Is it Leadership or Just Regular Crazy?

November 06, 2005

When Bad Change Happens to Good People….

What would we do without Scott Adams to bring us down to earth about the ways we, as part of organizations and in the greater cultural vortex of human advancement, (mis)manage our development!?

I admit it, Iʻm an idealist, with my theories and practices of sustainable leadership, community-centered aloha leadership, and the most challenging of them all, the shapeshifter leader. No matter how many times I offer a successful training, create a comprehensive, transformative class for leaders, or coach a client out of burnout and into  healthier leadership patterns, thereʻs always the Dilbert world out there. It seems that true, healthy change happens so slowly that we are often surpassed by co-workers who used to be colleagues, but suddenly go mad with bad management, and call it leadership.

What can we do but laugh — and keep growing? Itʻs hard when growth means moving on from a job we thought would last a good long time. Itʻs even harder when growth means we have to struggle to keep sane and maintain our values in a culture that rewards greed, hyperindividuality and short-term profit. And itʻs painful to be punished, in a toxic organization, for wanting to be healthy or for erring on the idealistic side.

Itʻs enough to make you seriously consider joining an ashram, or taking to drink, or resigning “to spend more time with your family,” isnʻt it!? Because, in a less amped up way than Dilbert experiences it, the confrontation between the “two bottom lines” happens all the time in our companies.

So whatʻs a leader to do? Here are three good ways of surviving with your idealism, your employability and your self-respect intact:

1. Step back from the situation, and ask (seriously!) “Is my hope/feeling/observation leadership or just regular crazy?” Seriously! Look at the mission, the economic prospects and the corporate culture of your organization, and assess the realism of your own leadership hopes and dreams before the “Executive Recruiter” does it for you. If thereʻs a fit — bravo! Go on to step 2. If there isnʻt, take a deep breath and go on to step 3.

2. If thereʻs a fit, you need to turn your vision for yourself as a leader, your ideas for leadership, into practice in the now. Start by making a list of the people above and below you who seem to share the same values as you do. This is your team. Make a list of the questions that your idea answers, the problems you think you can solve. Write an “elevator speech,” something that summarizes your idea in an intriguing one minute. And start talking with your “team” to find out how you might spread the word, and generate energy. Be the leader. Share. Listen. Listen. Listen. Your next step will become clear!

3. OK, this one is tough. Youʻve faced the fact that your values and your companyʻs values donʻt fit. You need to find a different company — or choose to perform the role that will keep you in your job. Some people can tread water, if retirement is close or thereʻs a compelling reason to stay. Otherʻs canʻt. Which one are you? Only you can tell. Either way, sniff around for better work and keep your heart and soul alive outside the office in the meantime. We need a compatible culture to be an effective leader. Find one, ASAP.

And keep laughing. Read Dilbert. Lead on.

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