Leadership gone wrong: What Donald Sterling can teach us NOT to do

Last month, Donald Sterling set the stage for what not to do as an influential leader in the public eye. The 80-year-old real estate billionaire and owner of the NBA Los Angeles Clippers landed in the midst of a media firestorm after a video was released of Sterling making racist and derogatory remarks against black people. The court of public opinion had a field day and Sterling was booted from the NBA and slapped with a $2.5 million fine.

What did Sterling have to say? “I know I’m wrong, what I said was wrong. But I never thought a private conversation would go out to the public.” Sterling only found himself in hot water after the derogatory video hit the media mainstream but according to some, Sterling had a long history of inappropriate behaviour well before this video was leaked. A man that represented his team in all league matters and had final say – power that only 30 league owners have over their team.

So how could such an influential leader get away with so much?

Lack of awareness takes its toll

Sterlimanagers-behaving-badlyng’s position of power meant  his actions reflected not just himself, but his entire organisation. He caused conflict with his team, isolated his fans, and ignited turmoil within the NBA league.

As a leader, Sterling lacked awareness of how his inappropriate behaviour could be detrimental to his team. Had the video not been released, there is no saying if Sterling may have continued to act inappropriately.

In last month’s newsletter we reinforced the idea that most managers don’t recognise their own negative behaviour. As Eric Jackson wrote in a recent Forbes.com article, “There’s an old saying: people quit their bosses, not their jobs. If you want to keep the most talented members of your team, it’s time you started looking in the mirror and realise the biggest reasons why people quit have to do with you.”

Based on Sterling’s defence, he had a long way to go towards recognising his behaviour’s widespread effects – private conversation or not.

The fine line between leader and bully

Often this lack of awareness of negative behaviour becomes the root cause of bullying. Stress or frustration in the workplace can easily turn into anger causing wider workplace hazards.

Young confident caucasian businessman screaming on his employeeNew Zealand recently made the push to redefine bullying laws to try to combat it in its tracks. As a leader, understanding these new laws is important to how you conduct business and interact with your staff. Do you have policies in place? Are you capable of dealing with workplace conflict?

More importantly, are you aware if bullying in your workplace exists?

In a recent op-ed by General Tommy Franks in conjunction with the National Centre for Policy Analysis, Franks said, “Some foolishly think leadership is about pushing people around, actually it’s the exact opposite. Bullying is about pushing people around. Leadership is about pulling them up.” He goes on to say that by developing your character and your ability to communicate you can begin to take those steps towards proper leadership. Then together, you can guide people towards a common goal or vision.

These are similar ideas to that of TetraMap, a globally proven learning model that values natural differences. Our work with the TetraMap model has shown us that often it’s making people aware of their own behaviour that is the first step needed for change.

Within seconds, Sterling’s frustrations were released to the world in a video clip. But perhaps with some better understanding of himself and his frustrations, it could have been prevented.

Getting to the root of anger and frustration can often stop it from getting out of hand. TetraMap helps companies identify how their communication is blocked and by furthering understanding of self and others, how it can be reopened. As Franks said, “Leadership is about pulling people up.” Using the TetraMap model, your team can start to recognise individual strengths and differences, leading to more open communication and reduced conflict.

To have an open discussion about how TetraMap could help prevent your staff from experiencing communication issues and dysfunction, give us a call on 09-579-8566 or email me.


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