Keith Martino, author of Expect Leadership, helps family business owners achieve results. Martino is head of CMI, a global consultancy that customizes leadership initiatives in the construction, renovation and remodeling industries. Martino has helped strengthen leadership development programs for several major manufacturers in the construction industry. Visit keithmartino.com.
On paper, Brian was a rock star. In person, Brian was a costly mistake. His team recognized his disdain for real work, and they were appalled by his self-serving demands on those under his leadership. Sure, Brian flashed plenty of smiles. He slapped high-fives out on the jobsite and offered up empty promises like a political candidate, although he seldom kept his word. Poor supervision was Brian’s legacy. In short, he was a leadership disaster. The following are five ways you can detect a political player in-the-making like Brian.
1. They Fixate on the Wrong Numbers
Brian kept real-time stats on the total number of employees on his crews, boasting frequently that a significant portion of the operation reported to him or one of his people. That’s how he boosted his shaky self-esteem. Brian figured that as long as he had an adequate number of people to throw under the bus at the opportune moment, he would be too big to fail. Brian fixated on employee count, not profitability.
2. They Recruit, Hire & Promote People Similar to Themselves
It’s true: Birds of a feather flock together. Self-absorbed power junkies are obsessed with protecting their egos at all costs. Consequently, they try to hire people who are singularly loyal to them. Often, they find themselves at odds with a longtime foreman or supervisor who is more loyal to the company than to them. When they do, people like Brian quickly take any possible measure to rid their team of that person.
Fortunately, construction teams and leaders who are truly concerned about the welfare of the company are turned off by those who seek to play the system. Case in point: Brian’s hiring and promoting of other politically motivated employees initially went unchecked because his peers were immersed in their own immediate concerns, but his demise began when his peers became as disillusioned with him as his hourly workers were.
3. They Manage Up & Cover Up
The Brians of the world tend to perform for an audience of one—their boss. Political players will often freely sacrifice a crew’s welfare for the sake of keeping the boss shielded from the truth. However, this is not always a reflection on the boss, who may have been misled about the details of the job. The political player prefers vague business practices. Transparency is not typically part of their game plan, so they operate in the shadows where almost no one has insight into their treatment of staff, subcontractors or workers.
4. They Encourage a Zero-Sum Mentality
For a company politician, there is no such thing as a win-win outcome, and their management staff propagates this mindset. The zero-sum mentality refers to one person’s interpretation of a situation. “Your gain is my loss,” and conversely, “Your loss is my gain,” accurately depict Brian’s view of every situation. The political player seldom takes the time to seriously evaluate a balanced outcome because they want to come out on top at all costs. Their politically motivated foremen know not to cross the boss; it wouldn’t be prudent because political players win by shortchanging the company and their subcontractors.
5. They Come with Plenty of Hidden Costs
Upon an inventory of the true cost of having Brian in power, it became apparent that he had made dozens of unnecessary, costly decisions. Brian secured bids that could never be profitable. He pushed technology that he preferred versus researching new IT solutions that would best serve the company. And he delegated all authority to managers and foremen who were either asleep at the switch or pandered to his favor. As a result, the company was losing money and delivering poor-quality work.
Sooner or later, the results speak for themselves. The results of Brian’s self-aggrandizing moves were draining the company’s balance sheet and delaying projects. Once this truth was revealed, Brian was given a fair severance package and hustled out the door.
To avoid the heartache, headache and loss that political players bring to their companies, ask yourself if the members of your management team exhibit any of the five aforementioned qualities.
Don’t let a political player on your payroll. If you recognize three or more of these characteristics in any of your current leaders, consider replacing them with someone who cares about your company’s success, as well as the success of its employees.
Take today to shine a spotlight on your leaders and objectively evaluate their performance. If you must, look for a leader outside your current roster. Remember: Hire for character and train for skill.