Under the Bus
I'm with a senior executive and one of her clients or venders. Perhaps the vender expresses concern about workflow or the client conveys frustration with progress. Perhaps the complaint is on something else entirely, but it involves issues with the senior executive's team.
The executive's reaction? "I don’t know where to find good people these days. These people can't do anything right."
To be clear, the majority of senior executives with whom I've experienced this scenario don't respond in this way. But I'll never forget the ones who do.
Like couples fighting in public, an executive badmouthing his team is embarrassing for everyone: the audience, the employees, and the executive.
As an executive, I've hired my teammates (and hired the people who hired them), I coach them, and I manage them. As leadership, if I badmouth them, I badmouth myself. If they fail, I am culpable.
Don't get me wrong: I find management a continual challenge. I'm not sure I'm good at it most of the time, although I do try. And occasionally, I express my frustration in general terms with close friends--yet, more often than not, I inquire about how I can improve to prevent the issue from cropping up again.
A problem with my team is a problem with me.
I appreciate feedback on my team. If I don't learn about its successes and failures, how can I do my job? Yes, sometimes I get pretty upset about what I hear. My internal monologue may jump all over the person in question. No matter. I respond as follows: "Thank you for your feedback and perspective. I hear your concern. I'll talk to the team about the situation. Let me circle back with you in the next few days."
What happens next? Privately, I talk to the employee concerned. We develop plans to correct the immediate issue and to work toward preventing it in the future. And then I circle back with the client to let it know what we’ve resolved, just as I said I would.
Publicly, a leader should be her team's biggest champion. If you can't truly advocate for one of your team members, let him go. It's better for both of you: You won't be as frustrated and he'll find a place that's able to push him forward.
Have you seen leadership publicly badmouth its teams? What happened? What did you think?