Slippery Slopes and Logical Conclusions

In a previous job during an intensive training session, two of my peers stood at the front of the classroom and used some recent sales research findings to illustrate the difference between fact and insight.  One of the facts they discovered was that, “Bad managers are poison.”  They had data to back it up.  The insight, though, was more powerful:  “They should be identified and removed.”

I’ve often wondered what qualifies someone as an official “bad manager” outside the sales context.  We’ve all had bad managers, but what makes a manager bad enough that she needs to be identified and removed?  Is it something we should measure only within the context of his job description, or should the way she comports herself in her personal life matter?

Many people would say no.  In the weeks that followed publication of this guest post at Tom Fox’s blog, I got e-mails from people saying that what happened between Tracy and her junior colleague was a personal matter between two consenting adults that didn’t warrant termination of Tracy’s employment.  Obviously, the company disagreed.

In the past, I’ve split the difference, taking the relativist’s way out.  I’ve condemned the personal behavior, suggested termination, but ultimately left the decision in someone else’s hands to determine whether ethical failures in our personal lives should impact our professional ones.  This puts me in the camp of people who believe that someone can be a rotten human being but still be effective at their jobs.

A couple of weeks ago, scholars released results of a study that showed that Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) who break small laws and flaunt their wealth are more likely to take liberties about their company’s financials.  I’ve simplified the findings, but that was the crux.  It reminded me of Brian Martin’s advice to young attorneys looking for corporate jobs to avoid the ones where C&E isn’t a priority of the CEO because their tenure at the company will feel like an eternity of frustration.

That position seemed extreme to me at the time, but with the recent, splashy failures at Wal-Mart, GSK, and JP Morgan, I’m rethinking my position.  We in C&E spend a large chunk of our time trying to change the hearts and minds of our employees.  I wonder if we should be spending an equal amount of time educating Boards and shareholders about the slippery slopes of personal ethical failures.  I’m worried about how many managers and CEOs will be left standing after we identify and remove the poisonous ones.

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