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Why you should discipline or remove “Luis Suarez” type employees
By ROSHAN THIRAN
The past month has flashed quickly for me. I wish the World Cup was a yearly affair but then it would probably not have the same romance and excitement. Brazil 2014 has been no exception.
Watching young talent like James Rodriguez and Neymar take centre stage, whilst witnessing early exits of insipid teams like Italy, England and Spain captured the imagination of many.
But one incident will surely go down in history as the talking point of this World Cup – the Bite-Gate scandal by Uruguayan and Liverpool striker Luis Suarez.
The Bite-gate incident
Suarez bit his third victim. This time, the Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini and FIFA has given Suarez a four-month ban from football. Suarez has a history of biting when the game does not go his way. Suarez’s team Liverpool were losing against Chelsea when he bit Branislav Ivanovic. The Ajax match in which he bit Otman Bakkal of PSV Eindhoven in 2010 ended in a draw.
Suarez has the tendency to try injuring players when referees are not watching. He also has a history of feigning injuries, hurling racial abuse, pulling the hair of Manchester United’s Rafael and gesturing disgracefully at Fulham fans after losing.
Psychologists say that Suarez acts up when threatened by circumstances. The biggest problem could be that he is in denial of any wrongdoing, and behaves like an overgrown toddler.
Dr Saima Latif, a psychologist, states:
Trying to shift the blame is also a classic form of childish behaviour. Most children, when they are confronted with something they have done, will immediately recourse to lying.
The real reason
Interestingly, Liverpool and Uruguay fans have called the ban excessive. In fact, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has described the four-month suspension as a ‘fascist ban’.
Suarez initially told FIFA’s disciplinary panel that he did not deliberately bite Chiellini, claiming he lost his balance and landed on his opponent.
A week later, when Barcelona insisted that they would not consider buying him if he did not apologise, he immediately issued a statement of apology.
So, why is this ‘adult’ child with a tantrum allowed to get away time after time? Because he is his country’s and club’s best player and that justifies defending him at all costs.
After his first biting incident, he was immediately sold off from his club Ajax to Liverpool. At Liverpool, he immediately became their star player. This is where the rot began.
After racially abusing Patrick Evra, Suarez refused to apologise or shake his hand. Liverpool players were encouraged by their manager to stand by their player and mock the panel that found him guilty.
Instead of taking action against him, the team showered Suarez with affection for being a victim of his success. Liverpool’s reluctance to castigate his bad behaviour gave him license to transgress again, reinforcing what Dr Latif mentioned.
Many Uruguay and Liverpool fans believe that great players need to be given exemptions. But would a top marketing leader be given an exemption if he bit a marketing leader from another company during a conference?
Just because someone is talented in one area, it does not give them the licence to ‘bite’ someone else.
Superstars in business
If you examine the Suarez incident, you will find similar behaviour in many workplaces.
Superstar employees are hard to find. When you find one that brings in the numbers and impresses the bosses, there is a tendency to ignore their transgressions and not discipline them. Over time, they realise they have the licence to do whatever they want.
And this cycle repeats itself. The more important the talent becomes, the more likely we are to allow them to go against company values.
This happens until it is too late and it causes the company much heartache. Barings Bank crashed to bankruptcy because superstar trader Nick Leeson was given Suarez-like status, leading to its demise.
Discipline and pain required for growth
For Suarez to become the best football player in the world, he needs to go through growth pains. These are crucial to everyone’s development.
Whilst Liverpool craved for a superstar, they refused to discipline their star when it was necessary. The result – an overgrown child that bites, cheats and hurts others.
So, when the responsibility to discipline shifts from the parent (Liverpool, Uruguay) to the authoritative bodies (English FA disciplinary committee, FIFA), there is bound to be issues.
Claudio Sulser, chairman of the FIFA disciplinary committee said:
Such behaviour cannot be tolerated on any football pitch, and in particular not at a FIFA World Cup when the eyes of millions of people are on the stars on the field.
Yet, at his club and country, such behaviour was previously celebrated. And it still is being celebrated in Uruguay.
A number of years ago, Wayne Rooney was a young man with a temper who would get carded at almost every game he played.
He was already a superstar and touted by many as the greatest ever English talent. Yet, instead of celebrating him and allowing him to do as he pleased, the then Everton manager benched him for his indiscretions.
Over time, his temper and lack of discipline abated, enabling him to thrive at Manchester United. If he was not disciplined then, his career would have stalled.
The same sort of moulding process needs to take place with your top talent. Observe their shortcomings which may later plague the organisation and offer feedback and discipline in early stages of their career.
If you wait, they may end up being a Suarez – providing you wonderful performance but at a reputational risk. Never wait for the governing bodies to intervene as it will be too late.
Losing your top talent
Professor David Wilson of Birmingham City University says of Suarez:
He first bit in November 2010, when he was playing for Ajax, and then he bit again when he was playing for Liverpool against Chelsea last year. The gap between his first and second incidents was 28 months, and the gap between the second and third incidents is 15 months. If I had my criminological hat on, I would expect the gap between this week’s biting and the next incident to be even shorter.
Ajax cut their losses and moved on. Liverpool are trying to sell Suarez and move on now.
You may opt to cut your losses and move on, yet there will always be takers for talented people. Other organisations will close an eye and hope for the best in exchange for super performance. And yet, no one will be willing to discipline these talents.
In spite of this, it is much wiser to cut your losses. Bad behaviour is easily learnt and spread throughout your organisation.
The infected organisation
Almost always, bad behaviour will be copied by others. If an employee is getting away with not conforming to your company values, others will eventually follow suit. And there will be little you can do to counter that unless you punish your original offenders.
In the case of Suarez, his recent biting episode was immediately copied by 7-year-old schoolboy Harvey Eaglen. Eaglen shocked teachers when he bit a rival on his wrist because it was “what footballers do”.
This happened hours after watching his Anfield idol Suarez sink his teeth into Chiellini. He faces expulsion from school, yet Suarez has never once faced expulsion from Liverpool. And now Suarez is in line for a possible lucrative new contract with Barcelona.
The ‘lesson’ this little boy sees from Suarez is that it is okay to lie and bite others. You may just end up playing for Barcelona too! If only Liverpool had not stood up for him and disciplined him instead, as a parent would do if a child ran amok.
So, how do you avoid your organisation from being ‘infected’ by bad apples? If discipline and rehabilitation does not work, cut away the gangrene immediately.
Part of Enron’s struggle to contain its bad apples was that the leadership team had allowed its superstars to do as they pleased. As long as results came in, life was great.
The practices that these superstars embraced, although unethical, were quickly embraced by everyone else and it was just a matter of time before the end came.
Turning negatives around
The worst thing anyone can do is what Suarez did. He first lied that he lost his balance, then played the victim instead of owning up and only when his transfer to Barcelona was on the line, did he come up with an apology that was clearly not genuine.
Companies adopt this same process when faced with crisis. Instead of being open, there is denial followed by defence.
Many companies, even in Malaysia, face severe backlash when they take this approach. Everyone makes mistakes. People want authenticity and genuine repentance. Admitting a mistake has enabled many companies to turn public relations nightmares into positive situations.
Several decades ago, Johnson & Johnson when faced with several deaths linked to its Tylenol product, did not deny nor go on the defensive.
Instead, they immediately recalled the products and had honest communications. It was later revealed that the tablets were spiked but their quick action and integrity made Johnson & Johnson one of the most trusted brands in the world.
Companies need to turn negative situations into positive ones by taking control and engaging with the affected parties. Keeping quiet, as Liverpool has done these past few weeks, only aggravates the situation.
Final thoughts on Bite-Gate
Lessons from Bite-Gate and the Suarez scandal? Here are some quick insights:
- Even your most celebrated employee needs to be counselled, disciplined and given feedback, especially on areas in conflict with values and culture
- Most of your employees role-model your ‘star’ employee, even in areas where they may not be ideal role models. Be aware of how this can affect your organisation
- Superstar employees with poor self-awareness will never become great leaders – never promote them into leadership roles or condone their behaviour
- Be quick to remove bad apples if they refuse to change. Tolerating bad apples could have serious repercussions for your organisation
- Finally, never ignore an issue. It will come back to haunt you. Always be truthful and honest. Try to turn negatives into positives
John Maxwell once said:
A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.
Suarez is a clear example of a person with no self-awareness, no strength of character and no sense of repentance. Make sure you learn from the mistakes of Señor Suarez.
Roshan Thiran continues to be in awe of the beautiful game. He is looking forward to the World Cup final and is glad Suarez will not be on the field to bite anyone else. You can follow Roshan on LinkedIn and Facebook (www.facebook.com/roshanthiran.leaderonomics) as he shares various leadership nuggets daily. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here for more football articles.
Roshan is the founder and CEO of the Leaderonomics Group. He believes that everyone can be a leader and make a dent in the universe, in their own special ways. Connect with Roshan on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter for more insights into business, personal development and leadership. You can also email him at email@example.com.