Dealing with Leadership misconduct

Opportunities and Limits

Please, do not make any mistakes when leading a department.

While anyone can understand an organisation’s wish that this approach becomes a reality, it is not very realistic to assume that it will ever happen. When speaking at a convention recently, I read of an “error-free leadership approach”. While the speech consisted of the to-be-expected anecdotal evidence, no proof or evidence was delivered, and no data backed up their claims. However, the number of leaders who thought this should be the best approach was astonishing.

Photo by Julien Flutto on Unsplash

The main strategies in the following discussions were how to avoid making any decision by yourself and how you can delegate any task that might involve a decision that someone else can be blamed in case of any mistakes or errors. Leaders make mistakes. We have to know how to deal with them.

How can your organisation deal with leadership misconduct?


An open approach to errors and mistakes became one of the leading marketing tools to win talent in the recent past. However, in reality, this approach rarely found a real-world application. The scenarios often followed a strict pattern of questions: whose fault was it? How could this happen? How to sanction the person who made the error?

Discussing the error itself and how to fix it and prevent it from happening again took less time than dealing with how to discipline someone. The time for a proper approach to Lessons Learned hovered between “we have no time for this” and “talk about it in your lunch break”.

A lack of Management Commitment is the root cause of such behaviour. As long as dealing with errors, mistakes or misconduct from leaders is considered someone else’s job, nothing in your organisation will change. Top-level senior executives and board members commit to being part of an approach that guarantees this matter will be discussed with a significant level of importance. Do not delegate it to someone else’s department, do not delegate it to the HR department. A lack of management commitment is the beginning of a culture which focuses on denying any wrongdoing, a culture that focuses on blame (and especially blaming others), a culture which will create an organisational culture that will significantly harm people, your employer’s brand and the level of productivity on which you are working.


As soon as leaders see that they can get away with misconduct, the behaviour will worsen daily. Once a line is crossed with no consequences, the boundaries will be pushed further and further. Without any doubt, this recipe for disaster will end in a public scandal, harming your organisation for years to come. Recent examples of this are Julian Reichelt, a former chief editor working for the Springer Press Corporation and Bill Michael, former KPMG UK Chairman. Reichelt had to go after allegations of unacceptable behaviour were presented to the public. The New York Times researched the matter, and an external investigation was the consequence. Conducted by a worldwide-leading law firm, the result was a report which recommended removing Mr Reichelt from any position with immediate notice. The fact that rarely these reports end with such a clear recommendation may express the level of wrongdoing that happened for years. KPMG has to see UK Chairman Bill Michael resign after he claimed that employees should “stop moaning” during a global pandemic and that aspects such as Unconscious Bias do not exist. Ignorance is never a wise choice. After the town hall meeting’s recording was leaked to the public, Mr Michael considered his position untenable and resigned. This resignation was far away from happening voluntarily.

In due course of the scandal, KPMG sent out a message to staff which said that in the future, no material must be leaked to the public as an internal complaint process exist all employees must use that. Such actions belong to moments of comedy writing itself. The existing process was used many times without appropriate consequences happening. The message of not leaking material in the future was leaked within minutes.

Be sure that you have a Bonus-Malus system in place. When a leader outperforms the expectations: what is in for them? What is the bonus they get for doing so? Hint: a “thank you” is not enough. Also, when a leader does not meet the expectations or shows misconduct, which consequences will this person face? Another hint: just saying “you should do better in the future” is not enough. A Bonus-Malus system in place helps your organisation to develop better leaders. Setting unambiguously clear expectations is the starting point from which you can create any future steps.


When dealing with conflict resolution, a favourable outcome is a cathartic effect. Solving a conflict will help your team thrive. I will create a more open, innovative, communicative organisation culture that appeals to talented people who may be interested in working for you. Innovation, Team Building and Leadership, cannot develop when accepting and tolerating misconduct as part of your workplace culture (see the catastrophic examples above). It is your and your organisation’s leader’s task to initiate a positive change today.

More about the topic of how to deal with leadership misconduct is available in this week’s podcast: click here to listen and learn.

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Niels Brabandt

Niels Brabandt

Niels Brabandt is in business since 1998. Helping managers to become better leaders by mastering the concept of Sustainable Leadership. Based in Spain & London.