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:
- Currying Favor
- The behavior of the office kiss-up drives many people bats. It's more than annoying, though —
it does real harm to the organization. What is the behavior?
- Managing Risk Revision
- Prudent risk management begins by accepting the possibility that unpleasant events might actually happen.
But when organizations try to achieve goals that are a bit out of reach, they're often tempted to stretch
resources by revising or denying risks. Here's a tactic for managing risk revision.
- Extrasensory Deception: II
- In negotiating agreements, the partners who do the drafting have an ethical obligation not to exploit
the advantages of the drafting role. Some drafters don't meet that standard.
- Social Entry Strategies: II
- When we first engage with a group at work, we employ social entry strategies to make places for ourselves
to carry out our responsibilities, and to find enjoyment and fulfillment at work. Here's Part II of
a little catalog of social entry strategies.
- Bad Trouble: Coping strategies
- When Bad Trouble develops at work people make choices about coping. If they cope constructively, they
have choices about how to do that. Even those who don't cope constructively have choices. Here's a survey
of the wide range of choices people make.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
- And on October 19: Bullying by Proxy: I
- The form of workplace bullying perhaps most often observed involves a bully and a target. Other forms are less obvious. One of these, bullying by proxy, is especially difficult to control, because it so easily evades most anti-bullying policies. Available here and by RSS on October 19.
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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.