Reading an article ‘Can activists shame Abercrombie & Fitch into reforming?’ on TheWeek.com recently, it crossed my mind that some leaders simply need to ‘grow up’ and play nicely. The article shares inflammatory remarks made by A&F CEO Mike Jeffries and reports on the Internet outrage that has ensued.
While Mike’s unquestionably immature comments are a number of years old when they resurfaced public reaction was strong. College students organized boycotts, a Change.org campaign was launched, Reddit ridiculed Jeffries and even Ellen weighted in with jokes.
The story goes that Jeffries “doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store, he wants thin and beautiful people.” He is reported as saying in a Salon article (2006): “That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.”
Jeffries attitude is showcased further by his comments that “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids …. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong.”
The strong reaction to these comments is unsurprising to me … my observation is that more and more people are calling poor leadership behaviour for what it is. People want and expect more from leaders; demanding they act with greater integrity and compassion. There is no doubt that leaders of today are being asked to take responsibility for ensuring they have a positive impact on humanity and our planet.
While the vast majority of the leaders I work with are far more down to earth and respectful than Mike Jeffries, unfortunately I do also encounter those who share his attitudes. These leaders are typically void of self-awareness, highly egotistical and have little desire to better themselves or their contribution.
Often at the heart of the issue is emotional immaturity characterized by a lack of sensitivity, empathy, compassion or understanding of the consequences of their actions. Mike Jeffries comments reflect another common characteristic of emotional immaturity – inflated ego or heightened sense of superiority.
There is help available for leaders who need to ‘grow up’ and play nicely. First however they need to want to change. Unless these people recognize and accept their need to change they won’t. The starting point is awareness; sometimes awareness begins when someone has the courage to show poor leaders the extent to which they are neither effective nor respected.