Why leaders fail. It’s official: social flatulence and halitosis.


“Interpersonal skills are the number-one reason frontline leaders fail.”

business man with thumbs down over whiteYou didn’t need me to tell you that, did you?  Kind of knew it anyway.  It’s nice to have it validated by some research, in this case 291 HR executives who responded to research carried out by training provider DDI and HR.com.  The quote comes from the introduction to the research, and it stopped me in my tracks.

It got me thinking about my own experiences of being lead, which are patchy, to say the least.  When I analyse what specifically it was about the interpersonal skills of the leaders who I felt failed, they all come under the umbrella of what Karl Albrecht memorably calls “Social Flatulence” or “Social Halitosis” in his excellent book Social Intelligence.  In case you don’t have time to read the book, Social Flatulence is the one off burst of impropriety, whereas Social Halitosis is the ongoing bad smell given off by people, resulting in others tending where possible to give them a wide berth.

I have a lovely example of a Halitosis leader.  Everything about him was toxic.  He hated the world, but in particular he hated the managers who ran his restaurants.  The first day I joined his team he sat me down and regaled me with how awful his job was, how awful his boss was, and in particular how awful his managers (for whom I was now responsible, oh joy) were.  I can quote this verbatim, such was the impact of this initial waft of bad breath (which lasted 12 months until I escaped):

“Treat all your managers as lying, lazy, thieving bastards, and you will never be disappointed, and may occasionally be pleasantly surprised.”

His nickname was Mr Motivator, this guy (I jest!).  I felt a sickening feeling in my stomach, and realised I had made a huge mistake.  I felt like resigning immediately and asking for my old job back, but wimped out.  That sickening feeling lasted 12 months.

And now for my flatulence example.  (Be grateful they haven’t invented smellmail yet.)

It was the days of Big Hair

It was the days of Big Hair

It’s a good one – all the better for having been heard live on the radio with about 10 million listeners. It was in 1987, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson (father to TV food goddess Nigella), was being interviewed on Radio 4.  The interviewer was a wonderful Yorkshireman called Brian Redhead, who was wonderful at not taking s”~t from anyone.  Brian asked him a question, and the flatulent reply from the rather pompous Lawson was as follows:

“Do you know, Brian, that is just the sort of question I would have expected to be asked by a lifelong Labour Party  supporter like you.”

Redhead responded brilliantly, a wonderful demonstration of assertiveness in the face of such a bombastic fart:

“Shall we pause the interview so that we can reflect on the arrogance which would allow you to presume to know the way I vote?”

Bang.  Nailed him.  I shall never forget it (and I was quoting from memory there, as if to prove my point).

Let’s come back to the original idea in today’s post.

If you don’t have the interpersonal skills, no matter who you are or what you know, you are not going to make it as a leader.

It would be cruel of me to post my list of leaders who have failed for this reason, but it’s not hard to think of them.  One or two political leaders spring to mind, for a start.

Please share your examples so we can create some sort of Hall of Shame.

And to finish: something smelly from The Office.  Can’t go wrong with David Brent.  This is the cringiest 3 minute interview I think it is possible to imagine.  Enjoy!

© spaxiax – Fotolia.com

© BBC.co.uk

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About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at www.hownot2.com
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