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Standing up to poor leaders

By: Jocelyn Lee, Singapore
Published: Oct 06, 2010


Singapore - If the leaders of an organisation fail to inspire their teams during a crisis, employees should step up to fill the leadership gap, especially if they plan on salvaging the situation.

The importance of organisational leadership is irrefutable. Employees may need to rise up to the occasion and assume an authoritative role in the absence of good leaders at work. Robert F. Bruner, dean and Charles C. Abbott professor of Business Administration for Darden School of Business, says employees have to "find faith in themselves" should their leaders fail them. 

Bruner tells Human Resources that when employees encounter poor leadership in their companies, they have to rethink "their values and sense of commitment". This is when a company is making losses, having a deflating market value, losing talent, experiencing decreasing employee morale and facing corruption.

According to Bruner, this is when employees should ask themselves, "Is this a company whose mission and potential I respect?"

Bruners adds that employees should also assess if they can make a difference in their companies under the failing leadership. Otherwise, an unfilled "leadership vacuum" could trigger a transfer of power through bankruptcy or a hostile takeover.

But the success rate of the employees' attempt to save the company will depend on their knowledge of the organisation, customers and market. Further, "they must act collectively, avoiding factions and infighting during what will be a very stressful time," says the dean.

Yet employees can seek help in times of such crises. They can go to the board of directors who can overrule the business leaders or a public prosecutor if a legal case is involved. Concerned employees can even announce it to the public through the media to have their issues addressed.

But they can also choose to rough it out with their companies during its most critical period. For instance, although Citigroup was impacted badly during the financial crisis, Bruner says most of its employees were focused on doing their best at work in hopes of turning the company's situation around. The collective effort eventually helped the financial giant recover from the recession.

However, there is no point for an employee to stay in the company if their ethical values become misaligned with the company's. This is when, Bruner says, leaving the organisation becomes the only solution for the employee because they do not believe that they can perform their best at the firm anymore.


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