What Will They Say about You When You’ve Gone?

What Will They Say about You When You’ve Gone?
Published: 10 February 2017

Leaders are good at making things happen. They take ownership and action. They build dedicated teams which ‘follow’ them. All great. There is, however, a fine line between ownership and control. 

When working with client firms to recruit leaders, we consistently hear the same complaint about the previous incumbent; ‘they created a fiefdom’. All too often we hear about leaders who built a strong team, but one which was hard to engage with, a team which sought to ‘win’ and increase its standing, frequently trampling over ‘rival’ functions.

Usually, dysfunctional culture like this is a direct result of poor leadership behaviours. Whilst this silo mentality may not have been set out in any policy, attitudes are ‘caught not taught’. This means aspiring managers mirror behaviours they see from their leaders. In this manner, without anything being written down or specified, poor behaviour becomes culture.

How can leaders address this? There is no magic bullet, but a good start is to display good behaviours yourself. Set aside the ego and seek to reflect glory, consistently show that you put the needs of the business first and your team will likely begin to do the same. 

At the same time there is undoubtedly a role for organisations to play. A forward thinking organisation will measure, recognise and reward according to business outcomes, not along arbitrary, historic departmental lines. 

In response you may say ‘so what? It was ever thus, why should I care?’ Quite apart from professional pride, this kind of mud sticks. Most senior appointments will involve a degree of ‘soft’ referencing well before an appointment is made. Your career options may become limited, without you knowing about it, as your applications are quietly shelved. 

You might think ‘that’s ok; I’m not planning on moving’. In which case consider this; increasingly organisations able to embrace a holistic approach are disrupting the markets of their bigger brothers. Challenger businesses are able to punch considerably above their weight by virtue of small teams with a relentless focus on moving the business forward, not climbing the greasy corporate pole or expanding empires. Fail to act and you may find your carefully curated power base greatly reduced from the outside. 

Alex Richardson is a consultant at Berwick Partners. He recruits technology leaders nationally. 

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