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Childish Execs Must Grow Up or Be Cast Aside


Stephen R. Covey is an internationally renowned authority on leadership, an organizational consultant and co-chairman of Franklin Covey Co. He has written several acclaimed books,including "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," which was recently named the most influential book of the 20th century by Chief Executive magazine.

He agreed to talk to The Times about emotionally adolescent leaders and how to deal with them.

Question: Some experts believe that adolescent behavior among managers is a growing problem. What factors might be behind this?

Answer: I think the whole technological revolution has, in a sense, accelerated people's intellectual abilities but outpaced their emotional maturity. It's created abilities and powers in people beyond their wisdom and emotional strength, which they need to handle their management duties.

Q: What are some typical "juvenile" behaviors that one might observe in such managers?

A: Setting up internal competitions, being the source of all the goodies handed out so others have to kiss up and impress the person, playing games, and operating from hidden agendas. . . . These juvenile managers are like little bullies in control of the neighborhood kids. Their actions create fear in the work environment. And often you'll find that these immature managers are acting out the same scenarios with their own bosses.

Q: Why do they act like this?

A: Many behave immaturely because they've developed a "scarcity mentality." They see just one big slice of pie, and think there's not enough pie to go around. These managers who haven't matured emotionally don't want to share gains or credit.

They may use buzzwords of empowerment and teamwork, but they're afraid to surrender any of their control. In some ways, they're like the man who is getting married who hasn't realized yet that his happiness is essentially tied to his wife's happiness.

Q: What happens to the relationship between the juvenile manager and his or her staff?

A: A codependency may develop. People gradually accommodate the manager's style and look for their satisfaction off the job. But the really good, mature, creative people will "select themselves out"--they won't stay there very long.

Q: If juvenile managers become aware that they're causing problems, can they change? Does emotional maturity come only with time, or can it be somehow accelerated?

A: I think it can be developed if a person is willing to get feedback about his blind spots. Sometimes the feedback can be humbling, but the immature manager may need to be humbled. I encourage people to use a little technique that I call "Continue--Stop--Start."

Send out notes to 10 people whom you trust. In the notes, say: "I want to get feedback from you anonymously. What am I doing that you think I should continue? What should I stop doing? And what should I start doing?"

Believe it or not, I've found that the answers you'll receive are about 80% as accurate and effective as the information gotten from those expensive scientific surveys. After you evaluate the responses, express gratitude to those to whom you sent out your notes. Tell them what feedback you received, and what action plan you'll be taking. I think that humility and openness will accelerate personal growth and improve relationships.

Q: Tell us about how a mature leader works.

A: The mature leader is a servant leader. He doesn't order. He doesn't say, "This is what I want you to do." Instead, he asks, "How can I help you?" "What are your goals?" "What are you learning?" and "How can I help you to serve the market?"

Self-referenced persons don't do that. Because in their hearts, they believe in themselves, not in others. So they give people the message "This is the way it has to be." They insist on having their ways. They act like bratty teenagers.

Q: Have our society and culture contributed to immaturity in the workplace?

A: Definitely. We emphasize autonomy, freedom, independence and satisfying our own needs, rather than responsibility, interdependence and teamwork. A whole generation is being raised on a diet of freedom, autonomy, materialism, sensuality, instead of one of service, stewardship and responsibility.

Our big status symbols are often youth symbols. We glorify images of athletes and Hollywood icons, and look to them for answers to other issues when, in fact, they could be clueless. I've been studying this. It's a movement from the character ethic to the personality ethic.

Q: What advice do you have for people who work for a difficult, immature manager?

A: I think a person working for such an individual has to have a lot of security in order not to take the behaviors personally. They should focus on serving the marketplace, and not be hung up on the weaknesses of their boss. When dealing with this type of boss, you almost have to view them as though you were a parent, even though you're working for them.

Don't build your emotional life around the weaknesses of others. I see so many organizations with that type of institutionalized codependency.

Q: What will become of immature managers in the 21st century? Can they survive if they're good at their job skills but refuse to mend their ways?

A: A massive sea change is taking place. We have a global economy in which you can't produce high quality and keep costs low without having a high-trust corporate culture.

This can't be faked. You can't get by on immaturity when you're competing with world-class competitors. Juvenile managers will be driven to become more mature, or they won't make it. The "personality ethic" won't work in the 21st century.

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