Let’s say you are the CEO of a global multi-national insurance conglomerate. A month ago you lost one of your SVPs and, taking a quiet moment in your office, are mulling over how to fill the void. There doesn’t seem to be any urgency to finding a replacement, so you’ve put it off. Suddenly, your quiet contemplation is shattered by the arrival of Angelique, who was VP to the recently departed Stephen.
“Oh great,” you sigh. “Here comes that windbag, Angelique.” Although her name is attached to a big portion of revenue generation initiatives, you believe Angelique lacks basic leadership skills in that her only interest is in furthering her own career.
This day Angelique is fuming. She breathlessly runs through a long list of her self-proclaimed achievements, most of which were thanks to the contributions of others -- she tells you that Stephen had promised her an SVP position but it hasn’t materialized, and she insists that her interests and yours are completely aligned.
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Then she storms out.
You lean back in your chair, wondering where the truth lies, and decide to do some forensic investigation into what the heck is going on.
It turns out that Stephen’s departure didn’t just leave a senior position vacant -- it also created a vacuum and, because nature abhors a vacuum, every ambitious climber and sycophant began to scramble for the position, making rash promises, lying about their credentials and pushing more deserving candidates to the curb. Like the cockroaches that will survive a nuclear winter or the carpetbaggers that swoop in to pillage the wreckage, Stephen’s department, in his absence, has become a hotbed of intrigue and the unethical exercise of influence.
You learn that Angelique has been telling everyone that you agreed she is in line for an SVP post. You hear stories of her shameless brown-nosing of Stephen before he left. A few people tell you that she’s been throwing her weight around, giving instructions to people over whom she has no authority and in areas where she has no business. Most people can see through her actions because they are so patently self-serving.
So, you now have a picture of the spin and chaos Angelique has created, and you recognize you bear part of the blame for not moving quickly to fill the void. You also have a decision to make. Angelique has threatened to leave if she doesn’t get the promotion. Do you promote her or not?
In the actual situation, the CEO did not promote Angelique. He was prepared to risk the potential lost revenue and angry customers because, as he saw it, that was the smaller risk. The much larger risk was in promoting someone who no one trusted and doing permanent and severe damage to the culture he had worked so hard to create.
The good thing about the Angelique crisis is that it forced the CEO to look deeper at the organization and to recognize the cultural deterioration that had not been apparent.
Although the CEO’s definitive action caught the attention of the cockroaches and carpetbaggers, it didn’t stop their self-serving influence attempts. He was determined to transform the culture back to one of collaboration, innovation, trust and respect, so he began to use his personal power to understand and then influence middle management to be part of the cultural transformation with him. The problem was that middle management was nervous going around and behind their ineffective senior team, and they wondered if the CEO would hold the senior team accountable.
Gradually, they came on board because they saw the CEO keep his word and use his positional power to maneuver the senior execs, exiting three of his tenured, seasoned team members and publicly providing constructive feedback to other team members when their leadership behaviors were less than expected. Over the course of a year, the CEO’s organization, with support from the entire team, dramatically shifted its culture, sweeping out or reforming the cockroaches and becoming an organization that top talent was clamoring to join.
Are you willing to stand for worthy leadership in your organization? In other words, do your people follow the senior team because they have to or because they want to?