Creative Leadership

Keys to Spotting a Flawed Leader

After the last few months documenting massive mistakes by numerous church and ministry leaders, this archival article in the Wall Street Journal stood out like a red light.  Although these don’t deal with spiritual issues, perhaps if we used these criteria that Terry Leap outlines to spot a flawed CEO, and applied them in part to pastors and ministry leaders, we might be able to stop a train wreck in the making.  Let me know your thoughts on the subject:

Keys to Spotting a Flawed CEO — Before It’s Too Late
By TERRY LEAP – December 1, 2007

It’s easy to spot a bad chief executive once the damage is done — a plunge in company earnings, a failed product line, a corruption scandal. But how do you spot the flaws before it’s too late, before that person is given the job of leading the company?

Here are some warning signs that board members and search committees can look for in a prospective CEO’s character, and measures they can take to reduce the likelihood of hiring a dysfunctional CEO.

The Warning Signs
• An overt zeal for prestige, power and wealth. A manager’s tendency to put his or her own success ahead of the company’s often is evident long before that person is ready to assume the CEO post.

• A reputation for shameless self-promotion. Executives who constantly seek publicity, are always looking for a better job or trumpet their successes while quickly distancing themselves from setbacks are sending strong signals that their egotistical ways may eventually cause major problems.

• A proclivity for developing grandiose strategies with little thought toward their implementation. These executives may assume that others at lower levels will magically turn strategy into reality.

• A fondness for rules and numbers that overshadows or ignores a broader vision. This is the flip side of the preceding problem.

• A reputation for implementing major strategic changes unilaterally or for forcing programs down the throats of reluctant managers. CEOs have to be consensus builders.

• An impulsive, flippant decision-making style. CEOs who approach decision-making with clever one-liners rather than with balanced, thoughtful and informed analyses can expect to encounter difficulty.

• A penchant for inconsiderate acts. Individuals who exhibit rude behavior are apt to alienate the wrong person at the wrong time.

• A love of monologues coupled with poor listening skills. Bad listeners rarely profit from the wisdom of their associates.

• A tendency to display contempt for the ideas of others. Hypercritical executives often have few stellar accomplishments of their own.

• A history of emphasizing activity, like hours worked or meetings attended, over accomplishment. Energy without objective rarely leads to improved organizational performance.

• A career marked by numerous misunderstandings. There are two sides to every story, but frequent interpersonal problems shouldn’t be overlooked.

• A superb ability to compartmentalize and/or rationalize. Some executives have learned to separate, in their own minds, their bad behavior from their better qualities, so that their misdeeds don’t diminish their opinions of themselves. An important internal check is missing. Others are always ready to cite a higher purpose to justify their bad decisions.

Hiring Tips
• Don’t assume that past success is a predictor of future success. As CEO, an executive will face a whole new set of personalities and conditions, especially when switching companies.

• Investigate a candidate’s integrity and interpersonal skills as part of a thorough background check. Conduct extensive and confidential discussions with former associates.

• In interviews, ask candidates how they have handled setbacks and challenges in the past, as well as personal interactions. Let them know that the search committee will check the veracity of their answers.

• In examining the course of a candidate’s promotions, pay close attention to how the candidate reacted when given new responsibilities that significantly increased his or her power.

• Determine how much of an executive’s career success has been based on favorable economic and industry conditions and the support of colleagues, and how much has been based on the executive’s individual efforts. Pay close attention to how candidates performed when industry conditions were bad, when controversies arose or when difficult decisions had to be made.

• Each finalist for the CEO position should be provided with a detailed job preview. The preview should highlight the differences between the candidate’s current position and the CEO position.

• Be clear about ethics. Provide as much information as possible to finalists about how the board expects shareholders, prospective investors, customers, employees, financial institutions, auditors, regulators, political figures and other stakeholders to be treated.

• Offer the new CEO a reasonable, but not extravagant, compensation package. Once the CEO has demonstrated a high level of competency and integrity, the compensation package can be improved.

–Dr. Leap is a professor of management at Clemson University. He can be reached at reports@wsj.com7.
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  1. Phil

    That is an excellent article.

    I've tried to figure out what it is that is attracting me here, as I am not a media person, not have I really been involved in media other than a very minor TV appearance as a young pastor years ago and a little radio work, as a pastor of the week prayer host.

    I have done a lot of study in leadership and organizational leadership and your blog, whether knowingly or not, ties a great deal to those type of issues, and this article and your response to it, highlights that.

    It shows the point being flirted with in other entries that while image is important, there is a direct tie to personal integrity, consistency and organizational dynamics that help to explain why responses that look to an objective reasonable person on the ourside to be bizarre, make sense when you understand what is at work within an organization and if that leader has surrounded themselves with people who say yes and support at all costs and don't provide a leader with the hard truth when they need to hear it.

    The two really ties together.  That's what has attracted me, and I hope my comments which come from that direction will be seen in that light.

  2. There was a great article years back about how ministry leaders, especially televangelists, were likened to France's "SUN KING" – Louis XIV. His kingdom was all about himself, not his country or his people. He was completely out of touch with the times or his subjects. Isolated and insulated from the outside world. Your position in his courts was based on how you could help him, or not. Tell him how great he was or what he wanted to hear – you had favor. Say a bad word or tell him the real truth, banished or killed. There might be some valuable lessons there in how to view some of our key ministry leaders today who have created a kingdom of their own.

  3. Excellent article and great timing as we are in final stages of interviewing to  replace our pastor.

  4. How do they run their homes? Selecting leaders that will not abuse their employees or companies or even churches is largely dependant on how they run their homes. How do they treat their wives, their children, themselves and even the Lord. That is New Testament criteria for leadership in Church. Also give a time tenure and place transparency factors in their workflow with staff.

  5. Look beyond superficial charm for the following:

    1.  A criminal mindset  Don't let a person's outward charm keep you from spotting these patterns.  This is really bad.

    2.  A pattern of failed relationships at work and home, each of which the subject is sure is not his fault. 

    3.  Clear signs of family problems, or simple "failure to thrive" in the members of the family.  A spouse and children who are showing signs of serious stress that cannot be easily explained.

    4.  Strange doctrines, rambling sermons, and religious services that rarely reflect the concerns of the congregation or the Word of God.

    5.  Many pastors have time management difficulties.  I think it is because most of them give 'til it hurts.  If the subject's time management issues are so extreme that little or nothing gets done, ever – there's a problem!    

    6.  Ministry staff and members of the congregation start to mysteriously vanish.  Most of us aren't very perceptive when it comes to picking up on undercurrents of strife that don't directly involve us.  That, and Christians tend not to complain much about ministry leaders.  If people just melt away, it may be a good idea to ask pointed questions about their disappearance. 

    7. Ministry resources vanish without explanation. 

    8.  Hard working, able, brighter than average members of the group become objects of contempt, ridicule and/or slander.

    9.  Mysterious, serious illnesses that seem to coincide with situations where the subject's behavior might otherwise be held up to scrutiny – that is if s/he weren't on his/her "deathbed"!

    10.  Mercurial temperament that keeps everyone walking on eggshells.  Apparent inability to recall his/her own tantrums.

    11.  Strong reluctance on the part of past associates to say anything about the individual whatsoever.  Carefully parsed neutral statements.  A reluctance on the part of people who have dealt with him/her in the past to commit to any course of action that forces them to rely on the subject.

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