Issue 72, Sept 9, 2022
Here’s a real-life scenario. Recently there has been friction and dissension within a management team. Managers are struggling to help manage a disruptive economy, guide strategy in an ambiguous marketplace, rein in a headstrong CEO that is resisting authority, and manage multiple powerplays among members who believe they have all the answers or who are afraid to reveal themselves and what they don’t know. This is not a fictional drama. This is what happens when an organizational culture has become dysfunctional, rudderless, and fails to set, or has lost its North Star.
Human beings can appear to be many different people throughout the day dependent on the situation or environment. We assume different roles based on the situation at hand, although our core values don’t change. These roles may blur from time to time, but it is critically important to recognize which role we are assuming and what is expected of us. For example, although we may be natural leaders, we may choose to play a subordinate role when we feel it is needed or it appears appropriate.
Throughout our professional lives, we may assume the role of a board member, team member, parent, friend, supportive participant, customer, counselor and/or advisor. In each instance we morph, and change based on our view of acceptable behavior, expected action or communication in that role, and how we respond in a situation or setting based on the real-time dynamics.
Add to the mix in the roles we play, the subconscious and unconscious bias we carry with us is constantly acting and reacting to the stimuli in the situation or environment that we are in. With ingrained values and biases, everyone must manage constituents’ expectations (who have their own values and biases) in whatever role he or she assumes. To add to the complexity of how we assume and emulate roles, leaders’ actions and behaviors also need to be monitored by individuals in terms of how these actions influence decisions and whether they should follow the leader.
It’s human nature that executive management comes to the table with their values and beliefs baked into their conversation. One of the biggest threats to any organization is the statement, “This is the way we have always done things.” Seconded by members who say, “This is how we did it at my former company when I was there.” These attitudes are made even worse when the outcomes are continually disappointing. We frequently state that each organization is unique in its complement and diversity of individuals that comprise the workforce and stakeholders. Thus, an organization uniquely serves its stakeholders. Customers also assume a role in their relationship with an organization. Holding onto legacy practices, seeking to emulate what others have done and failing to understand an organization’s unique attributes, are a death knell.
Authority bias is also an issue when there is too much deference in favor of one or more people on the leadership team. Authority bias can be amplified by confirmation bias when individuals overvalue evidence that confirms their own beliefs. Bias is also at play when team members get off track and take meetings down rabbit holes. These detours tend to serve the egos of individuals who resist an agenda, often try too hard to prove themselves, become too obvious (and disingenuous) in aligning and conforming with organizational goals, or believe they have something to prove on their own behalf.
Tension is a fact of life for management teams. Disagreement is inevitable and tension in interactions is not necessarily a bad thing when it can be leveraged for the greater good. Dissension is healthy when it’s not bombastic or strident. Power can also be abused when a manager feels he or she is backed into a corner and comes out fighting with the battle cry, “I run this division.” Body language can reveal all. When an individual demonstrates discomfort and even anger, the tenor in the room (or on-screen) can turn subversive and counterproductive. What is alarming is when any team member is unaware of these emotions. This is a case of extreme subconscious or unconscious bias. The challenge is balancing tension with the need to maintain mutual respect, trust, and support.
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