Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 4, Issue 42;   October 20, 2004: When Leaders Fight

When Leaders Fight

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

Organizations often pretend that feuds between leaders do not exist. But when the two most powerful people in your organization go head-to-head, everyone in the organization suffers. How can you survive a feud between people above you in the org chart?

If your boss or someone even higher in your reporting chain is engaged in a feud with a peer, pretending that you aren't involved can be dangerous. For instance, your boss might ask you for ammunition in the form of embarrassing information about the opposition, or you might be asked to deliver "ordinance" yourself. Either way you're at risk. See "Don't Staff the Ammo Dump," Point Lookout for January 3, 2001, for more.

Two orcasIt can get pretty complicated. If your job responsibilities require that you collaborate in an effort sponsored by the "opposition" organization, you might find yourself in a lose-lose situation. If you do collaborate, you risk being seen as disloyal within your own organization; if you don't collaborate, your job performance could be at risk.

When leaders fight, there's danger for everyone. Yet, we rarely hear of training in "Surviving Your Boss's Feuds," in part, because a program like that might be seen as an admission of serious organizational dysfunction. That's ironic, since offering such training would deter feuding behavior, or at least encourage any feuding partners to work things out. When leaders fight, HR isn't likely to be much help.

Here are some insights for surviving when leaders fight.

When leaders fight,
HR isn't likely
to be of much help
Everyone feels the pain
Certainly the antagonists feel pain — they wound each other at work, and they probably carry their pain home at night. And their subordinates fear for their careers if "their side" should lose. Even the non-aligned fear that they will be drawn into the mess.
The fight is a performance issue for the feuders' supervisor
The responsibility for intervention lies with the person who has organizational responsibility for both feuding parties. A feud of long standing is a sign that the responsible person hasn't yet acted effectively — or hasn't yet acted at all.
In proximity lies danger
The closer you are to the feud, the more you're at risk. At least one of the feuders, and probably both, will lose. You could be on the losing side, which might mean that you could be reassigned or lose your job. Prepare to move on.
You can lose (win) even if your boss wins (loses)
When your boss "wins," part or all of the losing organization might be absorbed into yours. The result could be a new tier in your organization, with you underneath it. When your boss "loses," you might be acquired and you might end up higher in the new org chart. Your interests are not necessarily aligned with the interests of your boss.

Once peace arrives, reorganization is a likely outcome, and you might find that you have new peers, new subordinates or new superiors. Taking a strongly partisan position during a feud could make trouble for you later. If you've been very partisan, or even if you haven't, practice bridge-building as soon as possible. Go to top Top  Next issue: Bois Sec!  Next Issue

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For more about feuds, see "Organizational Feuds."

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