Saturday, 27 September 2014

Discussion Forum #2 - What Would Make You Happy At Work?

Well it had to happen.

It was only a matter of time before some inquisitive researchers decided to do a survey to prove the obvious : That  employees' job satisfaction favourably impacts  organisations.

As we know, happy workers increase productivity, go the 'extra mile' and become willing cheerleaders, (without being asked), of companies' brands, thereby boosting their reputations.

It is all common sense.

But here's the kick: This report reveals, among other things, that happy employees may actually make organisations richer.

Yes, they drive financial outcomes; this is not a vague conjecture.

The ultimate trade-off seems simple  - organisations strive to provide A,B,C (or whatever their employees value the most, which might not necessarily be more money); and the happy, engaged employees do their jobs plus  X,Y,Z .

A win-win situation for both the employees and the companies.

So we want to be helpful.

To smooth out the rough edges in the employment relationship, this discussion forum has been set up to help Management make decisions which would ensure that smart, talented and driven professionals, like yourselves, are happy in their careers.

Before you jump into the discussion, kindly note the guidelines below.

Guidelines for discussion forums

1)   Only comments related to the topic would be approved.

2)   Please edit your comments for clarity before posting.

3) Language should kindly be kept professional and 'clean' as inappropriate contributions will not be approved. Comments written as personal attacks will also be rejected.

4)   Comments  submitted after the deadline will not be published.

And now over to you....

Discussion Forum #2 - What Would Make You Happy At Work?

(27 September 2014 - 25 October 2014 at 00.00 West African Time)

Share all. Reveal all.

Even if you are your own boss, tell us what you believe would make your employees happier  to work for you.

If you are a one-man/woman entrepreneurial wonder, then what drives you in your chosen field?

Start the conversation and invite others to share their opinions as well.


Recommended reading


N.B - First image courtesy of Bplanet, via Second image courtesy of Jscreationzs. Animation courtesy of

Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Dying Art Of Managing The Psychological Contracts Of Employees

Some thirteen years ago at the London School of Economics & Political Science,  there was an interesting theme in organisational behavioural science which I found intriguing during my postgraduate studies. Still, I considered it an outdated,  'good-to-know' construct that would not be useful in the 'modern' workplace.  

Of course at that time  I had yet to be thrown into the murky waters of the employment sea. Therefore, I could neither appreciate  the angst professionals felt about their career development, nor understand the worry about the sifting priorities of their employers.  

However, over a decade later, with some experience in my portfolio and musings about the state of  corporateville, I realise that the theme is still as relevant today as it was when I was a student. This is due to the reality of constant organisational change and its implications for the corporate culture and the perceived worth of  employees.  

What you will  find interesting  this :  how this theme is handled in your companies might signal whether or not your employers deserve your expertise, time and more importantly, your continued  commitment and tenure.


The theme?  

The Psychological Contract.  

The origins of the psychological contract, it has been stated, could be traced back to the 1960s. However, Rousseau's (1989) definition of it  being "an individual's beliefs regarding the terms and conditions of a reciprocal exchange agreement between the focal person and another party" is arguably one of the clearest definition to use.  

A main complexity of the psychological contract lies in the fact that it is perceptual, unwritten and might not be shared by the other party, (the organisation), in the exchange relationship.  

Explaining further, researchers in the field of organisational behaviour stated that a psychological contract emerges when an individual, (employee), believes that his contributions obliges the organisation to reciprocate in a similar manner.   The analysis of  this theme is thorough and as you delve into different dimensions of the construct, it becomes complex.  

However, three points echoed in some studies need to be highlighted:
1) Research made by Robinson in 1996, (although weak in some areas), revealed that unmet obligations had more dire consequences than unmet expectations.  

2) Morrison & Robinson (1997) explained that a psychological contract breach was a perception that a company has failed to fulfil one or more obligations comprising the psychological contract.  

3) Unmet promises may or may not result in perceived breach. Similarly, perceived breach may or may not result in violation and would depend on certain factors which Morrison & Robinson (1997) listed including outcome assessment and attribution.  

While it may not be necessary at this point to discuss the factors leading to violations, what the researchers noted was that a psychological contract violation captures the emotional angle of anger, resentment, bitterness, outrage etc, all resulting from a perception of betrayal or of being mistreated.  

Violations in the psychological contract could have serious repercussions for the organisation.

Why Management Should Take The Psychological Contract Seriously


The psychological contract is useful in understanding the changing employment relationship especially as it affects the attitudes and behaviours of employees. This is because the employee is likely to be influenced by how he perceives the organisation supports him and whether or not he feels that his contributions to his employer are valued, and if so, whether such appreciation is  manifested in ways he deserves. 

The most difficult angle of the psychological contract I believe, is the fact that it is subjective, being formed in the mind of a specific employee. This, to be fair,  makes it difficult for the organisation to tackle, given that Employee A might have a different psychological contract from Employee B. 

If you also consider the fact that a psychological contract is not written in ink, there is a risk for Management to  ignore its usefulness in the employment relationship. After all, if Management did not explicitly promise/pledge/state that they would provide A,B,C then surely they shouldn't be vilified for not  fulfilling  X,Y,Z.  

But this is where Management gets it wrong because unfulfilled expectations, or worse, obligations, make employees unhappy, dissatisfied with their jobs and disillusioned with their employers. These feelings can cost the organisation dearly in terms of high turnover, lost productivity, a dented corporate image and a whole host of organisational woes. 

It is common knowledge that happy, engaged, ('tuned on'), workers do great things for companies. On the flip side,  unhappy, disengaged employees cost companies millions); a situation which may even have far-reaching effects on the personal lives of professionals.

Moreover, there is empirical evidence that violations of  psychological contracts impact the organisation significantly. Results supplied by some researchers below would interest Management in general and HR executives in particular: 

1) Violations, (note that these are more serious than unmet expectations or unfulfilled obligations), were found to decrease the following:  employees' trust in their employers, satisfaction with their jobs and organisations, as well as their intentions to remain. (Robinson & Rousseau 1994; Robinson & Morrison, 1995).  


2) In extreme cases of violation, employees may seek revenge or retaliation, engaging in sabotage, theft, (the single most expensive form of non-violent crime against the organisation), or may display aggressive behaviour. (Fisher & Brown, 1982; Greenberg, 1990; Robinson & Bennett, In Press; Tripp & Bies, In Press). 

3) Violations may also lead to expensive lawsuits which if publicised, may damage an organisation's external reputation (McLean Parks & Schmedemann, 1994).

4) Following psychological contract violations, employees are more likely to become less loyal to the organisation, may exit, voice disappointment to management, neglect work and present the company as unfavourable to others. (Turnley & Feldman, 1999). 

5) Pugh et al. (2000) found the long-term consequence -  when an employee perceives contract breach with the employer, it affects the employee's trust and makes him adopt a cynical view of the (new) employment relationship, which is mediated by worry. 

Given the significant effects of  psychological contract breach/violation on employees' attitudes and behaviours, which impact job performance and productivity, it becomes imperative for Management  to take this theme seriously.  

Putting  The  Psychological  Contract Into Perspective

Let us explore a practical scenario.  

A new employee, Mr. X, has just been hired and is immediately enrolled into a week-long induction programme, which consists of tours around the branch, 'bonding' lunch/dinner sessions with new colleagues and bosses, setting up of his work space  etc. He is shown around the company and is  being told -  via word of mouth from one of his new bosses during a company-sponsored 'happy hour' after work; by watching company videos; by reading employees' testimonials; or by listening to stories of older employees -  that the company embraces diversity.

He gets the distinct impression that the rights of minority groups are respected including :  the right to a fair hearing; the right to sound procedures determining his pay, compensation package, promotions etc; and the right to be treated with professional courtesy during his tenure at the organisation.

Slowly his perceptions of what the employers owe him, in return for professionally performing duties listed in his job description, are formed, one of which is a zero tolerance for discrimination. Even if  'discrimination'  is not clearly defined in the employee handbook, Mr. X is convinced that should a grievance occurs, he will be able to argue his case. He would be confident of a standard investigation and of a fair outcome.

Now fast-forward a year or two and Mr. X finds himself in a dilemma. He has been subjected to racial slurs from his immediate boss on several occasions, which have escalated to verbal attacks/ridicule and intimidation, cleverly linked to 'criticisms' of his job performance. He reports the situation to his boss' superior but is abruptly told to focus on his job and to do as he is told.

He is surprised, not only by the outcome, but  also by the lack of concern/objectivity displayed by a supposedly trusted executive. He may experience at this point, a psychological contract breach as he is neither being given a fair hearing, nor being treated with respect, two elements inherent in his psychological contract which have not been fulfilled.

Mr. X takes it further and lodges a complaint with HR. The complaint is 'filed' and an informal meeting is arranged whereby he, his boss, his boss' superior and the HR manager are present.

Mr. X does have his say, as do the other parties present. The meeting concludes with Mr. X being told that he had misunderstood the "direction" given by his boss. He is also informed that perhaps due to cultural differences and nuances in language styles, he might have  "imagined" the abuse and had taken the wrong way, the "robust, passionate advice" of  his boss, borne out of the latter's concern for the consistently unsatisfactory performance of Mr.  X.  It is further explained that his lacklustre performance has been particularly a concern for Management in view of the possibility of a new role in  the nearest future, if only he could utilise his time more effectively and avoid wasting his energies on perceived injustices.

Mr. X leaves the meeting with the notion that his boss' shortcomings have been watered down and that the issue would not be pursued further. He is also aware of  the unspoken threat that his 'incompetence' has been noted and may cost him a favourable performance review and by extension, a promotion, especially if he files another complaint.

The behaviour of his boss continues and Mr. X is subjected to more intimidation and veiled threats.

As time elapses, Mr. X experiences helplessness, anger and betrayal in varying degrees of severity, leading to increased stress and health problems. He believes that the 'zero tolerance for discrimination' element of his psychological contract has been violated.  Indeed, he is convinced that the organisation has reneged on its obligation to address issues of discrimination/abuse in a fair, transparent way. He may be motivated to take action since he believes his employers do not value him, his well-being or his contributions.


Remember that his perception of the situation is deeply personal and subjective and might not be shared by Management, or 'make sense' to those in authority if they were privy to his cognitive views.

Mr. X may engage in some of the negative behaviours listed by researchers relating to psychological contract violations. He may  quit or sue the company for emotional damages and poor health caused by the toxic workplace.

As a calculated move, he stays for a certain period but makes it his mission to discredit his employer's reputation wherever possible. He may also retaliate in 'clever' ways by engaging in sabotage, by missing work deliberately and by being unreliable.


Whether he stays or leaves, his attitude and actions would have a negative impact on the organisation.  

Now imagine several employees feeling betrayed by the company for violations in elements of their psychological contracts. (Mr. X may have also shared his experiences with trusted co-workers who may have suffered similar woes). 

Imagine the damage that situation could cause the organisation.

Performance levels would dwindle and if the company's main operations are steeped in sales or services, the drop in numbers and/or flight of customers would translate to significant losses for the establishment. 

The scenario above is sadly not far-fetched as many professionals who are wronged by their bosses and/or who do not receive the support or fairness they require from the organisations, are far from being the cheerleaders their employers would want.

In fact,  former aggrieved employees, could take their 'reign of terror' online and reveal all in social media, as reported in this article. In this digital age, social media is a powerful tool for making or breaking corporate reputations, with very real consequences.  In the report provided by the Telegraph, 30% of businesses in the UK also stated that their online reputation had been affected by the online activity of existing employees. 

Note to Management - be careful how you treat your  employees...  


Tips for Effectively Managing Psychological Contracts 

As stated earlier, managing  the psychological contract of one employee is no easy feat; managing the collective psychological contract of your entire staff seems almost impossible.   


But it is achievable and I will explain how.  

As Rousseau (1997) found, the  psychological contract is formed during the hiring and socialisation period, (induction), of a new entrant.  

This period, after the standard employment contract has signed, is when the new employee gets a glimpse of the corporate culture and a sense of what to expect from his employers in the reciprocal exchange, if he does X,Y,Z.  

So it would make sense to clearly communicate the company's values, expectations and procedures using different methods during the induction/socialisation period. These  values should match  elements shaped in the psychological contracts of the employees.

A good way this could be achieved is by a constant two-way communication stream between the new staff and the appointed executives. New entrants should not be left to 'figure it out' after only a brief introduction.

Clear and consistent communication also eliminates conjectures and helps the organisation to manage the collective expectations of its employees in a supportive way. Fulfilled expectations and obligations make up positive indicators of psychological contracts, resulting in happy, engaged employees who deliver favourable results for the company. 

Below are specific actions Management could adopt: 


1) Train the staff who would be handling the induction programmes to communicate clearly what the company values/procedures are and how complaints related to interpersonal issues and career development are handled. New entrants should know how complaints could be escalated to top management, without fear or intimidation. Key HR officials to handle specific issues should be named and contact details provided. Provide them with the employee handbook but highlight important sections.

2) Educate supervisors/managers on the need to be an 'open book' in matters of transparency and accountability; to be seen as approachable to new entrants. An immediate boss is instrumental in shaping the perceptions of a new employee.

3) Explain via the intranet and other internal communication platforms that the new entrants would be assigned 'mentors' in their first year. These experienced employees would ease the assimilation of new staff into the company and will help to address the latter's initial concerns. More serious issues would be forwarded to designated HR officials.

Employees who feel 'listened to' are likely to become empowered and would direct their enthusiasm to their duties.

A win-win situation for both Management and employees.




It is true that companies differ in sizes, values and cultures, so  some might doubt that the above-mentioned recommendations would be applicable to their companies.  

Nonetheless,  as researchers have stated that psychological contracts are formed during the socialisation/hiring process, Management could use the induction period as an opportunity to manage the expectations of new entrants with strategic communications in a collaborative relationship. This move will help employers prevent psychological contract breaches and violations which are detrimental to their organisations.  

A good foundation of trust at the beginning would be useful in periods of inevitable change where employees' expectations cannot be fulfilled for practical reasons or due to unforeseen circumstances. 

Unmet expectations are not likely to result in breaches or violations in the psychological contracts if, among other things, communication is used to clarify the following - how changes would affect employees; how timely and transparent the information is; how procedures are used; and how decisions are reached. These things are sometimes more important to employees than unfavourable outcomes. 

So Management, you should accord this theme the importance it deserves in the employment relationship. Strive to resurrect the dying art of managing your employees' psychological contracts for a more productive workplace.  
Now, let's hear your views.  

What do you think about the psychological contract? What are your suggestions for managing the expectations of employees?  Kindly post your comments below.


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N.B–  All images are available on the archive. First image courtesy of Nongpimmy. Second image courtesy of  Stuart Miles. Third image courtesy of Iosphere. Fourth image courtesy of Rattigon. Fifth image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici. Sixth image courtesy of Jesadaphorn and last image courtesy of  Vlado.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

From Politics to Corporateville - Top 5 Mistakes Leaders Make

Leadership is no easy feat.


And when it is done genuinely, without  fear or favour, it can often be lonely  -  you defending your principles or holding on to your integrity.

Indeed,  after the 'prestige' of a  position wears off or its 'sheen' is dulled by the unyielding harshness of reality, leaders become susceptible to unwarranted criticisms, backlashes from the public and exaggerations of their failures. Throw in a couple of crises, scandals and disasters, and very few leaders emerge unscathed.

Alas that's how it is and at the risk of sounding insensitive - that's what they signed up for. Leadership is not meant to be a bed of roses. It can however be fulfilling, as some are convinced, if executed properly. More often than not, leaders make serious and very public errors.

Some faux-pas are nonetheless avoidable. These influence the perceptions of the public, leading to judgements that certain leaders are ineffective, weak or both.

So whether you are a leader of a company, an organisation or of a country, below are five mistakes you should avoid like a plague.

1) Embracing  the  'Me Syndrome'

Power, even perceived power and influence, can be intoxicating. And if a leader is not disciplined or lacks humility, it becomes more difficult to remember the reason for wanting to lead in the first place.

If your influence is significant, then there's also a risk of becoming narcissistic and of believing everything and everyone should be aligned to promote the cause that is YOU. Should your advisors only tell you what you want to hear, then you, as a leader, would lose sight of what is truly important - the people.

Case in point - the abduction of 200+ schoolgirls from their dormitories by Islamic militants Boko Haram, on April 14, 2014, in Chibok, north-eastern Nigeria.

While the abduction was itself a shocking incident that led to international outrage, what was particularly distressing to the anguished families of the missing schoolgirls, was the perceived slow response of the Nigerian government to the crisis. President Jonathan was criticised for not showing enough concern and for not doing enough to rescue the girls, the complexities of a rescue notwithstanding.

It took a social media campaign, #BringBackOurGirls - which started in Nigeria and spread throughout the world - to gather some intelligence and support from the U.S, UK and others.



Unfortunately, it was not until a request was made by 17-year old education rights' activist, Malala Yousafzai during her visit to Nigeria, that  arrangements were made for  President Jonathan to meet the parents/relatives of the kidnapped girls...three months after the abduction. Not surprisingly, the hastily-planned meeting with the President was rejected in early July by the schoolgirls' guardians because the group wanted all stakeholders represented, and just not a select few. 

Sources from the Presidency blamed the shunned meeting on political opponents who, they stated, were manipulating the parents/relatives of the Chibok girls to discredit the President.

Even then, they still didn't 'get' it - it wasn't about President Jonathan's image or political aspirations. It was about the victims, the schoolgirls, who were still being detained by the militants, three months after their abduction, and the daily agony of their relatives, some of whom died from heart failures and high blood pressure because of the ordeal.

Then almost 100 days after the abduction, President Jonathan finally met the 51 girls who had escaped and their relatives.

So as a leader, note that it's not about you.  It should be about the people you are leading and about how you can serve them and make their lives better/happier/safer.  

Avoid the  'Me Syndrome'  and you will be one step closer to winning the hearts of your followers.

2) Being in denial

"The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse".

- Edmund Burke


On July 17, 2014, Malaysian Airways flight MH17 left Amsterdam, the Netherlands, for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with 298 passengers and crew but crashed in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, essentially a war zone. The area, although on Ukraine territory, was controlled by Russian rebels and had been subject to attacks in recent times in the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

The tragedy, "a very human tragedy" as the media stated, is believed to have been caused by a surface-to-air missile system, called a Buk, which Ukraine believed was used by Russian separatists to bring down the passenger jet, killing all on board, including 80 children. Ukrainian government officials were convinced that  calls they intercepted between the Russian terrorists incriminated the rebels. 

Not surprisingly, the Russian rebels deny shooting down the plane, stating they lacked the technical knowledge to use the sophisticated surface-to-air missile system. This declaration was made despite the separatists  having  claimed  responsibility  for  shooting down, not too long before the crash, an AN-26 military plane at 21,000 feet; an altitude only reachable by "a sophisticated surface-to-air missile with radar guidance", as was stated in reports. It is believed that the MK17 was flying at 33,000 feet when it was shot down.

The manifest of the passengers and crew, released by Malaysian Airways revealed that victims were citizens of different countries including: the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, Britain, Germany and the United States. According to reports, 193 of the deceased were Dutch, making the Netherlands the hardest hit. The international representation of the victims meant that the collective anger of the affected nations was directed at those they considered responsible for the tragedy -  the Russian rebels -  and by extension, fair or not, at Russia.

While we may not know all the facts until a later date, the response of Russian President, Vladimir Putin, leaves a lot to be desired. Blaming Ukraine for the tragedy, he remained defiant in the face of allegations of Russia's involvement in the attack on MH17. He also appeared to be in denial over mounting, (albeit at the time, not entirely substantiated) information suggesting Russia's culpability.

Tensions between Ukraine and Russia had reached a worrisome high. So it was plausible for one country to blame the other for the tragedy and for bitter accusations to be traded.

Nevertheless, President Putin's delayed action, over how  the wreckage site/crime scene was heavily guarded by the Russian separatists, making investigation difficult; or how he didn't address  the way the bodies were treated at the crash site, did not earn him brownie points.

In the same vein, his delay in directing the Russian rebels to co-operate with international community, to ensure free access to the crash site for international investigators, rescue workers, journalists etc; did not mirror empathy for the outraged nations and grieving families.

It was not until about  a week after the crash that Russia stated that it would co-operate with the MH17 probe led by the Netherlands. This declaration I believe, came much too late as the damage had already been done.  

Allowing precious time to elapse before offering concrete solutions or ignoring  critical information in the hope that widespread criticisms would go away, is denial at its peak. It is also an ineffective tactic for any leader facing such a crisis. This is because at some point, the truth will surface and your credibility would be severely tarnished, with notable consequences. 

For example, following international condemnation of Vladimir Putin's inaction in the wake of the MH17 tragedy, and his continued disregard of the serious allegations levelled against Russia for arming the Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, a strong call was made for the European Union (EU) to impose tougher sanctions on Russia. than had been placed by the U.S a day before the shooting down of MH17.

Then on July 29, 2014,  the  EU ran out of patience  and made  good   on   its  threat.  It  displayed the strong political will required to approve wider sanctions on Russia, targeting its economy. The EU was also expected to release names of more Russian officials facing asset freezes and travel bans in Europe.

The bad news kept coming for the Russian President - the United States followed suit later that day and listed additional sanctions on Russiaeven as President Obama criticised Russia for failing to co-operate with the international community regarding  the investigation into the MH17 crash.

The response from Russian authorities regarding the EU's action was not surprising - indifference. They believed that the sanctions would 'inevitably' raise energy prices in Europe, indirectly suggesting that by imposing the sanctions, the EU was cutting off its nose to spite its face. According to  the New York Times, Russian officials belittled the sanctions, and opined  that   the   latter would  in fact strengthen the country's economy but would worsen the diplomatic atmosphere.


Only time would tell whether or not  the EU and US sanctions would gravely impact the Russian economy.

However, a crucial lesson for  leaders can be learnt  from President Putin's mistake of being in denial - there are consequences for indulging in the false sense of security that denial brings. Indeed, not only does it cloud reasonable judgement and delay solutions, all which unfavourably impact your effectiveness, but it also negates the public's perceptions of your abilities and loses you sympathetic supporters or powerful allies.

Don't do it; it is always counter-productive.

As a leader, you must also be careful not to abuse your power. Even inaction in very dire circumstances, such as in the aftermath of the MH17 tragedy, could be cruel, particularly when heart-wrenching grief was experienced by multiple families in different countries.

Be human -  empathise with the suffering, face challenges bravely and proactively seek solutions for the sake of  your followers.

3) Enabling the 'I-Am-Always-Right Mentality'

"Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely". 

The quote above, credited to 19th century British historian, Sir John Dalberg-Acton, is just as apt today as it was centuries ago.


While this point is very similar to #1, pride and arrogance are the root of this mentality and unlike #1, the leader is his own worst enemy who sabotages his career or efforts because of an inflated perception of self.

So he does not genuinely delegate.  While he may show some semblance of conferring with others and of listening to their suggestions, he impulsively overrules sensible advice and unilaterally acts on his  beliefs, which are average at best, but  disastrous in testing situations.                                   


Quite by chance, he makes some practical decisions. However, when a crisis occurs, requiring a complex strategy beyond the realm of his expertise or experience, he crashes and burns.  

Since his pride hinders him from asking for help from anyone -  whether from those he considers beneath his station/influence, those at par with him, or from those more discerning than him  -  and because he has alienated potential supporters, such a leader's failure may be too much of a burden to bear. Psychological issues, depression and real health worries may follow. If he doesn't seek medical attention and/or therapy, it may end badly for him.  

While this extreme might sound far-fetched, leaders should generally resist the desire for personal glory. They should avoid the quest for, and lure of absolute power, which corrupts the mind and numbs the voice of reason. No man is an island and great leaders should not be afraid to ask for help. In fact, many corporate leaders today advocate hiring people who are smarter than them. There is strength in numbers and no leader, no matter how gifted, can know it all.

For any business, whether small or complex, whose owners may excel following their 'guts',  keeping an open mind and being flexible, and thus adaptable, is the key to success. Keeping traditions is fine but remaining resistant to change is often the kiss of death if you want your business to adapt, innovate or grow. And you will need the help of others to succeed.

So if you want to lead effectively in Corporateville, un-learn this mentality of believing you know it all.

4) Not    balancing    the    'Confidentiality/ Transparency  Scale'

This issue is actually a legitimate concern as sometimes, there is a thin line between what information should be kept confidential,     (secret), and what should be revealed. Given also legal restrictions to certain information, proprietary rights, rights to privacy, or issues pertaining to national security - there are certain things that the public should not be privy to in the first instance.

But, and there is a huge but - when matters directly affect the public  i.e.  its health, safety and well being - transparency is necessary, especially when human lives are at stake.


So during disasters, crises, epidemics, tragedies etc, withholding information in the hope of avoiding widespread panic, or to reduce liability/culpability or because of the fear of criticism, is a wrong move. It is also one of the quickest way for a leader not only to lose face, but to be vilified and removed from his position.

The corporate world is rife with various crises, such as: faulty ignition switches claiming at least 13 lives in 2014, (General Motors); Gulf oil spill, stated to be the worst oil spill in U.S history, causing huge environmental damage in 2010, (British Petroleum);  and amongst others, financial mismanagement, corruption, stock price crashes, in 2001 (ENRON). These situations required  full disclosure because of human errors and mechanical faults. 

During tough circumstances, factual and timely feedback  is crucial for  crisis management. This creates trust and trust generates support and strength of purpose -  all which open the door to co-operation and collaboration, leading to solutions.

Yes, it is likely that the leader would have to accept responsibility for errors made under his watch; he may have to 'own' the crisis as they say. Nevertheless, if the leader understands how to balance the 'Confidentiality/Transparency Scale', (with the help of experienced, trusted advisers), he is likely to remain standing after the storm has passed.  

So leaders, cultivate the skill of finding the right balance. You should know when to provide clear, factual and timely feedback and when to be cautious about revealing certain things until a later date. Being tactful will pay off sooner than you think.   

5) Having poor or ineffective communication skills

This is an important, albeit underestimated, mistake leaders make.

Being a weak speaker can elicit ridicule, just as writing poorly can evoke derision. There is also the subtle dimension of communication -  body language cues -  which leaders may not notice.

Communicating effectively is not about being a great orator or about writing excellent, perfectly-constructed content. While you may have excellent verbal skills and may write convincing pieces, if you cannot use clear, simple language that your audience will understand and believe, then your speech/address/press release benefits no one but yourself.  As you cannot lead with purpose without a dedicated following, this point should concern you. 

It is therefore important to ask yourself these questions: 


Am I honest in my communications or do I embellish the unfavourable information? 

Does my email/memo/letter display a true concern for the issues important to my audience?  

Do I take responsibility for problems or do I waffle on or  play the victim?                                                                              

Do I communicate like a robot, reading my speech throughout a televised segment, with an expressionless face? 

Do I fidget, avoid looking at the camera, bark out my speech or become incoherent?

Answering such questions truthfully is key to accurately assessing your communication skills. Your followers/employees/fellow citizens, are smart  and would question your motives and your delivery. 


Make a deliberate effort to improve your communication skills and you will become a more credible leader, especially if your words are backed up by action.  




Leadership can often be a complex issue so the mistakes mentioned in this post are in no way exhaustive.


Nevertheless, the  tips  given  support  the widely desired version of leadership - "servant leadership" - which advocates the leader having  at his core, the conviction  to serve.


It is important to note that political and corporate leaders lead people and these people have aspirations, expectations and obligations which they expect their leaders to prioritise. 

No one is perfect but by avoiding the five mistakes mentioned, you are likely to become the kind of leader would vote for, follow or support. 

So, what other mistakes do political and corporate leaders make?

Kindly post your comments below, anonymously if you prefer.

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N.B– First and seventh images courtesy of Renjith Krishnan; via Second and fourth images courtesy of Iosphere; via Picture of Malala Yousafzai with President Jonathan, courtesy of Twitter. Third, fifth and sixth images courtesy of Stuart Miles; via Screenshot of CNN headline, taken by author.