I think it was in an old John Wayne western movie where our hero walked into a noisy saloon and tried to speak to the villain who ignored him several times. Finally, the Duke spun the offender around by the shoulder and with a ham sized fist landed a crunching blow to the victim’s jaw. As the cowboy staggered to his feet shaking his head the barroom went silent and we heard the Duke’s sardonic drawl “Now that I have your attention…’. Now that’s leadership authority.
(Image: Courtesy fiftieswesterns.wordpress.com)
(The Spoilers, 1942)
Testing the leader’s patience.
Although we all prefer to work in a pleasant and cooperative environment circumstances do arise at times when a leader’s patience is tested. I was recently asked if it was ever justifiable for a leader to get angry. I replied “No, never – but every now and then a demonstration of righteous wrath doesn’t go astray.”
The difference is that anger usually denotes a loss of emotional control whereas righteous wrath is a legitimate display of power and authority firmly emphasized.
I have seen organisations where lack of respect for legitimate authority or abrogation of strength in leadership results in destructive indiscipline and continual decline in performance. Where enough pressure builds up from executive frustration the conditions are right for an explosion. It is better to act well before that point but if it becomes necessary and the explosion is detonated with appropriate control sometimes considerable benefits can be achieved.
Of course there are rules to be observed
- Always make sure there has been adequate warning and that clear expectations have been set.
- Never abandon fundamental respect.
- Make sure you are right and have your facts straight.
- Carefully consider the risks of unintentional collateral victims.
- Ensure the target in provided with an avenue to restore your confidence in them.
- Don’t overdo it – use sparingly for best effect.
Leadership and authority go hand in glove
Forthright and powerful messaging is an important instrument in the executive armoury. Recalcitrant managers must be in no doubt that the executive to whom they report will hold them accountable for failure to meet clearly defined expectations in relation to outcomes and behaviours. This is particularly so where it involves repeated failures. In many organisations the culture of acknowledging the authority of the executive leader is diluted over time because of a poor environment of really holding people to account and ensuring there are real consequences for those with whom there are repeated performance issues.
I came across an excellent article by author Bruce Rhoades on the subject of what he refers to as “Wasted Authority”, which Bruce sees as the result of weak leadership which in turn produces, he says:
- Indecisiveness when it is clear that a decision should be made;
- Failure to take action when cultural expectations are violated or associates misbehave;
- Inability to provide timely feedback to teach individuals and the organization;
- Failure to frame an issue, articulate priorities and delegate to others;
- Ignoring customer issues that the organization simply takes for granted;
- Failure to address large, well-known issues openly and directly.
These traits result in an environment where:
- Decisions are delayed by over-analyzing or waiting for consensus to emerge;
- Poor behavior is overlooked; exceptional efforts and good performance are unrecognized;
- Meeting topics wander off the agenda into excruciating detail;
- Customers issues are ignored or met with half measures;
- Important, uncomfortable topics are not openly discussed.
Don’t mention the War.
In many cases executive leaders fall into the trap of trying to keep the peace amongst their management teams – at all costs, including ignoring festering issues that really should be dealt with. Eventually the issue will grow to such proportions that both the executive and the management team end up in an even more difficult situation in trying to resolve it.
Avoidance in decision making is not a good strategy in management at any time, especially where others can observe that the problem exists and the leader is doing nothing about it. Loss of confidence in the leader for not acting is likely to be more damaging than any response to a decisive move to address the issue.
Bruce Rhoades has some good thoughts on this subject as well.
“When a leader fails to address a large, important issue that is on everyone’s mind, it is not only awkward and distracting to all, but it also undermines a culture of open and direct communication. Failure to address “the elephant in the room” is poor leadership. Even if there is not resolution or an answer to the issue, at a minimum, the leader needs to acknowledge that the issue exists and let the others know that resolution is in progress. Saying nothing at all is worse than no answer.”
(Image: Courtesy Linkedin.com)
You can read more of Bruce’s work here.