Lessons From the Trail: Outing Disengaged Managers…

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Political campaigns typically offer fabulous examples of both good and bad talent management, and last week was no exception. In case you missed it, news broke Thursday that approximately 16 of Newt Gingrich’s top staffers quit, reportedly because they did not feel he was committed to doing the hard work of the campaign. Reading the details made me think that it is ironic that so many leaders spend their time worried about engaging employees. Here, Gingrich’s staff showed him exactly what happens when employees perceive the leader is disengaged.

Personnel changes in major campaigns happen all the time, but rarely this early and high-profile. If they had been fighting the state to state battle for months, a staff shake up might be expected. Instead, we are 500+ days away from the election and Gingrich’s official campaign was less than a month old.

What drives 16 nationally well known campaign leaders to quit en masse a presidential campaign in its infancy? One reason—they were more engaged than their boss. From The Daily Beast:

The final straw for some in the campaign was Gingrich’s decision to suddenly absent himself from the fray earlier this month to take a luxury Greek cruise with his wife, Callista—an odyssey one Gingrich insider called, “the Greek tragedy.” Some on Gingrich’s campaign staff had strongly urged the candidate not to abandon the field for an opulent vacation. Gingrich’s insistence on taking the cruise reflected the deep disconnect between his staff’s idea of what was required to win the nomination, and Gingrich’s own. Gingrich sometimes “seemed almost annoyed at the process,” one top staffer said…. It’s not a hobby. This is a full-time, 80-hour-a-week job.”

And from USA Today:

Scott Rials, one of the Gingrich aides who resigned, told the AP that he had doubts about Gingrich’s ability to win the GOP nomination. “There was a question of commitment.”

Now, we all understand that there are plenty of employees in the world working for uninspired managers, but not all of them can quit. Gingrich’s staff can, and I think it’s because of a combination of a few factors:

  • The “market” is evolving—the campaign is still developing, so there is no employer of choice, which leads to talent seeking out the best chance to win. Gingrich did not appear to be committed to winning.
  • Talented employees have options—“when former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue went to bed Wednesday night, he was still in charge of Gingrich’s campaign. By Thursday, he had been hired to join Pawlenty’s “national efforts.”
  • The success of the enterprise is directly related to the engagement of the leader—in some companies, a mediocre manager can survive, sometimes for years. No way in a campaign.

Gingrich’s managers did not like what they saw, so they bolted for other market opportunities, possibly killing Gingrich’s campaign. Can you imagine the conversation in the HR world regarding employee engagement if the focus went to uninspired managers? If every manager out there who is mailing it in got outed as publicly as Gingrich did, we would spend less time worried about “employee engagement.” I think it would fix itself, as dedicated and committed managers would drive similar employee behavior.

I worked for a disengaged manager years ago, and it pretty much sucked the life out of me. I lasted 14 months. These staffers lasted about a month and ran for the door, making front page news.

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RJ Morris
R. J. Morris is a talent acquisition/staffing director based out of STL with McCarthy Building Companies, a multi-billion dollar national firm. Like many others in the FOT clan, he's a sports nut who can endlessly draw the parallels between athletes, sports and the talent management game. I know, I know, as if we needed more of that.  He has 7 years of practitioner experience leading talent acquisition efforts in corporate HR and another 7 years in leadership roles on the agency side, so he gets both sides of the desk.  Talk to R.J. via emailLinkedInTwitter...

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