The Leadership Challenge: Leading the Shit Show – 5 Tips!

The Point: Leading a finely-tuned team is the stuff of Harvard Business Review Case Study dreams. Unfortunately, the high-functioning, smooth-running, and operationally efficient leadership moments at times seem like a far-off distant place perpetually out of sight, definitely out of reach, but within smell! So what happens if you lead a shit show at the office? What then HBR? In this post, we’ll take a look at five (5) leadership tips to go from porta-potty leadership struggles to indoor plumbing leadership nirvana… Enjoy!

The Leadership Challenge- Leading the Shit Show – 5 Tips

Let the Shit Show Begin!

Sometimes I wonder as an executive coach and leadership development expert if my clients are putting on a “show” during one of my visits just to see if I lost any of my leadership sharpness? While it’s been nearly three (3) years since I lead a tech-startup, I’ve continued to have leadership “hands on the wheel” leading the venture at Tip of the Spear. However, this doesn’t seem to deter my clients from either flexing their funny bones, or having me show up to visit them on a Monday (or pick your least favorite FUBAR moment).

This past month contained yet again one of those moments, captured perfectly by these three (3) vignettes:

  • Customers Everywhere (with checkbooks/wallets/purses open ready to spend $$$)
  • Employees Nowhere
  • Leadership Running Around a la Chickens

Was it just for show, or was it for Sam? Regardless of who it was for I know for certain who it was not for and that was the customer’s experience (CXI for short). Customers (yes, one and all) hate these moments where disorganization rules and the proverbial fan has ceased due to feces pelting it repeatedly. So what’s a poor leader to do in moments such as these? The following five (5) leadership tips were compiled from various leadership development and executive coaching sessions to allow you to go from porta-potty struggles to indoor plumbing nirvana.

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Tip #5 – Personnel

Whether you’d like to believe it or not, or how many technology barricades you might have erected, if your business is like most it still relies on the people you employ to pull off/execute the many tasks deemed necessary in daily efforts. Hire wisely (a la “Top Grading”) and you will be rewarded. Fail at hiring effectively and you will know the purgatory of Hell on Earth (all the while not being deceased yet!)

Tip #4 – Pay Plans

All things being equal, your employees will do what they get paid to do. While it’s a grandiose thought that your employees will conduct actions based on the company culture or your mission/vision/values statement created at a company retreat 10+ years ago, know that they will instead do what they most topically get paid to do. If your system of bonuses/spiffs/commission schedules don’t include metrics that are near/dear to your business livelihood, you might want to reconsider how you pay your people.

NOTE: Two funny stories:

  • Story #1: A business owner one time tried telling me that it’s a requirement of employment that employees pay attention to a key performance indicator – KPI (in this case, customer satisfaction). The store metrics reflected that they were in the bottom 10th percentile in this KPI, which begged the question “When will everyone be getting fired… Today or Tomorrow?”
  • Story #2: A leader at an organizational headquarter requested a meeting with me to identify why I kept on reporting on how people during a change initiative were getting paid. This KPI appeared to be “out of the normal” for reporting purposes and furthermore “clouded” the situation with unnecessary detail. Again, not certain what leadership development school they attended or executive coaching methodology they employ, but the boat had clearly left the dock (and Elvis had left the building!)

Tip #3 – Processes

You must have processes that reflect your desired end state of business. Efficiently identified for 90+ percent of the typical business happenings, they should be designed/implemented within the team and contingency plans should be drafted for the additional 10 percent of the times (aka, When things don’t run the way they should, either due to personnel, technology, or customer experiences).

Processes should be developed, tested, and more importantly reviewed on a daily/weekly/monthly schedule. One of the biggest mistakes I see is when a company enacts a new process, only to have questions arise a month later regarding “Where did it all go wrong?” Remember, just because you explain a process to a stakeholder one time does not mean that it will be encased in the stone memory vaults for all to recall each and every time. Instead, review the processes at periodic intervals to ensure accuracy in execution and appropriateness for the current day/month/time of year.

Tip #2 – Metrics

You run your business based on key metrics (See KPI discussion earlier in Tip #4). Ensure the accuracy of the data you collect and report out said data frequently.

Tip #1 – Accountability

This is the role of a leader (besides leading). You must hold those around you accountable for what we all agreed to. If processes are executed accordingly and metrics reflect the effort/energy expended then review that… If/when they don’t review that too! It’s often a fine-line between praising in public and reviewing poor results with a group. While not casting blame, keeping solution-focused, and seeking process modification ideas you can/will get things turned around.


Let’s face it, we’ve all been “there” where “there” consists of a show relegated to the higher numbers on your cable television package. It’s a place that reeks of poor personnel, pay plans, processes, metric results and lack of accountability. I hope that this trip down stinky-lane will allow you to pursue more pleasant odoriferous paths in the future.


Sam Palazzolo

Avatar About Sam Palazzolo, Managing Director

Sam Palazzolo is Managing Director at Tip of the Spear Ventures, an agile Venture Capital and Business Advisory Services firm specializing in Mergers & Acquisition, Sales / Business Development & Turnaround Management.