Disagreements at the top, whether in government or the workplace, have similar symptoms and characteristics. Managing them requires maturity, etiquette and professionalism.
The capital spat between Delhi’s Chief Minister, version 2.0, and its Lt. Governor – two of the highest officials in the state – has covered many shades of ugliness. And it looks as if it will continue even after the Chief Secretary returns from his 10-day holiday!
Tongue-in-cheek, wouldn’t it have been simpler to just cancel the Chief Secretary’s leave? There would no longer be the need for an Acting Chief Secretary. And no ‘situation’ either!
Whaaat! Cancel the top-shot’s leave! Someone had better be dying!
However, my corporate friends may subscribe – even relate – to this solution. Remember when you were forced to cancel a team-member’s leave? Or when your boss cancelled your own approved leave? That holiday you had to reschedule or cancel, because of some office crisis. But this doesn’t seem to hold good for senior public servants! Never mind the mess. Never mind team-members getting tossed around and locked out of their offices… I’ll just go on and continue my holiday!
Maybe the Chief Secretary should have demonstrated his largesse, and maturity, by proactively cancelling his own leave. And emerged the hero in this whole thing. But then, who would have noticed that!
The ‘Delhi-drama’ comes peppered with all the usual ingredients: turf-war, ego, politics, personality, power-play, histrionics… Integrants the workplace isn’t exactly unfamiliar with. These condiments of the corporate clash lurk, individually or collectively, in many corners of the Board Room. Some leaders ignore them and hope they go away (they won’t!). Others take them on and resolve them professionally. And yet others do what we are reading in the papers these days…
Managing disagreements in a grown-up manner is the responsibility of every leader – and employee. (Delhi Leaders, are you listening? No, of course not!) Whether in Government or Corporate Board Rooms, the challenging environments invariably spawn disagreements and conflict. And since the Board Room drives the organization and the lives of every employee, conflict between its occupants can have dreadful consequences. On the business. On the brand. Besides being visually revolting.
From the gaffes of the Delhi-drama protagonists, current and aspiring corporate leaders should consider the following:
1. Keep it private: Taking a disagreement out in the open is like washing dirty linen in full public view. It is audio-visual pollution of the worst kind. Everybody loses! Let’s not kid ourselves: it won’t be long before word leaks outside the organization. Suddenly everyone becomes an expert – including stand-up comics at sundry pubs. Competitors will, of course, have a field day. Disagreements are best vented within the confines of a meeting room.
2. Bring in a mediator: Senior leaders tend to be hard-nosed about their opinions. So gridlocks are inevitable. Experienced mediators bring in an unbiased mindset and are ideally from a different business or geography, or both. The mediator’s role would be to review the situation, define roles, stating the rules of engagement and laying out the roadmap for resolution in line with the company’s vision. Everyone needs to adhere to this…or quit.
3. Respect public perception: ‘Public’ could mean anyone. From the housekeeping staff to the Board of Directors. One characteristic of ‘perception’ is that while it gets created today, its effects come into play later. Often at inopportune occasions! People’s perception of a leader should be one that needs looking up to, not looking down upon. And a spat in full public view is a good way to fall from everyone’s grace…
4. Consider stakeholder interest: Dissent at the top affects everything! Shareholders, revenues, people, products, the brand. Every stakeholder in the business ecosystem gets impacted – particularly customers. Many may never return. When elephants fight, the grass suffers…!
5. Corporate responsibility: Leader egos – as inflated as they can be – have the propensity to stretch admittedly minor issues wide and long. The damage and confusion this can cause is often irreparable. Hence, it is important for other leaders to take the ownership to intervene and sort things out. Optically and politically, it may seem like it’s none of anyone else’s business – actually, it’s everyone’s business!
Conflicts and disagreements can be converted into terrific opportunities to debate and clarify grey areas. New, and clearer, rules and policies often emerge as a result of well-handled disagreements. Okay, some heads may roll, in the bargain. Call it collateral damage! The workplace has to move on. There’s a business to run!
Delhi’s partial-statehood status is like being half-pregnant! So, this just may be the appropriate opportunity for everyone to sit across the table and redefine the boundaries. Using a mature, smart and professional approach that will benefit the electorate. There’s a government to run!
Now, is that too much of an ask…?