We have all worked with the guy we avoid at company Christmas parties and functions, the one who gossips about everyone, or steals others’ ideas and passes them off as his own and pretends he doesn’t. As he exits his yearly performance review, we watch carefully, hoping he has somehow come out a changed man. Over and over, we are disappointed. Why is that?
Let’s start with some basic data about leadership development. A person develops certain habits or patterns that he or she thinks help him to survive in the workplace. Those patterns are engrained early on because at some point, they worked.
Example: Joe steals some presentation data from a co-worker and gives the best presentation of his life. He gets promoted as a result. Now, he has found a reason to keep stealing data, hasn’t he? Four or five jobs later, he is still stealing others’ ideas even though it no longer works and others shun him. This is an ethical problem for him.
What can we do for this workplace problem child? How can we help him?
Remember this: In the absence of ethical behavior, no leadership development can be done. Ethical problems shut off the ability to learn. So if you have your eye on someone who “just doesn’t get it” or never changes, you have your eye on someone who needs an ethics tune-up. He just is not coachable yet.
If we drew a pyramid of important items necessary to career development, it would have a base labeled "ethics" and the upper part of the pyramid would contain all the various parts of leadership development.
A strong ethical foundation is necessary to truly develop a leader. A person who has to lead others cannot do so unless he has others’ best interests in mind. A person who has ethical trouble thinks only about himself and pits himself against everyone else. The easiest way to spot a person with ethics problems is that he chooses himself over everyone else. It’s what you are really complaining about when you complain he “doesn’t get it”.
The good news is that ethical troubles can be fixed! Please do not waste your time trying to develop a leader when his ethics are all a mess, though. Handle the ethical problems first.
Tips for handling ethical problems:
1. Don't go it alone. If you approach someone complaining about his self-centered attitude, you will end up on the wrong end of the battle and you could be the one in trouble. Instead, start documenting the problem behavior with very specific examples. Write the examples down and submit them to your HR person. If you do not have an HR person, see the article entitled "The Real Purpose of HR" (in my section on Biznik) and give a copy to the person in charge of hiring.
2. Keep help in mind. Remember that a person with ethical problems is going to be very defensive, so tread lightly and keep your intentions good. Expect to be seen as a troublemaker, at least at first.
If you have trouble or your first encounter is like taming a dragon, call on a professional coach or HR person who can dig in deep and get to the root of the matter in a helpful and thoughtful way. Then, when the person is really ready, give him a development plan that will allow him to soar.