Over the past few weeks, I’ve had three separate conversations with three different leaders from different companies and sectors.
And yet, remarkably, the conversations centered on the same, exact problem: a degradation of the leadership in their organizations.
In one instance, my client was leading the HR function a company that was in the process of being sold. She told me the parent company decided to focus its energy on its core business and sell off the subsidiaries that weren’t aligned. Since the news of the sale broke, she observed that the leaders in the company began to behave very differently. Leaders that were once strong role models and real team players became only concerned with their own interests. Internal politics and conflict intensified, pitting former friends and colleagues against each other.
In the second conversation, my client shared how her world was turned upside-down because the relationship with the Board had become adversarial. This resulted in tremendous pressure on the CEO and the executive team as they tried to navigate these very negative dynamics. The stress of the entire situation triggered conflict and infighting among the executive team. This too was not typical behavior for these leaders.
In the last conversation, I talked with a leader who is struggling mightily to turn around his organization’s flagging performance. Unfortunately, no matter what the executive team tried, nothing seemed to work – the organization continued to post increasingly bad results. Like the other two examples, it seems that conflict also had become the order of the day. Everyone was blaming everyone else for their situation and the behavior got pretty despicable in the eyes of my client.
Even though these were three very different leaders, they were all dealing with the same common dynamic: their leaders were failing what I call the true test of leadership. Faced with profound adversity – that moment when leaders need to be at their best – these individuals it seemed succumbed to self-interest, conflict and even bad behavior.
Rather than bringing out their best, the external forces behind the adversity seemed to bring about the worst in them as leaders.
This got me thinking – is this something that we just have to accept? One could argue, that leaders are human beings, and if their world turns upside, one can understand how they might fall prey to their baser instincts and engage in bad behavior. Should we just accept that assumption?
I don’t think so.
Here’s my alternate interpretation: When times are good, leadership can be good. Everything is going your way. It seems that no matter what you do, you succeed. It can be like a basketball player on a hot streak. Every attempt at a three-pointer goes through the hoop with a resounding ‘swish!’
However, when times are not so good, or downright difficult, then the act of leading takes on a whole new dimension.
To me, this is when a leader’s true value is measured – when adversity strikes. It is in those times – when the temptation to blame colleagues or play nasty politics is high. Yet this is when a company really needs its leaders to step up and show their mettle, poise and maturity.
Why is this an important issue? Well quite simply the reality today is that we live in an age of constant disruption. Mergers and acquisitions. New competitive threats. Advances in technology. Changing customer expectations – all can turn one’s world upside down.
So it’s important for all leaders to understand that it’s actually in tough times when leadership is really tested.
What’s happening in your world? Is your company struggling with a significant disruption? Has your world changed, and if so, how are you responding? Are you being dragged down into the mud with skittish colleagues, or are you taking the high road and being an inspiration to others?
This week’s gut check question asks: are you failing the real test of leadership?
About the Author
Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.Follow on Twitter More Content by Vince Molinaro