Good or great employees can typically identify who will be effective leaders. They know who they would want to follow. Conversely, the worst employees in an organization will usually recommend the wrong people for leadership roles. People often pick themselves when it comes to who should lead them.

An organization was in the process of selecting a new CEO. The top 20% of employees who were responsible for 80% of the success of the company strongly opposed a totally unqualified candidate. All the mediocre or incompetent employees liked him as they could quickly spot someone who shared their standards and would never hold them accountable. Key investors and major customers also expressed significant concerns.

Seeing someone so unqualified on the short list caused all the impressive and qualified candidates on that list to drop out knowing it was rigged in favor of a specific candidate. Thinking of themselves not the company, board members with serious conflicts of interest involving that one candidate picked the worst person in the search.

Predictably, the new CEO failed in every way possible. He made it clear he wasn’t going to listen to anyone and if you didn’t like it, you could leave.

Within two years, all the high performers quit costing the company a lot of customers and a ton of revenue. Of course, the lousy employees loved the new boss. After all, he was one of them.

Eventually, the Board had to face the painful financial reality before them and the new CEO left within three years. Morale at the company was terrible, substantial revenue and many customers had been lost, and their public image had major problems.

Had the Board simply listened to their best employees who loved the company and their customers, this entire disaster could have been avoided.

I’m not contending that employees should always pick their manager or supervisor. I am saying that you should at least listen to your great and good employees to learn their perspectives on who might be the right leader to ensure our long term success. Doing so can help and cannot hurt. Failing to do so can definitely hurt.


From the Teacher: Leadership Lessons with Dr. Saviak is a weekly column with the esteemed Joseph C. Saviak, Ph.D., J.D., M.A., M.S., Management Consulting & Leadership Training

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