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The Seven Deadly Habits of Highly Ineffective Executives, Part 1

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Posted February 20, 2003 By Arthur O'Connor     Feedback

The blockbuster management primer, updated for today's grimmer economy (with tongue firmly in cheek and apologies to Stephen R. Covey).

With apologies to Stephen R. Covey.

For some strange, nostalgic reason, I recently re-read the 1990 national bestseller and much-touted executive management tome, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," by Stephen Covey.

What struck me was how much has changed since the 1990s (we've yet to come up with a nickname for this decade, perhaps the double 0s?

A quick reminder of what it was like back then: Stock markets went up, not down; executive recruiters called with job opportunities, not begging for any placement work. The future was open, bright, and full of promises of prosperity and riches -- not dark with threats of terrorism and war.

Perhaps most remarkably different from today, employees were considered strategic "human resources" to be empowered, not unnecessary costs to be cut, as today.

During these giddy years, writings by Covey and other management gurus resonated the theme of values and integrity, emphasizing people and principles should be management's focus.

Keeping in mind the vast differences in pervasive practices of corporate America today versus management wisdom dispensed in the roaring '90s, I've developed an updated and greatly abridged version of Covey's book, entitled, "The Seven Deadly Habits of Highly Ineffective Executives."

In part one of this three-part column, we'll look at the first two deadly habits. In the second installment, we'll discuss deadly habits three through five; the last installment will cover the rest.

Deadly Habit No. 1: Stay in Denial

A critical survival technique for today's corporate executive is never admit there's anything wrong.

Never face the fact your organization's competencies are no longer competitive. Always assume (and insist) whatever your organization has traditionally been geared toward doing is what the market wants -- no matter how painfully obvious customer buying trends and competitive offerings have irreversibly changed your market.

This strategy requires you to spend a great deal of time sequestered with accountants "massaging the numbers" instead of going out there and talking with employees, partners, and customers. This is a good thing. It's a lot easier to convince your inner circle of corporate toadies everything's fine than to face the awful truth of the real-world marketplace.

Deadly Habit No. 2: Create a Climate of Fear

Hire and fire people based on their willingness to agree with your position. Do not tolerate open and honest communications, especially from anyone who questions or offers a differing opinion of the company's strategy and organizational design.

When communicating with key constituents, always employ that wonderful oxymoron: corporate communications. Issue press releases and memos that liberally use the passive voice and flowery management consultant speak, so no one really knows what the hell is going on.

Perhaps most important, as the financial numbers go south, announce a round of layoffs based on purely arbitrary criteria (a certain percentage of employees or a nice round figure). This helps foster a fear-based "every man from himself" corporate culture. It prevents any potential for teamwork, mutual respect, trust, honesty, integrity, or discipline. All of these would cause change, which is to be avoided at all costs.

Got an interesting insight, opinion, or real-world example to share? What are your thoughts? Please write me at Arthur.oconnor@reuters.com. And stay tuned for parts two and three.

Reprinted from ClickZ.

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