THE BLOG
02/08/2012 07:29 pm ET Updated Apr 09, 2012

Dirty Harry

Recently, at the request of a board of directors, I met with a senior executive who was widely considered to be a leadership disaster, but his business was doing well. He broke every management rule in the book, and was described as short sighted, disrespectful and arrogant. I'd been asked to do some coaching with him.

As far as he was concerned, his numbers were good and accordingly, everyone around him needed to adapt to his style. Any feedback from yours truly was unwelcome. I took a pass on the assignment.

Sometimes we encounter a 'successful' business person who doesn't embody any of the qualities we commonly regard as central to leadership. They do everything wrong and yet their business continues to thrive. This should be no surprise: if you're in the right business at the right time, have a strong team, a good product or competitive position, anything is possible. Usually though, this kind of apparent success is short-lived. Eventually, poor leadership catches up with you and often leads to derailment.

Leadership matters when it's not easy, when competition is tough and resources are thin. No business remains "the right business at the right time" forever, eventually things change and by the time weak leadership realizes that they too must change it's often too late.

When things are going well we often think it's our doing; sometimes it is and sometimes it's not. As Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) said, in the 1973 film Magnum Force, "Man's got to know his limitations." And the only way to know our leadership limitations is to be solicitous of, open to and grateful for any feedback we can get.

The ability to absorb and act on feedback is what separates the long-term players from the one-hit wonders.