How Fawning Subordinates Degrade Leadership
Why Surrounding Yourself with Uber-Loyal Subordinates is neither Good for You nor Business
One of the greatest challenges of Leadership is the ability of leaders to deal with feedback that can be harsh, critical and unflattering of their styles and the decisions that they take. Effective leadership requires that leaders deal with, and handle such information in two ways. First, they need to use such feedback for improving the business, strengthening the processes of management, and improving their styles. And second, they need to encourage securing such information regularly.
Both these essential requirements of good leadership, help people in organizations to be open and willing to share essential information that will benefit the enterprise; and simultaneously realize that they will not penalize or “fix” for being carriers of unpleasant news or feedback.
Openness in sharing information within the organization -at all levels -creates a healthy culture that supports the free-flow of data-based perspectives. And also useful anecdotal information. Leaders too assure a steady stream of valuable input.
For many of us, these two leadership requirements are not easy to pursue. There’s a reason for that. We tend to block information that we perceive to be critical of us because it can be hurtful and can also be viewed as a deliberate attempt to belittle our approach and style as leaders. When such negative ideas and suspicious thoughts fill our minds, our basic instincts of survival can kick in, and we may react to feedback with anger and sometimes, rage – directed towards those whom we perceive as being fault-finding. Such a reaction puts an immediate end to a valuable source of data from a variety of sources. When those who bring such information to the leader are berated and censured.
All well-meaning people stop reaching out and keep valuable information to themselves – if they stay with the organization, that is.
Another response to receiving critical feedback, that’s in evidence with many leaders, is their eagerness to surround themselves with subordinates. Who serve as perpetual carriers of “good news”, irrespective of the actual situations “outside”. Such loyal subordinates, who typically become a part of the inner circle of their leaders’ teams, not only have the trust of their bosses but quickly learn how to sugar-coat unpalatable information. They also prevent outspoken and honest critics from reaching their bosses. Leaders are thereby protecting from annoying information, unpleasant people and factual data that serves to highlight the bitter truth of their organizations and their styles.
As can imagine, over a short period, these fawning, loyal subordinates become very effective gate-keepers. They also restrict the access of those in the organization who are view as being ‘against’ the leader. They also keep away information that the leader is unwilling to receive. Capable executives and enthusiastic team-players -who are committed to the well-being of the organization’s customers and the enterprise as a whole – are alienate and shunt to the periphery. Their morale tanks and obsequiousness becomes the new culture.
Enlightened leaders do not let the above situations to manifest. They consciously look at “bad news” as a valuable source of ideas for improving their businesses. They encourage the carriers of feedback – however harsh or disturbing. To bring more data and facts that can be effectively deployed for the benefit of the organization. Good leaders know that if they want their organizations, their start-ups or nations to become effective at serving the greatest good of all, then they have to create mechanisms that enable bad news – yes, inputs on initiatives that are not going well, or information that can stimulate the remediation of a problem or a grievance – to get to them unfiltered, and fast.
They know that to do this, they have to create an atmosphere of positiveness and trust.
Where others can freely express their views without fear of reprisal or retribution. They do not surround themselves with a Chinese wall of servile, foolish subordinates. Who manipulates the truth to keep their bosses happy and to make it seem as if all is well. Good, wise leaders reward those who bring forth honest, unsullied information on who can serve better, and how. They create a culture of wholesome openness that contributes to high-morale and a strong sense of purpose within the enterprise.
Loyalty to the organization/nation is good. This sentiment should, however, never confused with loyalty for the boss. Because, if “loyal”, abject, servile subordinates prevent the access of their leaders to the organization’s employees, customers, vendors or other stakeholders, they are doing the organization great disservice. Just because these “uber-caring” subordinates want their bosses to remain “happy” and “safe” from criticism, they end up not only degrading the essential requirements of good leadership, they contribute to the rapid decline of their respective organizations.
Your thoughts and views on this theme are most welcome! Bharat Wakhlu love to hear from you, and of any experiences that you might have had.