Case Study: Saving a High-Performance Team from Its Ineffectual Leader
Updated: Feb 15
Having thrown her arms up in the air, this Leader’s manager called us with a laundry list of complaints about this relatively new hire.
Prior to the new leader’s watch, this elite IT group (internal consultants in an international consulting firm) had been a top performing resource to the firm.
The new leader was brought in from the outside (from a much smaller professional service firm).
The Leader’s manager sounded as if she’d made up her mind about this fellow. To be fair, though, she presented us with a pretty long list of his accomplishments and an equally long list of her concerns about his performance.
The executive summary was that he was slow as molasses at executing, abrasive with his team members, and negativistic.
The plot thickened, though, when feedback from partners (i.e., his internal customers) was considered—they were all relatively positive about him.
So, what was really going on?
Given the complexities of the situation, we felt we wanted to develop as much background information as possible. Since we knew the managing partner of the Leader’s prior employer, we called him and we asked him simply to describe our candidate’s prior performance at the other firm. (What emerged was a view that the partners in the prior firm valued our candidate for certain traits [i.e., they viewed him as honest, devoted, and a hard worker] but much less so for his abilities.)
We proceeded to interview each member of the team, in one-on-one interviews, in order to gather all perspectives on the matter.
As is usually the case in these situations, the team members tried very hard to present a balanced, fair-minded view. On the other hand, the Leader was extremely defensive and did not.
Also, characteristic of almost any dysfunctional work group, there was no purely good-guy/bad-guy scenario.
The next step, therefore, was to bring the whole group together to see if the Leader was capable of assuming his fair share of the responsibility for the situation, as the team members were. But, he was not.
As the story unfolded, it became all too clear that the firm had made a serious error in hiring this fellow (which could have been prevented, had their Pre-Employment Evaluation process been conducted appropriately).
It was also evident to us that the Leader was going to be quite refractory to change. Consequently, we advised the client not to retain us for Derailment Prevention work, because it was our strong view that this would be a poor investment for our client.
Contrary to our advice, the client went ahead and retained a coach for this fellow.
He made the most modest of improvements, and the team limped along.
As so often happens, the candidate himself recognized that he was a mismatch for this leader role (i.e., he was way over his head) and pulled the trigger before the employer was able to bring itself to do it. He left the firm and returned to a smaller and less sophisticated professional service firm environment.
Imagine the material and intangible losses that could have been prevented had the firm hired by design.