#6 The Dumb Punter – They Play Favourites


The Dumb Punter – They Play Favourites.

The Dumb Leader ran “The Leaderboard”, in which all his direct reports were ranked on the key measures and KPI’s. Not surprisingly, this is something that is adopted by many companies as they seek to build competition between managers. Let’s measure and let’s make it visual, is the common thought processes. That is unless you are a Dumb Leader who chooses to play favourites.

The jury may be out in terms of leaderboards, after all, sporting competitions need them, but there are some fundamental things which you need to have in them to make them an effective tool in building better performance.

This specific leaderboard had some dumb stuff connected to it, dumb stuff that built resentment and created a chase for short term results. A team of regional manager had their quarterly bonus structure based on where a leader landed on that month’s leaderboard. This meant often leaders would hit all targets and benchmarks, yet miss their quarterly bonus because other regions and states performed better. That’s just dumb. We will discuss this later.

The beauty with leaderboards is the transparency of them. Everything is public and open for all to see. This makes the DL in this story even dumber. This story relates to a team of senior executives that had worked together for over 12 months. Some had been in the team for longer that seven years, but everyone had at least twelve months onboard. The latest leader who joined the team was seen as “The Golden Child” and could do no wrong. He rehashed Leadership practices from his previous company and brought them into play at his new company, completing ignoring the concepts of copyright and trade secrets. But because of this, our DL thought he was amazing and the greatest leader to walk the earth, and took him under the wing to make him heir apparent.

The leaderboard was a constant source of discussion and comparison. The major reason for the discontent focused on the position of where the Golden Child sat. Usually at the bottom and at best one off the bottom. And to top it off, at their executive meetings every leader was quizzed in detail around the performance of their profit centres, yet when it came due to the Golden Chid, the DL would provide the excuses for his lack of performance. It was an amazing scene that existed over 12 months. The only area in which the Golden Child excelled was in turnover and churn as his figures represented the high level of discontent within his area and the amount of people terminated during the time. He was in and out of unfair dismissal hearings. But according to the DL, it was turnover they had to have. For 12 months, this carried on for.

As mentioedn, in the dumbest of dumb plays, the DL would interrogate other leaders on poor results, and he was the one that created the excuses for the favoured one. If there was a glaring problem, this was it. It was noticed by everyone who attended the regional meetings, but ultimately was something that was never resolved. If the DL did receive feedback, there was certainly no action taken from it. It was almost like his choice to play favourites was approved at the highest level.

Cementing the favouritism was geography. The Golden Child and the DL lived in close proximity and would meet weekly for a coffee before work on a Wednesday. Never was this simple meeting afforded to any other manager. And it didn’t enter the DL’s head how this was being perceived and received. He seemingly did not care. He had made his choice as Golden Child, and through hell or high water he would stick with it.

Dumb creates division and that is certainly what happened. The team had a clear divide and even clearer discontent. The performance suffered, although it held together longer than expected, and ultimately fell apart with leaders moving on to other roles, other companies and particularly other leaders.

The Scenario

Simply the team didn’t realise their potential. Fundamentally, the managers were above average leaders and performed through personal commitment to their own standards and satisfaction, although the performance was capped by discontent and dis-satisfaction. The DL was the only person that considered that the team was performing, everyone saw the 20% discount that comes from poor culture and ever worse teamwork.

Relatively, the whole company suffered from a case of divide and conquer approach to team work, and when compared to the other senior teams, our DL’s team performed middle of the road. So in the scheme of things, by comparison they went ok. The whole company suffered from poor culture and this ultimately led to even darker times for the business. And one that is till evident.

The way performance was rewarded led to an underlying sense within the business of “doing what was needed” to achieve the best results. This led to underhanded and unethical ways of creating results. Shortcuts and undercuts were common and a winner take all approach was the norm.

The DL’s team had a 60% churn in the twelve months after this story took place and ultimately the DL was moved on, and while the problem left, the remaining team were unstable for a extended period of time. And in the final act the golden child left when the promotion he had been assured was guaranteed didn’t eventuate. It all came crashing down.

The Strategy

People are people, and at the end of the day that cannot be changed. Until the day we are transplanted with artificial intelligence and/or robotic parts, we will always be prone to the very things that make us human. Emotions and feelings. As a person you will naturally connect with some people more than others. That’s fact. It may be that you both follow the same sporting team, have similar interests, follow the same influencers or even come from the same home town. This is a natural part of being a person.

But as a leader you cannot allow that natural connection to hinder the performance of the team, you cannot allow it to destabilise the team. This is where emotional intelligence plays a major role for the leader. Being aware of the emotions, and sense a feeling within the team is vital. Imperative, really. Being able to provide an environment where everyone feels valued and has value is so important. Anything less is lazy leadership.

  1. Your strategy must be one of connection with each team member. You must take the time to find common ground and understand where they are at in their leadership journey.
  2. Invest time in everyone. Your investment of time with all of your team is an investment that gets repaid time and time again. While we may believe that we have more important work to do, our most important work is always with our team.
  3. Recognise performance in both formal and informal ways. Acknowledge effort, reward results. You want everyone in your team providing 100% energy in effort in achieving the goals and outcomes of the team. An open recognition program is desired to make this happen. Recognise performance based on standards and benchmarks. If someone hits their Key Performance Indicator, reward them. Don’t punish them because others have had better results. Hit the benchmark, get recognised. Simple.

Many of our readers have shared stories around a leader that plays favourites. We know that it continues to happen. Whether it’s a boys club, a girls club, a Gold Coast club or an AFL club, it continues to happen.  Check out the episode of the Dumb Leaders Podcast for event more information and stay tuned in for an upcoming readers contribution where our resident experts will dissect how best to deal with a leader that play favourites.


Photo by Alex Guillaume on Unsplash

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