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HBR: Bad Leaders Can Change Their Spotsby zengerfolkman January 24, 2013

Originally posted on Harvard Business Review Jan. 24, 2013

We have many ways to describe the common belief that a person's behavior is relatively fixed: "A leopard can't change his spots." "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." You could probably add a few more old saws yourself. This view, we've found, seems especially prevalent in relation to senior leaders with noticeable weakness, like an uncontrollable temper or a marked tendency to be rude or unreasonably demanding.

John H. Sununu, former governor or New Hampshire and later White House chief of staff to George H. W. Bush, had a reputation for being extremely unpleasant to work with. This finally prompted him to ask an aide, "Why do people take such an instant dislike to me?" After a brief hesitation, the aide replied, "Oh, I'm not sure sir, but I guess it just saves them a lot of time."

Intuitively, this notion makes so much sense. Surely the combination of age, power, success, inadvertent and deliberate moves to avoid feedback, and years of practicing their vices with impunity leaves little incentive for senior leaders to change.

And yet we contend that they can — and they do. Here's why... continued on Harvard Business Review.


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