11 Jun 2021
Although this topic is not aligned or timed with my blog series; I had a coaching call with a friend who had just received painful feedback regarding his leadership style. He had been driving a transformation change, set extremely high and impacting goals, and making progress on the issue. He thought he had done a good job collaborating and listening to all the stakeholders involved.
However, constituents started expressing their concerns about his “style” and spreading discontent. They didn’t feel heard or supported. I can’t comment on this, since I am two degrees removed, but I do take the information as important data. And the data reminds us that:
Leadership is dangerous.
If leadership is about realigning that which isn’t working; and if a system is currently in status quo, then introducing change is most-often received negatively; especially for each constituent who has something to lose (which is probably all of them, even if they agree with its need). We also know that some form of disequilibrium or pain always precedes meaningful change. Psychologists show that fear and loss are three times stronger a motivational force than the promise of gain.
Understanding these realities requires leaders to be careful and they should pay attention to “political” discontent, maneuvering or subterfuge. A good stakeholder review, from a place of empathy and curiosity could be accomplished, mapping each member’s values, loyalties and losses.
If not done quickly, this discontent may grow; ultimately subverting the leader’s agenda, and potentially assassinating the leader altogether (metaphorically we hope).
Stakeholders of the work might remove the leader through firing, moving, or even promoting them away. They may undercut them with gossip or by growing false truths. Many times, the constituents might even believe in the change; but undercut it nonetheless. Generating too much pain and discomfort might push the system to actually assassinate the leader; as we’ve seen in the case of Martin Luther King or Robert Kennedy.
So, I wonder, what is happening with my client? Does he have a personality conflict or challenge with some of the stakeholders? Or, more insidiously, is the constituents feeling the heat of his transformational agenda and are fearful of its impact on them? Regardless, he must pay attention to the data and honor this potential political maneuvering if he wants to really make progress on the issue. And, in his case, the stakes are really high; people’s economic futures are at risk.
Bottom Line: “Leadership is Dangerous!”