Mar 16, 2020

If you are within the leadership group of your company, there are times when you may need to purge your leadership team to move forward.

OK, I admit the title of my article was meant to get your attention in these political times. While not labeled impeachment within a business setting, there are times when we may all face the decision as to whether or not leadership within the firm needs to be removed.

Leadership changes due to poor financial performance or company scandals are reported all the time for large corporations that have big brand names to protect. Although our profession may seem to be immune, if you are within the leadership group of your company, there are times when you may need to purge your leadership team to move forward.

The reasons to replace members of firm leadership are varied. Embezzlement of funds or sexual harassment claims – these are easy to confront and act upon. The more difficult failures may be subject to interpretation or perception, such as failure to lead. Of course, failure to lead involves a long checklist. These 10 are at the top of my list in evaluating whether or not a leader or partner must go:

  1. Inability to motivate. At both the individual and team level, a good leader must be able to motivate his or her staff. Poor morale typically is the result of failure to mentor, communicate, and evaluate performance and productivity.
  2. Lack of a strategic course. If your leadership team cannot articulate the firm’s course over the short- and long-term, you will hinder your growth and success. In addition, leaders must engage others to understand and implement those strategies that enable the firm to stay on course.
  3. Failure to be accountable. Do you kick your firm’s problems down the road? Many do, and this failure to take action to address and correct those problems only worsens over time. A strong leader knows when to step in, advise, and act.
  4. Loose fiscal policies. Carefree spending, poor bookkeeping, favoritism in terms of rewards and incentives can quickly add up and create problems that cause turmoil and turnover. Establishing guidelines and policies that are both fair and equally adhered to by all is a prerequisite for your leadership role.
  5. Unwillingness to innovate and take risks. Adapting to the rapid changes in technology, communications, and business development can leave your firm in the dust as our industry transforms itself and new ideas are brought to the table by millennials and Gen Z professionals. Failure to listen, evaluate, and test these ideas only maintains the status quo.
  6. Failure to act aggressively when warranted. Being afraid to confront issues, treating behaviors passively when aggression is warranted, avoiding litigation or competition when your firm is being attacked – all spell disastrous leadership. The damage from inaction over time can disadvantage your firm and diminish its success.
  7. Failure to live your values. If your firm values its culture, then protecting that culture is paramount to your success as a leader. You represent a community of professionals who expect you to follow the firm’s values. Going counter-culture through your actions means devaluing everything that your firm has put in place to succeed.
  8. Failure to champion the brand. As you grow in size and geographically, you must continue to engage your team and your staff. Of course, that means facetime which comes at a price when you live on the road, but failure to be visible and accessible as a leader and team builder will undermine your firm’s cohesiveness and camaraderie.
  9. Lack of diversity in your workforce. Your role as a leader is to ensure that you attract quality, competent personnel who reflect today’s global society. This is an exciting time to engage young women and men in the engineering profession, but to do that, you must recognize the importance of diversity and equity in the workforce.
  10. Failure to establish ownership transition. Is your leadership team aging out? No new blood, young blood in your partnership circle? Your exit strategy must be carefully planned with levels of partnership that truly enable a seamless transition and must be clearly articulated. Anything less will not only be haphazard but has the potential to cripple your firm.

Although each of these 10 items has a different level of severity, the cumulative impact of multiple failures portends a demise in leadership and ultimately begs the question: Should you be impeached?

Are you prepared to redeem yourself? Are you ready to reinvent yourself? Is your leadership team on board and transparent about the values and skills which accompany sound leadership? No doubt, if you remove anyone from firm leadership, there will be fallout, unless that person has been so egregious that your leadership team and staff unanimously agree with the decision. But the failure to act may be even a greater transgression against the firm.

In the words of Thomas J. Watson, the founder and first president of IBM, “Failure is a teacher – a harsh one … but the best.” Avoid the downside of failed leadership. Embrace leadership accountability and demonstrate that actions do, indeed, speak as loudly as Watson’s words.

Stephen Lucy is CEO of JQ with offices in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Lubbock, and San Antonio, Texas. Contact him at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.