Posted by: Brandon W. Jones | January 9, 2011

Poor Leadership, Part 1 of 2

I recently talked to my brother-in-law, Dan, and he relayed a very interesting story to me relating to poor leadership.  Some time ago he worked for a very well-known company.  While working there, he had an experience that really stunted his career progress for quite some time.

The story started when he got a new supervisor.  The new supervisor had been with the company about the same amount of time as Dan.  Dan and the new supervisor both interviewed for the supervisor position, but the new supervisor, John, received the position instead of Dan.  Prior to the supervisor transition, Dan was ready for a promotion with his previous supervisor.  Dan was very concerned that with the transition, he would not receive the promotion very quickly. 

In order to help the John transition into his new position, Dan offered his help in any way possible.  Dan also did all he could to show his leadership abilities by taking on several new responsibilities that were above and beyond his current job description.

Within a few weeks of the supervisor transition, Dan began following up with the new supervisor on what was required for the promotion he was previously about to receive with his old supervisor.  As the new supervisor, John was unsure of the requirements necessary for the promotion.  He said he would find out and let Dan know.  From that point, Dan decided he would continue to follow-up with John about every three weeks to be persistent but not a nag. 

After one month, John gave Dan a specific criterion for receiving the promotion and requested that Dan identify how he had completed each aspect of the criterion.  Dan completed the request very quickly and John responded by saying he would fill out the paperwork to complete the promotion.  Dan was very excited, but was not going to stop his regular follow-up if needed.  A month went by and no promotion.  Dan followed up.  Another month went by and Dan followed up again.  Time continued to march on, and in no time, six months had gone by.  Each of those months Dan asked John about the promotion, but John didn’t have any news.  At the seven month mark, Dan went to talk to John for his regular follow-up.  John said that although he had said Dan was ready for the promotion seven months earlier there were still a few requirements.

Dan was devastated but set up a meeting to find out the requirements.  Dan tried to get John to identify the specific requirements, but John would only say that he needed to get a warm fuzzy feeling to tell him that Dan was ready for the promotion.  Dan tried to figure out what he was referring to as a warm fuzzy feeling, but John said he just had to get “that feeling,” and there was no specific requirement above those he had already explained.  Another thing John did was to reassure Dan that in no way would John try to hold him back on his promotion.

Dan now had no specific requirements set out for the promotion and felt like he had been led on for several months. He felt he was not being treated fairly because other people within the company had received the promotion with less experience than he currently had under different supervisors.

As a leader, how would you have handled this situation?  Did John do a good job or should he have done things differently?  Should Dan have handled this differently?



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by jessplassmeyer, brandonwjones1. brandonwjones1 said: Poor Leadership, Part 1 of 2: This is a must read when it comes to what not to do. […]

  2. Hi Brandon,
    Great post & tough situation. Since both Dan & John interviewed for the same supervisor position, both must have some contact with the “higher-ups”. If Dan was on track for the promotion prior to John obtaining the supervisor position, his previous supervisor or the higher-ups must have had some awareness of this. After going through John for a substantial period of time (in this case it seems a little excessive), without a solid answer, Dan should approach the supervisor above John. Again, this is only because he has already gone directly to John and done every specified task.

  3. Welcome Mackenzie,
    Thanks for explaining how you would approach this situation. It is quite a challenge because in a strong corporate culture where everything has to be done in order with the heirarchy of leadership it can be career suicide to go over someone’s head. At the same time, there comes a point where valuable employees must either fight or find a new job with a new company. Thanks again for contributing your thoughts.

  4. If I were Dan, I would let the manager know that I need to know what I am expected to improve on. I would remind him that every time the discussion comes up. a”Warm fuzzy felling” does not provide information for Dan to work on the areas he might be lacking experience at. Great blog by the way.

  5. Good information. This is a difficult situation. John seems to be avoiding the situation which isn’t a sign of a strong leader. John should have been clear and upfront from the beginning. If he was unable to provide an assessment of Dan then he should have stated it from the very beginning instead of dodging the question. Dan did a good job being persistent but professional. Dan can possibly follow up and ask for a list of specific development items to be improved. Dan can also ask for a Job Description of the Supervisor position he desires to attain. This can help Dan understand what John may be looking for. Great blog Brandon.


  6. Alberto, thanks for the comment. I really like what you said about following up on the “warm fuzzy feeling”. That response from John about the “warm fuzzy feeling” is so vague and does not have any way of being quantified. It needs to be clarified to have specific metrics.

    Bert, I agree with you on the importance of being upfront and honest. That also creates transparency for John as a leader, which is very good for his followers. The job description request is also a very good idea. Thanks for your comments.

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