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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Disillusioned, Part 1

Dear Sue: I was motivated to respond to "Disillusioned," the reader who questioned why businesses choose to give the axe to strong leaders admired by others within the organization. Not knowing all of the details, I have two possible perspectives on this issue:

One is that there are incompetent individuals in high places within an under performing organization who will try to rationalize their own incompetence by transferring blame to others they perceive as more competent and better liked. A subordinate who is not afraid to ask challenging questions is viewed as a significant threat by an insecure, incompetent manager and is a perfect target for extermination. The ultimate outcome to this unfortunate but predictable scenario is that the highly valued, well-liked individual gets dusted or leaves prior to the execution -- typically, for a better situation.

The other possibility can be due to a strong leader who has values that may be contrary to the organization's values. This person often is perceived as a threat to those in superior positions. Paranoia and extreme consternation over this perceived threat usually supercedes good business judgment and the threatening employee either leaves or is forced to leave.

The best path for strong leaders who encounter nonnegotiable cultural differences in the workplace is to recognize that no one can change a culture unless you are the boss, CEO or president.

"Keeping the culture" is an irrevocable rule of business and yet not one that I have seen used to explain situations similar to the one encountered by the person in your column. Devastating personal stress characterized by anxiety, anger and depression will occur if one tries to fight or change this fundamental rule of business. Changing the culture to suit ones own liking is simply not possible.

Usually, once a strong employee-leader leaves an organization, others like "Disillusioned" will follow because they, too, believe that the leader who departed aspired to a better culture.

The people who don't try to escape either have realigned their values to be in synch with the status quo or have already resigned themselves to leading lives of quiet desperation. 

- Jim C.

Sue Says: The letter from "Disillusioned" prompted a number of responses. Read on for more on the subject:

Dear Sue: I felt somewhat the same as "Disillusioned" when I decided to leave a career after 18 years. I found that supervisors tend to focus on doing things right and by the book. Leaders tend to be more concerned with doing the right thing.

Doing something right or by the book is great for the day to day operations of a business or department. It's when things happen out of the little box in the supervisor's manual that problems occur. Supervisors are not used to making decisions. They always rely on "the book," which often leads them to the wrong decision.

When making a decision, a leader will focus on doing the right thing. Employees know who the leaders are. When a company needs to pull together, a leader already has the respect of his or her employees and is able to lead through tough times. When a policy is bad, a leader will say so and work within the system to make things right. A supervisor won't stand up for his/her employees or do anything but follow the manual for fear of rocking the boat.

So why would a company or agency choose not to develop leadership ability along with supervisory skills? It's because of the same desire to "do the right thing." Unfortunately, what happened to the boss of "Disillusioned" is typical in every workplace. 

- Disillusioned too

Sue Says: I was fascinated by the letters I received, and the reasons you gave as to why companies have no loyalty and eliminate good managers.

Unfortunately I've run out of space, but will be back next week with more of your comments on the subject.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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