Engineering, and in Technology. He has also published three sales handbooks, Get Results, Results Now, and “Selling to Americans“. After more than 20 years and numerous awards at FedEx, Xerox and Baxter Healthcare, Martino and his team provide world-class counsel and proven web-based tools that produce consistent results.