Leaders often avoid conflict, hoping that a problem with one of their direct reports’ behavior will somehow resolve itself. They seldom do. When I observed George he was two years into his tenure as CEO of a company in a fast-paced industry heavily dependent upon technology. He was having a lot of trouble molding his team of direct reports. He was searching for a new CFO after firing the previous one for failure to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley and his HR director was new. But his real problem lay with his vice president of sales, who had been with the company just six months.
Doug, the vice president of sales, had come with great credentials and very positive reference checks. But none of his references had talked about his tendency to throw temper tantrums at high-level meetings, lecturing his peers about what he perceived as their many failings. They also hadn’t mentioned his lack of analytical abilities. Already the director of R&D had warned George that he and his team were tired of Doug’s abuse and simply couldn’t work with him. With a new product on target to launch in just six months, R&D desperately needed strong input from sales but couldn’t get Doug to cooperate. And after the company had missed its sales targets for three consecutive months, the only explanation George could get out of Doug was that “external factors” were to blame. Doug’s presentation to the board the month before had been very slick, but when it was over George still couldn’t pinpoint the cause and effect of the missed sales targets. He was afraid that he might be in for a hard time from some of the directors at the next board meeting.
George had resolved more than once to bring Doug to task for these problems, but each time the two met in George’s office he had decided to back off, instead urging Doug to get a coach or take other steps to improve his relationships with other departments and to look more deeply into the sales misses. Doug readily agreed, but nothing ever happened as a result of those meetings. George’s dilemma — either to confront Doug or to simply fire him — is a common one for leaders who are uncomfortable with conflict. The hard truth is that if you want to mold a team of leaders you must have the inner courage when an individual’s behavior is destroying the team to confront that person head on and say it isn’t acceptable and has to change.
Ram Charan is the coauthor of the bestseller Execution and the author of What the CEO Wants You to Know and many other books. For Ram, the Monday-morning application of his ideas is the entire ball game and the reason why his teaching is valued at companies like General Electric, DuPont, Verizon, The Home Depot, KLM, Thomson Corporation, and many others. For more information about Ram Charan and his work, visit www.ram-charan.com.
The above is an excerpt from the book Know-How published by Crown Business;
Copyright © 2007 by Ram Charan