Hidden Agenda, Leadership and Corporate Culture

I was recently having breakfast at an out-of-town hotel (something I do quite often these days) prior to a client meeting and at the table next to me sat three businessmen.  They were also away on business and their day, like mine, was just starting.  Being “terminally nosey” (my wife’s way of saying it), I was having my breakfast and listening to their conversation at the same time.  The conversation I was overhearing was one I have heard a hundred thousand times, only change is the names and the faces.

It goes like this:  Bill (not his real name) is talking to his two breakfast companions.

“Joe’s not talking to me and so, I’m not talking to him.  He got upset over some littleboone-breakfast thing I did. I didn’t call him after the last customer meeting to give him feedback from the customer.  Okay, I forgot.  No big deal.  But he really went off the deep end, saying I’m not professional and that I only care about my own goals and objectives.  I just forgot, but there’s no way I’m going to apologise to him, not after that outburst.  What does he expect?  Am I supposed to call him even if I’m driving through his sales territory on holiday?”

Blah, blah, blah . . .  the monologue went on for 5 minutes.

Lack of Accountability and Lack of Leadership Courage

There are two things wrong with this scene and both take a toll on the health and productivity of organisations:

  • First, the childish behaviour of Bill.  Bill is obviously a member of a team of people trying to help their company reach it’s goals.  What if the center on a football team refused to hike the ball to the quarterback because of something he said?  What if the left forward refused to kick to the striker because he hurt his feelings? Both these behaviours would be highly unprofessional, childish and they wouldn’t last long on the team.  Not so in business.  Somehow this type of behaviour is commonplace and the individuals aren’t even aware of how detrimental this is to the organisation, productivity and performance.
  • The second is equally harmful to the productivity and culture of the organisation.  Neither of the two people having breakfast with Bill had the courage to be honest with Bill about his “childish, whining” behaviour.  Instead, they just rolled their eyes, kept on eating their oatmeal, not saying a word.  I was two tables away and it was obvious by their body language and facial expressions that they both thought Bill was being a jerk and making things harder for himself and Joe.  But neither had the courage to help coach Bill or even challenge his behaviour.  Bill just kept up his childish diatribe and the others remained silent.

I stuck around after Bill (aka Mr. Blowhard) left and the other two talked back and forth for close to 10 minutes about what a jerk he was, how nobody wanted to work for him, about his poor management record, etc. They had tons to say, but not to Bill.

Courage and Feedback

Recently I have been consulting inside a large defence company where we have the exact same situation, but this time it is a senior VP.  He’s a bully, explodes at people, is constantly raising his voice to get his point across, and more often than not, he also misses the point of the discussion all together.  And his peers, the other members of the senior executive team have basically “given up”.  When Mr. X starts his bully tactics in meetings, everyone just tunes out.  No one challenges him, no one asks him to stop shouting, no one confronts his bullying behaviour.  What do you think the mood and morale is on this particular leadership team when SVP X is in the room?

And the worst part is, they have meetings about issues that impact his department, but don’t invite him.  Why?  Because they are trying to avoid his behaviour. You can imagine the uproar when he finds out.  He is genuinely hurt and frustrated.

O, wad some Power the giftie gie us,
To see ourselves as others see us! ~ Robert Burns

Now here’s the interesting part.  Neither Bill “the jerk” nor Mr. X Senior VP realise how they come across to others!  We all see it clearly, but they don’t.  And it’s the same way with each of us.  I may be acting spoiled, childish, or like a bully without even realising it.  Unless I get honest, direct feedback, I remain justified in my own mind.  Each of us actually has a pretty good reason for how we act at all times.  Our actions make sense to us.  It is only when we get direct and honest feedback that we can calibrate what our emotions and thoughts tell us versus how other people experience us.

The sad situation in most companies (and most places on this planet for that matter), is that very few of us get any real, honest, direct feedback about how we come across.

Raise your hand if you get too much feedback!

Where is the company policy that states “it’s not our job” to give other people on our team honest and direct feedback?  It’s a false belief that seems to be in epidemic portions in most businesses and organisations.  And as a result Bill continues to behave like a jerk and SVP X uses bully tactics to get across his ideas.

Want to help change this negative and destructive cycle?  Learn to give, and receive, honest and direct feedback.

Feedback is the breakfast of champions.  ~Ken Blanchard

John R. ChildressN2Growth: President, Europe and Chair, Culture Transformation Practice

Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, and FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution, available from Amazon in paperback and eBook formats.

See the review of LEVERAGE in The Economist (January 9, 2014).

John also writes thriller novels:  novels.johnrchildress.com


About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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1 Response to Hidden Agenda, Leadership and Corporate Culture

  1. bhedden says:

    John, great topic! Far too often organizations do not have a culture that supports constructive monologue. Furthermore, the climate in this example is one that does not provide for a sense of unity but rather one of separate entities that happen to be working at the same place. Communication is the key in any successful organization and as you can tell by the improper use of communications, the organization more than likely reflects the very same temperament. Building a successful culture takes work and commitment achieved through deliberate dedication. However, in contrast to that philosophy, many organizations simply throw leadership catch-phrases around and expect great results.


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