Pushing leaders against a wall till they either fail or quit is a common strategy in business and politics. Leaders still have options they can use to break free.
Gradually, bit by bit, the Delhi Chief Minister is being pushed against the wall! He’s trying hard to push back. His opponents are formidable. And, unless he comes up with something brilliant – and soon – his government will get choked out of office – again…
The opposition strategy was smart. They mired his selection of an executive team of his choice in all sorts of gooey policies and procedures. Such that relenting to the machinations of the Lt Governor, would truncate his ability to meet the promises he’s made. Fighting back in such a VUCA scenario will take away precious time and leadership bandwidth. The Honorable Chief Minister will be distracted from his mandate to the electorate. So far, everything is working according to plan! Now, as the plot unfolds, it will be upto the Chief Minister to work the ropes to stay in his job and fulfill his promises. As of now, he seems to be walking into a well-prepared trap!
Even in the workplace, it’s a well-oiled game! Ensnaring a leader into such a bind or when delayed investments, resources, approvals and support make it impossible to operate – under such circumstances, he either leaves, or is unable to perform, or is deemed inefficient and removed.
But why would such a scenario even arise? Leaders are supposed to be successful and popular people, right?
‘Impeachment’ of a leader by the ownership/management could happen under several circumstances – popularity and past performance notwithstanding:
1. Strategic/Philosophic disagreement: Leaders invariably have a point of view. On strategy as well as management philosophy. Many are even hard-nosed about it. After all, it’s a considered opinion that has developed over years of experience! The management or ownership may not always share this opinion as it evolves. Soon adequate common ground cannot be found. Things start breaking up.
2. Burnout: Overstretching, high-stress, high-impact, high-responsibility (read leadership) work-environments, often causes burnouts. It impacts performance, communication and brings down the overall work-culture. Leaders too have an expiry date. When they just cannot take it any more.
3. Megalomania: Some leaders become so full of themselves that they forget basic professional etiquette. Inflated by success and over-praise, they become over-aggressive, un-reasonable and ever-demanding. Walking the fine-line, they ignore the organization’s values, in deed. Humiliated and hurt, people, and customers, soon get fed-up and start to move away. Leaving behind a fiefdom that’s, luckily, often short lived. ‘My way’ is always shorter than the highway!
Then there are the additives to sundry spice and gossip quotients: personality clashes, witch-hunts, vendettas, half-truths and the analyses by nouveau-experts… Hey, we’re human!
Even with the walls steadily closing in, the situation isn’t entirely lost – ever:
1. Open communication: Opening up communication channels can help find common ground, clear many misunderstandings, build trust and garner partnerships. Alignment discussions – that redefine expectations, and reinforce the company’s goals – can reinstate the fundamentals. Support often comes from unexpected quarters…
2. Humility above ego: Precious bandwidth is often wasted in finding scapegoats to place the blame – not realizing where the buck actually stops! Humility, to recognize personal shortcomings, accept feedback, implement that dusty development plan, or ‘give’ a little, can change the equation. Get real. Put that ego aside! Humility is also prudence!
3. Use company policy: Fundamentally, Company policy prevents negative personal character traits from affecting professional activities. Therefore, company policy automatically puts those misusing it at a disadvantage. Thereby making it a powerful tool for the righteous, and an erudite mediator. Usually tucked away in some corner of the HR department, it’s worth the effort to extract and use the available wisdom!
4. Office of the Ombudsperson: Evolved organizations and some industries have an Ombudsperson. This office ensures justice and fair play in the workplace. A very powerful office indeed. Totally unbiased, uninfluenced by individuals or ‘power centers’ and accountable only to the Chairperson. The Ombudsperson can mediate, direct and arbitrate for the right causes.
5. Return fire: There are times when unwarranted aggression needs an equally aggressive response. Gather the facts, numbers and people – and pile on with a vengeance! Bullies may be cowards and not every fight is winnable! But the ability to say ‘you should have seen the other guy’, is hugely comforting – despite one’s own bloody nose!
Of course one can always just move on. It’s infinitely less stressful and it’s been done before… But it may not always be appropriate.
In high-stake environments, Chief Ministers and CEOs must constantly dodge and tackle traps strategically laid out by powerful opposing factions. How they manage and break the barriers to progress is equally critical - for the business, its culture, people – and for the leader’s own career!