In a recent scenario, an organization that a consultant who specialized in strategy previously led, requested assistance with its strategic plan. This request stemmed from a successful collaboration between the former Board Chair of this organization who had the consultant lead the organization through a strategic plan. Delighted with the outcomes, the former Board Chair recommended the consultant to the current Board Chair, thus initiating a new strategic planning endeavor.
With a clear vision for the organization’s future, the consultant enlisted the help of a subject matter expert and commenced work on the strategic plan. However, despite efforts to engage the Board Chair and Executive Director, the latter consistently failed to participate in the planning process leading up to the organization’s strategic planning retreat.
Despite the positive reception of the ideas during the retreat, the Executive Director expressed reluctance to invest more effort into the strategic plan’s implementation. As the tenure of a new Board Chair commenced, the Executive Director seized the opportunity to advocate for a different direction, undermining the work accomplished.
Unbeknownst to the Executive Director, the consultant had a history of supporting the organization, serving as a special advisor to the former Board Chair, and initiating a significant donation to address concerns about the Executive Director’s salary. However, despite the consultant’s longstanding commitment, the Executive Director’s failure to acknowledge this history and her dismissive attitude highlighted significant flaws in their leadership.
This experience underscores two critical issues:
- Firstly, the Executive Director’s personal bias toward the consultant hindered the organization’s performance, demonstrating a failure to recognize genuine assistance.
- Secondly, her lack of due diligence in understanding the consultant’s relationship with the organization reflects poor leadership and resulted in the loss of a dedicated supporter.
Leadership entails recognizing and valuing support, irrespective of personal dynamics. It is regrettable that such oversight led to the demise of an almost two-decade-long partnership. Moving forward, organizations must prioritize effective leadership that embraces collaboration and respects past contributions. There is truth in recognizing that not all help is good help. But in this case, this consultant’s help was, indeed, good help.
Thinking Drives Behavior
Had this Executive Director taken the time to learn the consultant’s history with the organization could have led to a different approach. Let’s give the previous sentence a do-over. Had the Executive Director led with the perspective of service above self, as Dr. Robert Greenleaf, hailed as the founder of servant leadership would attribute, it is likely that the situation would not have happened in the first place. Too often, when asking “what could the person have done differently,” we focus on actions. We fail to keep in mind that a person’s mindset drives their behavior. Perhaps the better question would be “What shift in their thinking would have led to a better outcome for the Executive Director, the consultant, and ultimately the organization.” The key here is ‘Thinking Drives Behavior.”
Dr. Greenleaf ascribes that “a servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.” Imagine how that thinking could have driven behavior.
Check your ego before engaging in uncomfortable situations
The Executive Director ultimately did a power move of ego to avoid hearing what she didn’t want to hear. Yes, that is a strategy, but how well will it work out in the long run? As leaders, the right use of power is important. If you don’t want your Board to hear something because it’s not true or incorrect, that’s one thing. If you don’t want your Board to hear something because you are unwilling to do the work, that’s another. Don’t let the power of your position cause you to abuse your role. In the time it took for the Executive Director to avoid coming to meetings, skulk during the retreat, and scheme when the new Board Chair came in at the end of the process, she could have come to the meetings, expressed her concerns privately with the consultant, and discussed a plan that could have been good for her, and good for the organization. Instead, she took the coward’s way out. Thereby severing a good relationship with a friend of the organization who was prepared to do more to be supportive of the Executive Director and the Organization’s success. If only she had checked her ego before engaging in a situation that was uncomfortable for her, she could have turned a weakness of being admittedly intimidated and turned it into a strength.
Not knowing the history of the relationship a person brings to an organization could spoil the future for everyone.
It is doubtful that the consultant will be willing to give to this organization again. Considering that this donor gave in the areas of Time, Talent, and Treasure, this is an unfortunate cost of ego. Too often, people leading organizations waste low-hanging fruit because of their lack of desire to learn their history. Some new leaders will proclaim that ‘it’s a new day’ for the organization’ and thereby start anew. This is one way to lead, but it does have consequences that could become catastrophic for the organization. One being that you never underestimate the power of a relationship. Relationships are worth more than the coin of the realm. As the wise American Leader, Dr. George C. Fraser says “All business is about relationships. If you have no relationships you have no business. If you have no relationships, you have no business being in business.” Knowing that relationships take time, energy, and resources to cultivate, why waste a good relationship that already exists?
Here’s How it ‘Spoils It’ for Everyone’, And A Few Tips to Avoid Spoiling it for Everyone
Hindering Organizational Performance:
The Executive Director’s personal bias toward the consultant hindered the organization’s performance. By failing to recognize genuine assistance and disregarding the consultant’s history with the organization, the Executive Director undermined the effectiveness of the strategic planning process. Ultimately, because they didn’t want to work with this person, no one in the organization could. That’s a shame.
Tip: As you grow in your experiences as a leader, remember to keep your personal biases in check. If you work with an executive coach, they may be able to help you identify some of your biases, also known as blind spots. Knowing what your biases are could allow you to look at situations through a different lens. In cases where you are unable to identify your bias, you could take the scenario to someone who knows you and is removed from the situation. They could point a light at an area that you might be particularly stubborn, or seemingly unsympathetic, etc, and help you work through it. Not knowing can spoil it for everyone.
Loss of Dedicated Supporter:
The Executive Director’s lack of due diligence and dismissive attitude towards the consultant’s contributions resulted in the loss of a dedicated supporter. Despite the consultant’s significant commitment, including serving as a special advisor and making substantial donations, the Executive Director’s actions severed a valuable relationship that had spanned almost two decades.
Tip: Before you make a current decision that the future of the organization could later regret, do a personal check. In so doing, you can avoid dismissive attitudes by treating all supporters with respect and appreciation, regardless of their level of involvement or contribution. Dismissive attitudes or behaviors may undermine relationships and discourage future support when you need it most.
Missed Opportunities for Collaboration:
The Executive Director’s reluctance to engage effectively with the consultant reflects poor leadership and missed opportunities for collaboration. By avoiding uncomfortable situations and prioritizing personal agendas over the organization’s interests, the Executive Director failed to harness the potential benefits of a strong partnership.
Tip: My encouragement to you is to embrace openness to new ideas. This means being open to new ideas, perspectives, and collaborations, even if they may initially seem uncomfortable or challenging. Recognize that embracing diversity of thought and collaboration can lead to innovative solutions and improved outcomes for the organization. If that gets challenging at times, defer back to prioritizing organizational interests above your own. When you place the interests of the organization above personal agendas or preferences, you lead by a positive example. You demonstrate an understanding that effective leadership involves making decisions that benefit the organization as a whole, rather than individual interests or comfort zones.
Erosion of Trust and Respect:
The Executive Director’s power move of ego and avoidance tactics eroded trust and respect within the organization. By prioritizing personal comfort over constructive dialogue and collaboration, the Executive Director undermined the integrity of leadership and damaged relationships essential for organizational success.
Tip: One way to avoid such an erosion is to practice humility. Humility can be challenging when you are in the leader’s seat. You can do it if you recognize the importance of humility in leadership. Humility demonstrates that you understand that leadership is not about asserting power or prioritizing personal comfort, but about serving the organization and its stakeholders with integrity and humility. Another way is to constantly seek growth and development, personally and professionally. Be open to feedback, engage in self-reflection, and strive to learn from experiences to become a more effective and empathetic leader.
In summary, the Executive Director’s actions not only impeded organizational progress and collaboration but also resulted in the loss of a valuable supporter and eroded trust and respect within the organization. Moving forward, it is essential for leaders to prioritize effective communication, collaboration, and humility to foster a culture of growth and success. By embracing these principles and practices, leaders can overcome ego-driven behaviors, prioritize constructive dialogue and collaboration, and build trust, respect, and integrity within the organization.