Leadership Follies – Lipstick on a Pig Does Not Make it Sexy

Lipstick on a Pig

Changes in organizations  and managers are often essential in order for your business to grow and thrive.

Let’s just be very clear about something.

If there is a need to make big changes in how an organization is performing and being managed, there are three things that will not make a difference.

  1. Giving people new titles.
  2. Making personnel changes without process changes.
  3. Moving failed leaders into new positions.

The last one is surprisingly common in organizations.  Somehow it seems that if a leader is not performing well in their current role, moving them to another part of the organization will fix that.

That is like saying if I put lipstick on a pig, it will be sexy.  No, no it won’t.  It will just be a pig with lipstick.

Why Can’t Lipstick on a Pig Be Sexy?

The misguided belief that a long term failing leader can be moved into another role and can magically perform effectively or exceptionally is another example of Organizational Learned Helplessness, based on a theory discovered by Martin Seligman.

“People who see themselves in situations where they have no control are reported to have higher stress levels and lower productivity.”- Martin Seligman

One of the biggest factors in this malaise is the organization’s inability to change the situation, even if it is in their power to do so.  Many organizations are made up of teams that have grown and matured together.

They have long histories, sometimes spanning decades.  For the most part that is excellent.  However, when a member of that long standing team fails to perform over time there is a tendency to excuse this as “just the way they are”.

There are circumstances when it is even defended.  What if that failing person is a leader?  Should excuses for non or under performance be acceptable because “that’s just the way they are”?

How Do you Know What to Change?

When an organization is failing there is a simple process to follow:

Assess Why It is Failing

  • Interview customers, employees, leaders, vendors, etc.
  • Look at competitors and how they are performing.
  • Determine the “line of sight” for each department and team in the organization.

Line of sight is the direct impact that an employee, team, or department makes; not the end customer.  Each and every person and group in the organization should be able to articulate how what they do either gains or retains customers.

Fix the things that are not working based on the assessment.

Replace Failing Leaders

  • Leaders that have under-performing groups or are failing due to their lack of ability should be replaced.
  • If it is possible, promote a high potential candidate from within who has shown promise.

If there is not anyone in that position, do two things:

  1. Hire someone capable of succeeding as a leader from the outside.
  2. Have that new leader mentor two or three high potential employees to replace her when she wins the lottery and decided not to come back to work on Monday.

Get Rid of Teams that are Not Positively Impacting the Customer

  • Move the employees from those teams to areas that have shown their “line of sight” and are high priority to the business

Do not be naive – this change is hard and its fruits will not bear right away.

There are stages of change that organizations must go through to come out successfully.  Whether you follow William Bridges philosophy, Kotter’s or any of the other excellent models, the changes will take effort, require work and difficult choices.

The issue of leadership is clear:

If a leader has a history of not performing, they should be removed from leadership. Nothing says, “we’re serious about this change” more than the removal of a leader everyone knows is not performing.

No matter how much lipstick a pig wears, it’s still a pig.

Don’t fall into the Organizational Learned Helpless trap.  Changing roles will not make a person or group more effective, being more effective will.


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Anil Saxena
 is a President & Senior Consultant Cube 214 Consulting
He helps organizations create environments that generate repeatable superior results
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Blog | (847) 212-0701

Image Sources: 4.bp.blogspot.com

2 responses to “Leadership Follies – Lipstick on a Pig Does Not Make it Sexy

  1. Thank you so much for this, especially the section about moving failing leaders into new positions. I unfortunately see this way too much and it is a motivation killer for staff members. High potentials leave very quickly as their talents are known and sought after by others.

    This is a tricky area because I truly believe in giving people second chances to succeed. However, if a failed leader is to receive another chance at leading others in the same organization, that person should receive focused performance coaching and evaluation to ensure the quality of their leadership is improving.

    Great post overall, I like the concept!


  2. Pingback: Leadership updates for 02/17/2012·

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