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Kenneth W. Keller: When royalty becomes liability

Inside Business

Posted: December 1, 2009 8:56 p.m.
Updated: December 2, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Royalty is defined as a position of perceived authority granted by birth, appointment or education. Picture a king, queen, duke, prince, lord or princess. Now picture the president, movie star, television star, top athlete, rock star and people famous for doing or being nothing — all 100 percent American versions of royalty.

In a company, royalty consists of the president, vice presidents and other members of the leadership team. In a company, does being a person of royalty make the person a leader?

Does being a person of royalty mean the person is a hard worker?

Does being a person of royalty mean the person sets a good example for others to follow?

Does being a person of royalty mean the person puts the organization’s interests before his or her own? The answer is “no” to all of these questions.

A person of royalty holding a position of leadership means none of these things, and that is why royalty becomes liability in a company.

Liability comes into play when the member of royalty is not qualified to hold the position he or she has.

It means that the person feels he or she is entitled to hold the position even though he or she does not meet the qualifications for the position and does not fulfill the responsibilities required.  

It comes to pass fairly often that members of royalty believe they have all the skills, knowledge and education needed to do their jobs and that sharpening the saw is not necessary or needed.

This attitude is one reason why royalty can become a liability. If the business and the business environment change, shouldn’t those who lead it do the same?

Liability surfaces when members of royalty believe they are better than those around them. And because they are royalty, no one except someone higher in the royal hierarchy is supposed to question whether they are qualified or doing the job they are supposed to be doing.

A person of royalty may be a leader with passionate followers, without loyal followers, or with very reluctant followers.
The dangerous thing about royalty in a company is that all too often, members of royalty believe the rules, policies, procedures, systems, checks and balances of the company don’t apply to them. The general feeling is that the rules were made for others and that members of royalty are exempt from rules.

Even with the leadership team there is often contempt among the royals. The duke all too often believes he should be king; the princess believes she should hold the title of queen.

These words are never uttered out loud, but they are often thought. The thoughts are manifest in deeds: Failing to follow through, ignoring directives and not setting an example are just a few ways this happens.

Royalty becomes a liability when bad leadership behavior is tolerated. Tolerance becomes acceptance. Acceptance becomes normal and, in too many cases, what passes for normal is truly abnormal in the business world. This puts the company at a competitive disadvantage.

A company is not a democracy, nor is it a republic. People in charge make decisions, and there are others who are on the payroll to get tasks accomplished — things like taking orders from customers and fulfilling those customer needs.

When those in royalty fail to do their jobs and fail to be committed to the organization, when those individuals put their own needs first, they do a disservice to everyone else in the company.

“Off with their heads” isn’t the only way to address the situation, but those who advise royals need to be aware that all too often, the messenger is blamed for the message sent.

Ken Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, which brings business owners together in facilitated peer advisory boards. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Brain Food for Business People” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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