• News post

    The Birthday Gift and a Missed Opportunity

    11 September 2018

    After racking my brain about the best birthday gift for my husband, I placed orders for travel clothing from two competing companies. I chose expedited shipping to assure the items would be received before his birthday.

    The order from Company A arrived according to plan. The order from Company B was like a customer service train wreck.

    While Company B sent an order confirmation stating all items were available, several days later they sent a separate communique that two of the items had shipped, and the other three items were on backorder. When the package appeared to be missing in action, I checked the tracking status and learned the expected delivery would be two days AFTER my husband’s birthday.  

    Upon calling the company to inquire about the problem, the Customer Service Representative acknowledged the catalogue’s expedited shipping verbiage was a “misrepresentation”. She shared she had encouraged the “catalogue people” on multiple occasions to change the language, but they had not done so.

    The saga continues….

    The day following my husband’s birthday, I received yet another notice that one of the items would not arrive for another week.

    And the story gets even better….

    When I called a second time to talk with Customer Service, I learned that one of the remaining items was no longer available and another was on backorder for two months!

    While Company B refunded the expedited shipping charge, it was at this point I decided to conduct a little test. I thanked the Customer Service Representative for her assistance and shared I knew she was trying to help with a problem she did not create.  

    I decided to push a bit more…

    I shared I had also ordered birthday items from their competitor and all their items had arrived on time as promised. I expressed my experience with other companies that, when falling short of expectations for any reason, would take action to “make it right”.   

    The Customer Service Representative put me on hold to confer with her supervisor. She quickly returned and shared there was nothing else they could do.

    And so I thanked her kindly for trying, I sincerely wished her a great weekend, and I concluded by politely stating that we would not order from them again.

    Company B missed its moment in the sun as the culture of the company obviously does not view problems as opportunities to serve. And as a result, they lost a customer.

    Within the book How to Win Customers and Keep Them for Life, Peter LeBoeuf shares that when you respond promptly and proactively to customers who complain, they are highly likely to be even more loyal than if the problem had not occurred.

    I have certainly found this approach to be true. The power of a prompt and sincere apology for disappointment incurred coupled with a commitment to improve have been very effective in customer retention and in reducing organizational risk exposure.

    Company B could have taken some easy steps to “make it right”. They didn’t express remorse for creating disappointment on my husband’s special day. I suspect we are not the only customers experiencing disappointment from their poor service as they overpromise and underdeliver.

    As a leader, what will you do to assure that disappointed customers receive prompt and sincere care, attention and resolution? Just remember that problems actually are opportunities to serve, and disappointed customers present a huge opportunity to be transformed into loyal patrons.

    And oh, by the way, we’re still waiting on that final item to arrive from Company B!

    For more information, please see the chapter entitled “Gracious Leaders See Problems as Opportunities” within Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before.


  • News post

    Rounding and Three Powerful Questions

    20 August 2018

    I was recently invited by Kelly Borth of Greencrest Marketing to participate in an Ignite Your Business Podcast which was released today, August 20, 2018.

    The podcast entitled “Making the Rounds and Gracious Leadership” is available via:

    Part of our conversation in the podcast relates to the topic of rounding and how effective leadership listening can contribute to highly engaged teams.

    While the word “rounding” has traditionally been utilized within the hospital and health system space, I have found that the use of “strategic rounding” processes can yield a high return within industries and organizations of all types.

    Throughout my career I have employed a broad perspective about “rounding” and the positive impact it can have upon corporate culture. In my opinion, rounding represents any opportunity to build trusting relationships through providing a transparent means for open and honest, two-way communications.

    In short, rounding is one of the best ways that leaders can seek feedback from their most important organizational asset: their people. When leaders make listening to key stakeholders a top priority, the likelihood of realizing peak performance can be optimized because employees who follow these “listening leaders” are more likely to feel valued, appreciated and respected. Leadership listening can be the catalyst that results in real-time relationships of trust between management and the front line.

    To get a firsthand view of your organization’s corporate culture, unannounced rounding provides a great opportunity to meet employees where they are and to ask them important, open-ended questions. Of course, the goal should be to obtain employees’ unfiltered feedback regarding their work environment, customer satisfaction or any other hot topic that might be on their minds.

    I believe the most effective leaders who drive sustainable success understand that one of their most important leadership responsibilities is to listen with purpose and to respond with care. Purposeful leadership listening is so important that I dedicated several chapters to this important topic within Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before.

    Within the chapters entitled “Gracious Leaders Listen with Purpose and Respond with Care” and “Gracious Leaders Seek Feedback”, I introduced the concept of Three Powerful Questions that can be used whether you are involved in unannounced rounding or if you’re hosting employee town hall meetings or other systematic listening venues. I encourage you to take note of these three simple, yet profound questions and begin to incorporate them into your ongoing rounding and other listening processes.

    1. What one thing should we change to make our customers’ experiences better?
    2. What one thing should we change to make your work life better?
    3. Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?

    Time and time again, throughout my career I have been amazed at the unvarnished truth that employees are eager to share. Frontline employees are the people who have the best view of how an organization is living its values (or not!). They’re just waiting for someone to ask them with sincerity and with a commitment to honor thoughtful feedback that is shared.

    Whether your rounding is occurring through what has traditionally been called MBWA (Management by Walking Around) or if you’re hosting a series of stakeholder input sessions in Town Hall Meetings, just remember that the individuals who will feel the best about conversations once they are over are likely to be those individuals who did the most talking!

    To build real-time relationships of trust with your employees, start today by asking the Three Powerful Questions and then open your ears and your hearts to hear with purpose the feedback that your team just can’t wait to share.



  • News post

    Blind spots and expecting the unexpected

    26 July 2018

    Several months ago, I attended an event to celebrate the professional excellence of Central Ohio executives. When I entered the sparsely lit, underground garage, I decided to be strategic about where I would park to avoid congested traffic following the event. I spotted the perfect space… one that might save a few minutes at the end of a very long day.

    Before I backed my car into the coveted spot, I assessed my surroundings, mentally gave myself the “all clear” sign and proceeded to park. Suddenly I was startled by a loud bang.

    My heart raced, I put the car into park and I exited the vehicle to evaluate the situation. I thought I had been cautious in looking out for potential hazards. However, I had backed into a massive, concrete post that blended with adjacent surroundings and wasn’t visible within my vehicle’s blind spot. Because I had failed to expect the unexpected, the unscathed post won as evidenced by the significant cost incurred to repair my SUV.

    This experience provided an excellent opportunity to ponder different types of blind spots within business and how they can cause a collision course within our careers.

    It is estimated that 30 percent of executives are toxic leaders. They have blind spots. They don’t see that their negative leadership styles prevent their teams from optimizing organizational performance. Other leaders have communication blind spots that directly correlate with a poor ROI on their human capital. Regrettably, the list of leadership blind spots is vast.

    Clear eyes for making deals

    High-cost blind spots can exist when executives are engaged within M&A activities. I recall a time when our corporation was involved in an opportunity for market share gain. The development officers were “over the top” excited about the high-value possibilities expected from this deal. As is often the case with M&A, time was tight with pressing deadlines, the multiple contracts were complex, and in this instance, the work of the proposed entity represented uncharted waters for our company.

    When the deal was done, celebrations ensued, and, within a matter of months, the new business enterprise began to falter. Our multi-disciplinary team had reviewed the proposed contractual language for proper business terms. Amid our haste and naïveté, however, we didn’t slow down long enough to ask ourselves a vital M&A question: “What language needs to be in the contract that is currently missing?”

    Our blind spot of failing to expect the unexpected contributed to a bad business outcome.

    Be purposeful; learn from the past

    As you find yourself in the adrenaline rush of M&A activities, I encourage you to be on the alert for blind spots. Be purposeful in expecting the unexpected. Document your experiences from each successive deal and learn from any mistakes. Don’t take for granted any aspect of the transaction and work closely with all team members, not only to review the “ink on paper” of the proposed contracts, but also to include the “must have” business terms and associated language that can position the new business enterprise for success.

    Originally published on July 26, 2018 by Smart Business

  • News post

    Reaching Back

    19 July 2018

    We frequently talk about the need to “pay it forward” in the workplace and in life at large. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to invest our time, talents and (hopefully) our wisdom into our mentees so they can seek to become all they were created to be.

    In addition to paying it forward, have you ever considered the importance of reaching back and expressing your gratitude to those who invested in “your” growth and development?

    I recently was meeting with a mentee, and we had a delightful conversation regarding her career aspirations and strategy for her advancement. After we talked about her professional roadmap, she shared she recently had an opportunity to thank her mother for the sacrifices she had made as she supported her daughter’s growth and development.

    This conversation made me long to turn back the hands of time and talk once more with my parents, both of whom are deceased. To my mother, I would thank her for being a role model of kindness, encouragement and compassion. To my father who was an attorney, if only I could find a way to see him try a case in court. And, I would ask him to share all he experienced as he advocated for Equal Rights at the pinnacle of racial unrest in Mississippi in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement. Regrettably, my father passed away before I had a full understanding of the courage he displayed as he assumed a high profile, high-risk role in advocating for respect for all people without regard to their ethnicity, gender or socioeconomic status.

    Because of the lessons I learned from my parents, I seized the opportunity to honor them by dedicating Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before to their memory. Clearly, they were incredible role models of several of the Key Ingredients of Gracious Leadership.

    Writing Gracious Leadership also afforded me an opportunity to reflect upon the impact of other mentors who shaped me into the leader I have become. As I reflected upon all I had gleaned, I reminisced about four individuals in particular who had a pivotal impact upon my professional journey. And, I decided to honor them by sharing within my book the profound impact they each had upon my career.

    As I contacted these individuals to describe my intent, each leader displayed abundant humility as they learned what I wanted to share. It gave me such joy to have the opportunity to thank them for believing in my potential and for taking a chance on me as I traversed the professional pathways I was meant to follow.

    As a leader, I am confident you will pay it forward as you seek to help your mentees realize their full potential. While we can all readily agree that life and work are busy, and there are never enough hours in any day, I challenge you to be purposeful in reaching back and thanking those very special individuals who believed in you and who inspired you to be all you were created to be! Start reaching back today! You’ll be so glad that you did!

  • News post

    Caramel Cake and Culture

    24 June 2018

     I recently received a message on LinkedIn from a woman who had attended one of my book launch presentations. This professional was hosting a Round Table Discussion, and all the participants were reading Gracious Leadership in anticipation of a group conversation regarding this time-critical topic.

    The woman was specifically writing to share that she was making a Hattie Bell Caramel Cake to serve at the Round Table, and she was having difficulty getting the icing to be thick enough.

    I smiled to myself as I read her message. You see, I had experienced the same frustration many times throughout the years as I tried to master both the science and the art of making a Caramel Cake. It’s really tricky to get the icing “just right.”

    Now, you may ask yourself, “What in the world does making a Caramel Cake have to do with Gracious Leadership?” The answer is actually quite simple.

    Making “this” particular Caramel Cake definitely requires all the key ingredients as specified within the recipe, but it also calls for the “art part” … meaning the right amount of patience, persistence, perseverance and, yes, even a little bit of love!

    Becoming a Gracious Leader and building a healthy, high-performance work culture are like making a Hattie Bell Caramel Cake. Simply put, neither aspiration is easy.

    As with any recipe, all 13 Key Ingredients are required to become a Gracious Leader. Not even one ingredient can be omitted, and no shortcuts are allowed. This, my friends, is the science of Gracious Leadership.

    As a Gracious Leader, to guide your team to peak performance, you will need to be purposeful in building and maintaining a healthy work culture, one in which your team is empowered to soar to new heights while achieving the right results. So, in addition to teaching your followers the Key Ingredients of Gracious Leadership, you will also need to add your own version of the “art part” … the right amount of patience, persistence, perseverance, and love that are emblematic of your personal leadership style.

    Whether you’re making a Hattie Bell Caramel Cake or you’re well on your way to become a fully respectful leader who inspires a healthy corporate culture, when you get it right, you will absolutely know it!

    Just as this woman reached out to me, I hope to hear from you, too, as you aspire to become a Gracious Leader. If you have not yet begun this journey, please start today, and together let’s lead like we’ve never led before.

    5 from 1 vote

    Hattie Bell's Caramel Cake

    Author Mrs. Hattie Bell Johnson, Carthage, MS



    • 1 cup butter
    • 5 eggs
    • 1 cup milk
    • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
    • 2 1/2 cups sugar
    • 3 1/2 cups flour
    • 1 tsp vanilla

    Caramel Icing

    • 3.5 cups sugar
    • 1 cup milk
    • 1/2 pound butter
    • 2 tbsp white Karo
    • 1/2 cup Cremora
    • 1 tsp vanilla


    For the Cake

    1. Cream butter, add sugar, and beat until light and fluffy. Add whole eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla to milk. Sift flour and baking powder. Add part of flour mixture, add milk and then remaining flour and beat until smooth. Pour batter into three greased and lightly floured 9-inch cake pans. Bake 30 minutes in preheated 375-degree oven.

    For the Icing

    1. Mix sugar, Cremora, Karo, and milk in a large pan. Cook for 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup sugar that has been browned, cooking until it forms a soft ball when dropped into cold water. Add butter and vanilla and cook until butter dissolves. Beat until icing is right for spreading between layers, then beat until creamy for icing the remainder of the cake.

    Recipe Notes

    I have passed along Hattie Bell's Caramel Cake recipe exactly as it was written in the New Hope Baptist Church Cook Book. This collection of favorite recipes was published to honor the American Revolution Bicentennial 1776-1976.

    I will add a few clarifications. These steps represent the "art part."

    • Be sure not to overcook the cake so that it will not be dry.
    • Cook the icing in a 5 quart, non-stick pot. Use powdered Cremora. In addition to the 3 1/2 cups of sugar required in the recipe, brown 1/2 cup of sugar in a small, non-stick skillet during the time that the sugar, milk, Karo, and Cremora are cooking.
    • I use a candy thermometer and cook the icing to 236-237 degrees, still applying the soft ball text that is required in the recipe.
    • After adding the butter and vanilla to the icing, I beat the icing with a mixer until it reaches the right consistency to spread between the layers. I then beat the icing by hand until it reaches a creamy consistency that is right for icing the remainder of the cake.
    • Remember that no shortcuts are allowed. Always use patience, persistence, perseverance, and love to get the icing "just right."

  • News post

    Finding What’s Right in the Workplace

    25 May 2018

    My husband and I were recently checking out a new Mexican restaurant in our hometown. Although the establishment had only been open for a few days, upon our arrival we found a “full house” with a waiting list which, from our perspective, is typically a sign of great food and wonderful service.

    We were not disappointed.

    The environment was festive and fun, and the food was very good. This pleasant experience made us immediately plan our next visit. In short, it was a great evening.

    When we asked for our bill, the server smiled and said that our check had already been settled as a couple who had been sitting nearby had paid for our meal before their departure. What a nice surprise that brought immediate smiles to our faces! We asked the server who they were, and we wondered if perhaps we had worked with them at our prior places of employment. The server did not know them. He simply described them as a nice, young couple who, for whatever reason, wanted to pay for our dinner.

    As I thought about this random act of kindness, I was reminded of all the good that resides within the overwhelming majority of humankind. Every day we primarily hear what is wrong with our world. Just imagine how amazing it would be if we would focus more on all the good that is being done to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

    This unexpected act of kindness also took me back to 1982 when, in the midst of a personal healthcare crisis, hospital employees I did not know showered me with their seemingly small acts of kindness. They not only met my clinical needs; they also cared for me as a whole person. In so doing, they changed my life forever as I soon would enter the healthcare space as my professional calling.

    Like the young couple at the restaurant, such employees are role models for what is right in our world. I had the pleasure of working for many years with ordinary people who were sharing extraordinary acts of kindness with people they did not know. From two housekeepers who bought clothes for a homeless patient to a nurse who came in on his day off to FaceTime with a patient whose husband had died and who was too ill to attend his funeral…. Everyday employees were making a positive difference with long lasting impact.

    As leaders, it is our responsibility to reinforce all that is right in the workplace. Research has shown that organizations whose leaders spend more time reinforcing great work will function at a higher level than corporations whose leaders spend a disproportionate amount of their time on poor performers. Let me be crystal clear. Effective leaders must deal with poor performers. However, they find a way to devote most of their time reinforcing and building upon the results achieved by their best employees. Within Gracious Leadership, I share more on this topic and include tips that leaders can easily put into place to create and sustain an environment of accountability, gratitude and peak performance.

    Yes, someone bought our dinner last week… someone we did not know and whose path we will not likely cross again. At the end of the day, the kindness of this young couple is not to be measured by the value of the meal they generously and unexpectedly provided to us. Their random act of kindness is symbolic of all that’s right with our world. It’s also a small example of the goodness they no doubt hold within their hearts as they seek to make a positive difference.

    What will you do to reinforce all that is right in your workplace? How will you help your employees understand the power they hold through seemingly small acts of kindness that can mean the world to your customers? What will you do to address any poor performers so you will have more time to reinforce and support your very best team members? Please join me in finding what’s right in the workplace… starting today!

  • News post

    Leaders in the School of Life

    30 April 2018

    Forty years ago this month, I completed my academic studies in finance at the University of Mississippi. Ole Miss was an important part of my family’s traditions, and I treasure fond memories from my time in Oxford. From playing Division 1 basketball to serving in leadership positions within various campus organizations, I am grateful for the opportunity to have received a “well-rounded” education as I experienced formal academic training and also learned a lot about life in general.

    Earlier this year I was invited back to my alma mater to lecture in several classes regarding the importance of gracious leadership.

    As I contemplated the guidance I might offer the bright-eyed students of the Trent Lott Leadership Institute for Public Policy, several important messages from the school of life took center stage.

    Passion, respect and authenticity

    First, because these students are deciding what to do with the rest of their lives, I encouraged them to do what they love and love what they do. In every aspect of life, matching the passion of the person with the purpose of the work can yield great joy as opposed to viewing work as “just a job.”

    I encouraged these future leaders to get involved in causes they care about and to speak up with confidence about issues they believe are important. I urged them to ask for stretch assignments, so they can broaden their skills while enriching their learning opportunities. And I cautioned them not to fear failure as learning from mistakes is an important part of life and work.

    Because these students aspire to serve as future leaders within organizations of all types, I encouraged them to appreciate the value brought forth by “all” members of their teams, regardless of titles or positions. This basic respect is mission-critical as leaders seek to maximize the ROI of their most precious asset — their people.

    I coached them to listen more than they talk. Great leaders know that while those who talk the most in conversations may feel better about the discussions when concluded, the individuals who listen the most will likely be more enlightened.

    Lastly, I encouraged these students to remain true to who they are versus what they think someone else expects them to be. I shared with them that henceforth, their full-time homework assignment will be: to become all they were created to be.

    Mentor with care

    When I reflected upon my time with these students, I was reminded that as leaders in the workplace, we also serve as faculty in the school of life.

    It is our responsibility to be purposeful in teaching our followers important lessons about both work and life at large. As leaders, we are accountable for helping our employees understand not only “what” they are to lead, but also that “how” they lead is of equivalent importance.

    Please remember that the school of life is in session every day, and the lessons your employees learn in the workplace will transcend all aspects of life.

    Originally published on April 30, 2018 by Smart Business

  • News post

    Wouldn’t it be nice if leadership had a recipe?

    20 April 2018

    As I was writing Gracious Leadership, my aspiration was to create and share a timeless message of fully respectful leadership that would impact the leaders of today as well as future generations of leaders.

    It is within this dream of teaching our future leaders “how” to lead that I humbly share the following book review of Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before, written by Heather Hubbs, an Administrative Fellow at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

    I offer my sincere gratitude to Leadership Development Expert Peter Giammalvo, PhD, who shared Gracious Leadership with Heather. Peter recommends that leaders and managers at all career levels within healthcare read this important message about the strategic imperative for fully respectful leadership.

    Thank you for your commitment to become a gracious leader.

    Janet Smith Meeks

  • News post

    The Permanent Impact of Mentors

    27 March 2018

    Last year as I wrote Gracious Leadership, Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before, I had an opportunity to reflect upon some very important people in my life…. individuals whose influence made a permanent impact upon who I am and how I lead.

    Certainly, my parents shaped and molded my convictions regarding the need to respect all people, to demonstrate uncompromising integrity and to be courageous at all times… especially in the midst of turmoil and difficulty. Loving teachers inspired the young people of my hometown to be our very best in the classroom. They taught us to reach for the sky and to dream big about how we might change the world for the better. And during this week when the NCAA Final Four Women’s Basketball Championship is being played here in Columbus, I fondly reminisced about my high school coach who, by believing strongly in the potential of his young basketball players, led four lanky freshmen to a 28-5 record with all-conference honors during our senior year. That same coach instilled within us a deep conviction that “team” should always take precedence over individual performances and that discipline would forever be required to master any game plan we might pursue in life or in work.

    As I wrote Gracious Leadership, I also thought deeply about my most impactful professional mentors. Each one of these leaders clearly made a positive, permanent imprint upon my life and my work as they role modeled “how” to lead. I was taught by their examples early on in my career the importance of developing aspiring leaders and teaching them to become comfortable being uncomfortable in mastering new skills. I learned the importance of showing compassion to all employees while concurrently ensuring that accountability processes were established and followed with consistency. One vital mentor taught me the sanctity of listening to others with purpose as though they were the only individuals within my world. And yet, when pondering an important, high impact career assignment, another revered mentor demonstrated great confidence and calculated risk-taking by placing more importance upon a rising leader’s potential and zeal for excellence as opposed to considering solely the individual’s prior work experience.

    I am grateful to have had the opportunity within Gracious Leadership to share the lessons of leadership and life that I learned from my positive, role model mentors. It was not only a gift to reach back and thank them for the permanent impact they have had on my life, but also a blessing to pay forward these lessons by challenging the leaders of today and tomorrow to lead similarly in a fully respectful manner.

    Throughout my career, I have also had the opportunity to learn from a few colleagues how “not” to lead. From bully behaviors and playing the “blame game” to anger management issues and a preoccupation with organizational politics, I believe these toxic actions prevented our organizations from realizing their full potential. Yes, these toxic leaders also made a permanent impact upon my leadership and my life as I became deeply convicted to lead with goodness and with grace while vowing never to emulate their untenable behaviors.

    I’d like to challenge you to take a few minutes and think about the permanent impact you are making upon those individuals whom you are leading…. especially those who are in the early chapters of their careers. Consider the lessons you are teaching them today. And then fast forward forty years and ponder what your followers might say about your mentorship at that time in the books they may write about leadership and life. Will you be the mentor they long to remember with great fondness or did you teach them how “not” to lead?


  • News post

    The Ripple Effect of Bad Bosses

    22 February 2018

    Rarely does a day go by that we aren’t bombarded with media accounts of high profile, toxic leaders. From bully behaviors including sexual harassment offenses that have harmed countless individuals all the way to the demise of once “high flying” corporations, the ripple effect of bad bosses seems to be at an all-time high.

    Because you are the CEO of your company, as you read this article, I invite you to consider two primary opportunities that are more important now than ever before. First, I encourage you to get real with yourself and ponder if your leadership style includes some of the bad boss behaviors described within this article. Secondly, after you’ve been honest with yourself regarding how you are showing up every day, take a candid look at other leaders within your organization and assess if they display the characteristics of toxic bosses or if they emulate the attributes of positive, high performance leaders. If opportunities for improvement reside within either consideration set, then the simple question for you will be, “So what are you going to do about it?”

    During the past year I was immersed in writing a book that teaches leaders how they can be fully respectful and lead their teams to achieve consistent excellence. As an important part of this journey, I sought feedback from highly respected leaders who shared their personal experiences with “bad bosses.”

    One colleague said, “My boss, a high-ranking leader in our organization, was well known for throwing people under the bus, passing the buck and ‘putting people in their place.’ When it was time for public recognition, my boss was always the first in line for praise.”

    A second colleague shared, “My boss wouldn’t listen when I brought forth legitimate concerns. Because this ongoing dysfunction ultimately made me feel I was being taken for granted, I eventually developed a bad attitude as opposed to being a corporate cheerleader. This drove me to the point where I actually submitted my resignation to work for a competitor.”

    And yet another leader stated, “My boss never gave us any feedback unless it was negative. Our work was never good enough for her.”

    A wide range of other bad boss behaviors was conveyed such as … My boss took credit for the work of the team… The boss threatened me and yelled at me… My boss was out of control with his temper…. I never knew when my boss was going to “go off on me.”

    Why are the toxic behaviors of bad bosses so pervasive in today’s society? What is it that makes so many leaders miss the mark?

    Perhaps these well-meaning individuals learned bad leadership behaviors from their own superiors or from within dysfunctional homes. Perhaps it’s because these leaders have delivered a solid bottom line in the short term. Perhaps these toxic bosses think their followers actually desire such negative antics. Or, perhaps these leaders are simply not happy.

    While the list of reasons could go on and on, one thing is certain. Bad bosses are not going to change if we remain silent in our acceptance of their untenable behaviors. As a sage person once said, “If you permit it, you promote it.”

    Numerous accounts exist of organizations that have fallen from excellence because of toxic leadership. Corporations such as American Apparel and Uber have suffered costly reputational damage and value deterioration because the bad behaviors of their CEOs were permitted. The ripple effect of a toxic boss is far reaching as such individuals will ultimately shape the work environment of affected organizations. And, no quick fixes can readily repair broken cultures.

    In a June 20, 2017 issue of the academic journal The Conversation, authors Katina Sawyer and Christian Thoroughgood wrote an article entitled “Fixing a toxic culture like Uber’s requires more than just a new CEO.” The authors state, “Our work on toxic leadership demonstrates how toxic, unethical, flawed, or otherwise ineffective leaders can do a lot of damage in organizations. But the damage can also run both ways. Susceptible followers, a lack of checks and balances, and other cultural elements can help create or reinforce bad leadership.”

    The authors identify two types of followers who are “likely to remain obedient to toxic leaders, turn a blind eye to their behavior, and even participate in the leader’s destructive activities: conformers (individuals who are prone to obedience) and colluders (those who actively align themselves with toxic leaders).” Colluders should be rooted out of the organization and conformers need to be trained to understand what the organization is doing to require positive leadership and a healthy corporate culture.

    In 2006 I was asked to lead the turnaround of a struggling hospital. Opportunities for improvement existed across the balanced scorecard. As we taught our leaders about the importance of assuring accountability among all employees for both technical and behavioral competencies, we would initially hear the comments, “But she’s a good nurse” or “He’s a good housekeeper.” We became disciplined in requiring managers to hold individual conversations with all employees, telling them what they did well and what improvements would be required for them to be more effective. Thankfully, most of the employees who had behavioral deficiencies sought to change, and many of them did improve. For those who unfortunately didn’t “get it” … well, let’s just say they were liberated to find new opportunities elsewhere.

    Now, back to the two questions that I encouraged you to ponder. If opportunities for improvement exist within the leadership ranks of your organization, what steps will you take to be a fully respectful CEO who also expects consistent excellence throughout your organization? What will you do differently starting today? And what will you require of those who follow you? Just remember that the ripple effect of your leadership… be it positive or negative… will last for many years to come.

    Originally published on February 22, 2018 by The CEO Magazine