Senior managers and executives — organizational leaders — have two primary responsibilities. They must clearly define objectives for the people they lead, and they must ensure that those people have the resources needed to achieve those objectives. To carry out these responsibilities appropriately, organizational leaders must respect the humanity of all stakeholders, including the people of the organization (often called employees), the people the organization serves (often called customers), and the people who supply goods and services to the organization (often called suppliers). They all have personal lives. They all deserve respect as people.
And that's where trouble sometimes appears. Leaders who adopt the just-make-it-happen stance can sometimes fail to respect the humanity of the people they're leading. Consequently, their subordinates work killing hours, often breaking rules to "make it happen." Customers then must accept inferior products, delivered late, while suppliers lose money trying to please their unpleaseable customer.
Why does this happen?
In many organizations we gauge the strength of leaders according to the gap between the goals the leaders expect employees to achieve, and what those people believe they can achieve. When people achieve something few believed was possible, we tend to credit the leader. One exemplar of strong leader, among many others, is Mohandas K. Ghandi, who provided the people of India a means of achieving a goal most thought impossible.
Here are three mechanisms that incline organizational leaders to adopt the just-make-it-happen stance.
- Pathological ambition
- In striving to be When people achieve something few
believed was possible, we tend to
credit the leader, not the peopleregarded as strong leaders, some managers and executives arrange for large gaps between the objectives they set, and what people generally believe is readily achievable. They set goals that are extremely aggressive relative to the time and resources available. They hope that when the objectives are ultimately met, everyone will recognize the "strength" of their "leadership."
- Pressure from above
- Even managers and executives report to somebody — higher-level executives, the Board of Directors, or shareholders. When they feel pressure to fulfill commitments they've made, or commitments forced upon them, they sometimes choose not to resist that pressure. Transmitting that pressure onto their organizations can seem much safer and easier.
- Some organizational leaders don't realize that they've set unrealistic or unrealizable objectives. Equally naïve peers might support them in their ignorance. When their subordinates tell them that the goals are unachievable or extremely risky, they regard the messengers as weak or lazy or worse. Attempts to educate such leaders are unlikely to succeed.
Surely there are more mechanisms than these three.
If you're being led by a just-make-it-happen kind of leader, I hope this exploration has opened some doors to understanding. If you are yourself a just-make-it-happen kind of leader, perhaps you can listen to the people you lead, and then examine your approach to leadership. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Managing Pressure: Milestones and Deliveries
- Pressed repeatedly for "status" reports, you might guess that they don't want status —
they want progress. Things can get so nutty that responding to the status requests gets in the way of
doing the job. How does this happen and what can you do about it? Here's Part III of a set of tactics
and strategies for dealing with pressure.
- What You See Isn't Always What You Get
- We all engage in interpreting the behavior of others, usually without thinking much about it. Whenever
you notice yourself having a strong reaction to someone's behavior, consider the possibility that your
interpretation has outrun what you actually know.
- Rope-A-Dope in Organizational Politics
- Mohammed Ali's strategy of "rope-a-dope" has wide application. Here's an example of applying
it to workplace politics at the organizational scale.
- Fooling Ourselves
- Humans have impressive abilities to convince themselves of things that are false. One explanation for
this behavior is the theory of cognitive dissonance.
- That Was a Yes-or-No Question: I
- In tense situations, one person might question another. As the respondent replies, the questioner interjects,
"That was a yes-or-no question." The intent is to trap the respondent. How does this work,
and how can the respondent escape the trap?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming November 27: Implicit Interrogations
- Investigations at work can begin with implicit interrogations — implicit because they're unannounced and unacknowledged. The goal is to determine what people did or knew without revealing that an investigation is underway. When asked, those conducting these interrogations often deny they're doing it. What's the nature of implicit interrogations? Available here and by RSS on November 27.
- And on December 4: Implicit Interrogation Tactics
- When one person tries surreptitiously to extract information from another at work, an implicit interrogation is taking place. Here are seven tactics that people use to interrogate others without revealing what they're doing. Available here and by RSS on December 4.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.