Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Damaged Teams–A Product of Broken Leaders

Some years ago after a woman by the name of Heather joined our organization, I noticed that an air of disrespect started growing within her business unit.  Her team quickly went from a tight-knit, respectful one to one where the individuals members were practically killing each other.

While it’s not my business to tell others how to run theirs, when they adopted this approach in how they interacted with my business units, I took action and asked Heather why her team now worked completely differently than before.  They were much less respectful, much less collaborative and as a result they were much less productive and much less happy as individuals.

She informed me that she ruled by fear.  If she could instill enough fear and disrespect in her team, then the team would be perpetually off balance, would be easier to control and would serve her needs better.  She did this through a number of techniques including but not limited to showing disrespect to her peers, sowing seeds of discontent and distrust amongst her team members, allowing team members to fight over things that she could have resolved quickly, allowing team members to aggressively interact with people outside of her team and withholding information from others.

Encouraging respect and leading by example were not part of her repertoire.  In fact, she seemed happiest when everything around her was “up in flames” all the while remaining unaccountable to those whom she served. 

Well, she thought she was unaccountable to anyone.

We never did discover what “her needs” were as her office was blissfully silent before the end of the week and her team returned to its natural state of respect-based, trust-based collaboration.

Despite all the best practices we have in business and government, we haven’t stamped out obvious ignorance yet.

If we had, the world would be a better place, wouldn’t it? :-)

I am reminded of Heather when I make requests of the Wildrose Party for clarity, data, facts and the like.

Asking questions in private produces no response at all.

But asking questions in the public space is like chumming, the art of attracting sharks by pouring blood and animal carcases into the water and watching as the sharks arrive, blinded by their instinctive, insatiable hunger and desire to share in “the kill”.

As the sharks circle with their best but weak-minded efforts at taunts, insults, intimidation, crass language and the like, the leadership fades into the background, probably sighing with relief that they ducked another difficult question.

What the “sharks” don’t realize is that for their actions to be actively encouraged (or not strongly discouraged) by their “leaders” is very revealing about the leaders themselves.

Leaders who lead in this way, who hide behind bullies and intimidators, are not leaders.  They have forgotten that to be a leader is more than just holding a title or to be positioned at the top of an org chart.

To be a leader is to lead by example, demonstrating that high levels of ethics, morals, principles, character, respect, transparency, servanthood and authenticity are required of a true leader.

And such leaders hold anyone that serves with them or speaks / acts on their behalf to the same high standards.

True leaders build a legacy that enables the people they serve for many years - long after that leader has moved on.

The rest of the so-called leaders strive to serve their own purpose, often with mixed results, a lot of wreckage in their wake and a lot of people left to pay the price for their “leadership”.

The world needs more authentic leadership soon

We are heading towards interesting times that go far beyond what this year’s budget looks like, how the stock market is doing, who the next Pope will be and the like.

These interesting times will test our leaders in ways that they haven't been tested before.

And whether our leaders are successful or not (and whether we as a society will successfully overcome the challenges or not) will in large part be determined by the nature of the leaders we select to guide us through these difficulties.

What about the “sharks” that inauthentic leaders like to hide behind?

As someone who has sat in on a number of emergency preparedness meetings on a national and international scale, I can say that it doesn’t look for good for people who dedicate themselves to tearing others down instead of striving to lift themselves and others up to create a stronger society.

Mathematically, the odds are against them.  Strategically, they are considered a burden by many planners.  Tactically, emergency planners are focused more on how to minimize the impact of those people on those considered “worthy” of moving forward in society.

After all, you can’t save everyone, can you?

I’m not judging them. I’m merely sharing how they are perceived by others.

In the meantime, inauthentic leaders and sharks are a perfect match for each other.

The leaders give the sharks a sense of purpose, leveraging the shark’s self-perceived disempowerment, frustration, pent-up anger and lack of purpose.

And the sharks inflate the egos of the leaders and help them feel like what they are doing and how they are doing it serves everyone’s needs.

For both sides, ignorance is bliss.

For now.

As for the rest of us?

Are you an enabled leader, encouraging respect, transparency and collaboration amongst your teams?  Do you see your role as one of servant leader, serving your team, lifting them to their greatest potential and creating an even more enabled leadership in future generations of your organization or government?

Are you a team member or citizen striving for the same ideals while holding your leaders accountable to the principles that you hold to be important?

Perhaps you are both and don’t realize it.

Or do you?

A better future is waiting for each one of us but it requires that we step up and be the stronger leaders we are capable of being.

What are we waiting for?

In service and servanthood,


PS For those readers who feel themselves growing angry after reading this post, I would recommend that they read this post (Anger: Setting Yourself Up For Manipulation) before responding. :-)

Addendum: In fairness, there are many Wildrose supporters who are good people.  However, the sharks remind me of the Quebec separatist movement in the 1970’s.  The loud, bullying, intimidating pro-separatist movement claimed to be representing everyone and from the volume of their rhetoric, always appeared to represent the majority until referendums and such proved otherwise. 

Weak leaders rely not only on sharks but also on good people remaining silent.  Unfortunately as Edmund Burke noted:

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Addendum: April 12, 2013

You know you’ve hit a nerve when a political party leader and an Opposition House Leader block you on Twitter as Ms. Smith and Mr. Anderson respectively have blocked me (an example shown below).

Danielle Smith Blocked Me 3

They break four cardinal rules of politics.

1. Don’t shy away from requests for data / evidence to back up one’s assertions / statements (especially assertions that appear to be over the top or inaccurate).

2. Never let someone see you sweat (or cause you to appear to be hiding behind something).

3. Don’t intentionally provide fodder for more concerns about transparency, credibility and authenticity.

4. Don’t promote the importance of being able to critique others in a democracy while fearing the same process when directed back at one’s self.  We have a word for that in the English dictionary.  It is hypocrite.

All four become inconvenient when election time rolls around.  I understand blocking taunters and the ignorant.  But blocking someone who merely asks for data to support assertions is different altogether.  To block me suggests they are no different than the politicians they claim to be better than.

The other thing of interest to me is that such a defensive action causes people like me to take another look at a group that I had made an observation about and moved on.  When such an action is brought to my attention, the action cries “Don’t leave yet – take a closer look because you may be onto something”.

And that’s the last thing most politicians want.

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