Have you ever been around when leadership fails? The feeling can be summed up as frustration that takes the wind out of anything you’re doing or planned to do. Suddenly, when leadership isn’t maintaining agreements, it’s like the floor has dropped out from underneath you.
The resultant frustration, confusion and disarray constitute fertile breeding grounds for the withdrawal of energies. . .Personal energies are a kind of institutional capital. Their withdrawal [leaves] schools bankrupt. In withdrawing their loyalty from [the leader], the staff lost the sense of identification with their leader, a significant component, albeit one taken for granted, of their relationships with prior [leadership]. Instead of nurturing and concerting the energies that were available throughout the [organization], [the leader’s] policies undermine the cooperation of associates and constituents.
(Source: adapted from a quote appearing in When Leadership Fails by Doris Fine)
Since I’ve been reading several leadership books, I thought I’d describe this scenario as one taking place in business. How hard can it be?
What process does your organization/business have in place for resolving this kind of scenario?
“Hey, Jack,” Ann began, “I just don’t know what the CTO, our boss, is thinking anymore.”
“What do you mean?” Jack responded, curious and intrigued by such a novel statement (NOT!).
“You know that procedure we put in place requiring prior approval from all the technology department heads before the Marketing Department buys a new system? The whole procedure that protects everyone–not just the Tech Dept but Marketing–from spending money on half-baked system that can’t integrate into our current systems?”
“Yeah,” Jack replied, “we spent the whole leadership retreat on that process. What, you mean Susan isn’t following it?”
“Well, here’s what happened.” said Ann despondently. “John in Marketing called me up all excited about this new program he wanted to buy that every one is going to use. But he can’t get it approved because he has to get past this procedure. I told him I’d check into it. Well, I had the account management folks take a look, and as I suspected, there were serious problems that fell into the non-negotiables we had agreed upon at the Leadership Retreat. No automated account management! Can you imagine creating accounts for a few thousand, highly mobile, constantly changing customers BY HAND?”
“Hey,” Jack smiled, “no need to yell! I can understand how you are frustrated, though.”
“Not only that,” Ann fired back now that her blood pressure was up, “I even checked with the vendor. There’s no way they can get their system up to our standards–standards we put in place for a reason–so no use wasting our time. I took the findings to Ross, Susan’s second in command, hoping he could talk sense to Susan, but the next thing, I get a phone call from John…and I find out that Susan’s approved the project! Why does she keep doing this to all of us?”
“What did Ross say to this latest development, the approval?” inquired John.
“Nothing! He was flabbergasted! Get this–he didn’t know Susan had approved the project, even though Ross had briefed her about it! And, when I went to try and talk to Susan, she told me to work through Ross!”
“This is the same thing that has happened before! Makes you wonder why we bother, doesn’t it? Why have the procedure in place if the person who should champion it doesn’t believe in it?”
Is this a common problem in your organization? What happens when the leadership gets away with doing what they want, casting aside what you have all agreed to do and telling no one about the decision. If you worked in this type of organization, you might hear someone say, “The only reason staff are kept around is to justify the boss’ salary…the more people you supervise, the more money you make!”
So how do you suppose we might approach this kind of issue? Obviously, running it up the chain of command doesn’t work. When Ann tried to get to Susan directly, Susan used Ross as a buffer or blocker to avoid discussing the issue.
While I have a possible approach in mind, I’d love to hear what YOU would do if you were “in their shoes.”
How would you handle this kind of boss from…
- Ann’s perspective – She’s responsible for approving/disapproving new services/programs from a technology POV. Even though she has valid reasons, she’s been over-ruled with no real reasons given.
- Ross’ perspective – As Ann’s supervisor, and Susan’s right-hand person, he should know and be able to support what decisions Susan (CTO) makes, but he’s kept in the dark about decisions until AFTER they become public.
- John’s perspective – As Marketing Vice-President, he wants to implement a program that just doesn’t have the technology horsepower to get the job done, but he’s fascinated by the idea of the program. He relies on the Technology Department to tell him what will work or won’t.
- Outside Consultant – As the outside consultant, how would you coach or get this errant CTO and frustrated team working better together?
I’ll share my thoughts later after I’ve had time to reflect. In the meantime, please link from your blog what YOUR response would be! I am especially interested in reading what the leadership gurus who are now following me on Twitter, as well as school leaders, would do to resolve this.
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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure