Creative Leadership

Two Things Leaders Should Never Do

I’m starting to see a couple of disturbing behaviors among leaders out there, and it’s happened so much recently, I thought I would bring it to your attention. Both come about from over-earnest leaders who are trying to do the right thing, but end up taking inappropriate advantage of people. Take a hard look at how you engage with employees, prospective employees, and vendors and see if you’re making this mistake:

1) Leaders who exploit job hunters – The founder of a nonprofit called me recently looking for a new president to lead the organization. I immediately suggested an excellent candidate that had the exact experience and expertise the founder was looking for. He scheduled a call with my suggested candidate, and spent more than an hour asking him very specific questions about how he would run the organization. Then, they scheduled a follow up call to discuss it in more detail. Then another.

Then the candidate never heard from the founder again. Apparently, the founder was just squeezing as much information as he could with no intention of actually hiring him. In my friend’s well intentioned desire to show his experience and expertise, he probably shared hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of advice, only to see the founder walk away with it for free.

I’ll never recommend another candidate to that organization, because you should never exploit a potential employee just for your own benefit. Even if you think you’re saving money for the nonprofit; or you think since he or she is willing to share, it wasn’t exactly coerced – it still doesn’t matter.

It’s taking advantage and it’s incredibly bad form.

2) The second example is when a leader directly asks employees or vendors how to replace them. I know this sounds preposterous, but I’ve had multiple people call me recently who have had this happen (and it’s happened to me as well). It’s usually a case of a leader who’s trying to save money. In my case, our team at Cooke Media Group was doing great work and hitting the target time and time again, but the leader simply wanted to save money and bring the work in-house. But instead of doing the hard work of exploring the marketplace, he took the shortcut of asking me how to replace me.

It’s an incredibly awkward situation because it puts the employee or vendor in a very vulnerable position. They don’t want to damage the relationship by being unwilling to help, but they’re essentially helping you fire them.

Once again, it’s very poor taste, shows a leader’s inexperience, and takes advantage.

Great leadership isn’t about taking advantage of vulnerable employees, job applicants, freelancers or vendors. It’s about inspiring them to accomplish things you never dream of doing.

Be that kind of leader.

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  1. I’ve been the “victim” a few times in both cases. Recently, a client hired me for a project. But…

    Surprise No. 1: In the midst of the project, he sent me some draft propositions done by another service provider for the same project.

    Surprise No. 2: The client explained that he hired someone else, because his prices were cheaper.

    Surprise No. 3: But the client said he appreciated more the quality of my work; that’s why he wanted me to evaluate the work of the other service provider.

    I told him: “Let’s say you are dating a girl with serious intentions. After a few dates she tells you to meet at a restaurant because she will communicate something important. You go with great expectations. But you see another man seated with her. As you approach, she smiles and asks you, “My dear, this is Ben. I’ve been dating him too. Now, you are the best. That’s why I need your opinion if Ben is good enough for me to marry him?”

    PS. I’ve noticed that most buyers:
    – Appreciate physical products.
    – Appreciate services “less”.
    – Appreciate creative solutions “even less”.

  2. Great post, Phil! Hopefully leaders will take the 2 questions to heart.

    Applied for a job years ago for a very reputable media ministry that had produced a famous film years ago. The film has been translated into hundreds of languages and is still shown across the world. I made it past the first round. In the second round they asked me to propose in writing how – if I landed the job – I would promote the film in new, creative ways. They wanted free advice from all of the potential candidates. I gave them “some” of my advice, not all. Just enough to whet their appetite, to show I knew what I was doing, but not so much as to spill all my ideas. Later I pulled myself out of consideration due to the fact the job location was faraway. But I never forgot all the “extra” ideas they wanted to become the final candidate.

    Not too long ago I managed a media team for a major TV program produced by a church. The head of television despised our main editor and asked him if he could help “train” one of the staff’s sons to become an editor too. Our main guy asked the dir of television whether she was asking him to train his replacement? She paused for a long moment, then stated (rather unconvincingly) that they just wanted to sharpen the young man’s skills. Our main editor was not amused. Not too much longer, he was laid off, and replaced by the staff person’s son.

    Beware the client or leader that wants you to train their relative to eventually take over your job.

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