Are you letting bad leaders undermine your good people?

 “Good players can’t overcome bad coaching.”

It’s one of my favorite adages about leadership which I heard once again this week from Bill Belichick, the legendary Head Coach of the once again Super Bowl Champions the New England Patriots.


After Sunday’s big win, Belichick was interviewed by ESPN. A panel of football experts followed up with a discussion about his strategy for the game and the tremendous performance of his defense in a tightly-fought game.


As most everyone knows, Belichick’s performance as a coach stands apart in the National Football League. Yet despite all the accolades and post-game reflections, these words were the ones that jumped out at me.


It’s not the first time he has shared these thoughts. After the Patriots beat the Atlanta Falcons a couple of years ago, he was asked by Suzy Welch on CNBC to share the key to his leadership. At that time, he observed that good players will never overcome bad coaching.


His frequent use of this quote strongly suggests that Belichick puts a premium on leadership accountability, both for himself and his coaching staff.


I think more leaders and organizations need to bring this idea front and center in their leadership thinking.  I spend way too much time listening to mid-level leaders express their frustration about bad senior leadership. From my work, it seems to be an epidemic.


There’s a huge price to pay when employees are overseen by bad leaders. Wayne Hochwarter, an associate professor of management at Florida State University’s College of Business, and his team has surveyed more than 700 people from a cross section of jobs. The survey tried to uncover how these employees were treated by the managers. While the survey is a bit dated, the themes found are as relevant today as they were when the study was conducted. Here’s what employees revealed:

  • 39% of managers failed to keep their promises
  • 37% of employees said that their manager failed to give credit where it was due
  • 31% of the employees surveyed said that their managers gave them the “silent treatment”
  • 27% said that their managers made negative comments about them to other employees or managers
  • 24% said their manager invaded their privacy
  • 23% reported that their manager blamed others to cover up mistakes or minimize personal embarrassment

The research also revealed that when employees work with bad leaders, they report experiencing more tension, mistrust, depression and anxiety.

Imagine working in this kind of environment. You would in no way feel that you could be at your best. What I have also learned is that strong performers don’t put up with bad leadership – they leave. Other employees with fewer options remain, stuck in an endless loop of leadership misery.

More recent research conducted by the Gallup organization has found that leaders account for an estimated 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. Furthermore, Gallup’s research suggests that working for a bad manager not only makes one feel miserable and dreadful at work, but also this state creates stress which negatively impacts one’s personal life.

I’m sure none of this is news to you, but it has an implication to your own leadership role.

I believe if you want to be a truly accountable leader you must ask yourself three important questions:   

  • First, are you a bad leader? Be honest. You need to look in the mirror and decide to do something about it if you are.
  • Second, are you working for a bad leader and is it undermining your ability to be at your best? If yes, then what are you going to do about your current situation?
  • Finally, you also need to ask yourself if you are tolerating bad leaders on your own team. Do you allow them to stick around even though you know they are destroying morale, commitment and passion?

If you answered yes to either the second or third question, you have some work to do. The consequences of doing nothing are just too high.

Patriot head coach Bill Belichick is right—good employees will never overcome bad leaders. It’s time we all started recognizing that.

This week’s Gut Check for Leaders Blog asks: Are you letting bad leaders undermine your good people?


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© 2019 Dr. Vince Molinaro, Leadership Contract Inc.

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