A Survival Guide for Leaders
The Idea in Brief
It's exciting—even glamorous—to lead others through good times and bad. But leadership also has its dark side: the inevitable attempts to take you out of the game when you're steering your organization through difficult change.
Leading change requires asking people to confront painful issues and give up habits and beliefs they hold dear. Result? Some people try to eliminate change's visible agent—you. Whether they attack you personally, undermine your authority, or seduce you into seeing things their way, their goal is the same: to derail you, easing their pain and restoring familiar order.
How to resist attempts to remove you—and continue to propel change forward? Manage your hostile environment—your organization and its people—and your own vulnerabilities.
The Idea in Practice
Managing Your Environment
To minimize threats to eliminate you:
•Operate in and above the fray. Observe what's happening to your initiative, as it’s happening. Frequently move back and forth from the dance floor to the balcony, asking, "What’s really going on here?" "Who’s defending old habits?"
•Court the uncommitted. The uncommitted but wary are crucial to your success. Show your intentions are serious, for example, by dismissing individuals who can’t make required changes. And practice what you preach.
The editor of the St. Petersburg Times wanted to create a harder-hitting newspaper. He knew that reporters—no longer sparing interviewees from warranted criticism—faced intense public pressure. He subjected himself to the same by insisting a story about his drunk-driving arrest appear on the paper’s front page.
•Cook the conflict. Keep the heat high enough to motivate, but low enough to prevent explosions. Raise the temperature to make people confront hidden conflicts and other tough issues. Then lower the heat to reduce destructive turmoil. Slow the pace of change. Deliver humor, breaks, and images of a brighter future.
•Place the work where it belongs. Resist resolving conflicts yourself—people will blame you for whatever turmoil results. Mobilize others to solve problems.
When a star Chicago Bulls basketball player sat out a play, miffed because he wasn't tapped to take the game’s final shot, the coach let the team handle the insubordination. An emotional conversation led by a team veteran reunited the players, who took the NBA series to a seventh game.
To avoid self-destructing during difficult change:
•Restrain your desire for control and need for importance. Order for its own sake prevents organizations from handling contentious issues. And an inflated self-image fosters unhealthy dependence on you.
Ken Olson, head of once-mighty Digital Equipment Corporation, encouraged such dependence that colleagues rarely challenged him. When he shunned the PC market (believing few people wanted PCs), top managers went along—initiating DEC's downfall.
•Use a safe place (e.g., a friend’s kitchen table) or routine (a daily walk) to repair psychological damage and recalibrate your moral compass.
•Acquire a confidant (not an ally from your organization) who supports you—not necessarily your initiative.
•Read attacks as reactions to your professional role, not to you personally. You’ll remain calmer and keep people engaged.