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Lost Leader Left out of the Loop

Photo illustration by Franke James using three source files; Hula statue by  stphillips /istockphoto; golf ball in grass by redmal /istockphoto; snake by  /istockphoto

jane perdue Jane Perdue, MBA, CEO and founder of The Braithewaite Group, is a leadership consultant, coach, speaker and author who challenges your thinking at the intersection of the art of leadership and the science of business. The Braithewaite Group, is a small female-owned professional development and leadership consulting firm. Jane’s career includes 20 years of executive level leadership, with 15 of those years spent as a Vice President for Fortune 100 companies. She writes a job coach column for the Charleston, SC Post and Courier and has made speaking and TV appearances discussing leadership, purpose, power and performance. Read Jane’s response:Lost Leader Left out of the Loop

Dear Office Politics,
I am the manager of a small not for profit organization, I have had some personal problems which has meant that my work has been very poor over the last 6 months, I have received a warning about my performance and I am taking steps to rectify it.

The problem I have now is that my credibility has been completely undermined with the staff. Often I come into the office and it is as if am not there, people are going about their business and I am left out of the loop. They only refer to me when they need my signature and they seem to know that if I was to push them on something like attendance or performance that they can very easily retort with something like ‘who are you to tell me what to do after the way you have behaved’.

To top it all off we are merging with a larger organization and everyone is scrambling round to justify their existence and are lining up to stab me in the back, every minor little indiscretion is being reported to the Board of Management. My board of management is made up of volunteers many of whom do not have the political or organizational knowledge for such a role and are being pushed and pulled by the more tactically astute members of the board some of whom were never fans of mine to start with.

Anyway I think I can handle the board of directors if I improve my performance I should be ok, however, how do I win the staff back and how do I get my own credibility and authority back?

Thanks,

Leader Left out of the Loop

OFFICE-POLITICS ADVISER JANE PERDUE

Dear Leader Left out of the Loop,

Talk about the perfect storm of leadership issues – a personal problem that resulted in your poor work performance, a loss of your followers and now a business reorganization! You face a difficult journey as credibility, personal accountability and ultimately trust are attributes that are easy to lose yet difficult to restore. However, if you are willing to invest lots of candor, communication, commitment, action and time, you can claw your way back.

It’s been written that credibility is the currency of leadership, and right now your leadership account is empty. To replenish that account you need a personal 100-day plan of action. The following plan assumes that there’s been no deception on your part with your staff or the Board, as lying introduces a new harder-to-over-come dynamic.

Unfortunately, you violated one of the cardinal rules of leadership by allowing a personal problem to negatively impact your on-the-job performance. So step one of your plan is taking a long hard look at yourself to understand what went wrong.

  • Identify the root causes and devise a personal radar system to alert you to the warning signs so you can avoid a re-occurrence.
  • Next, create a list of specific actions and/or behaviors that you must follow to get your job performance back in line so you are regularly performing above expectations (a major requirement given the impending merger).
  • Make sure you are listing both what you have to do (tasks) and how you will do it (effectively dealing with others) – as those interpersonal elements of executing your plan are the make-or-break factor in your recovery.

Step two is your very own “coming clean” moment. Yes, just like Tiger Woods or any of those philandering politicians, you must meet as soon as possible with your staff and the Board to openly acknowledge your past mistakes, to own up that you let yourself – and them – down and apologize for doing so, to unequivocally define how you are going to do better in the future, and to ask for their help in doing so.

Given that your staff has lost all faith in you personally and only recognizes the power of your position and that some Board members have never been your fans, making yourself vulnerable is a foundational component for regaining integrity. Brian Koslow, an investment banker and blogger, says it best, “The more you are willing to accept responsibility for your actions, the more credibility you will have.” Given the merger situation and your staff’s lack of trust in you, it’s unfortunate, but not surprising, that they are trying to protect their jobs by throwing you under the bus. They are fearful about their future and need a leader who is sensitive to their needs, someone whom they believe has their back. Consider this quote from Transparency: The Clear Path to Leadership Credibility by Karen Walker and Barbara Pagano: “True leadership is built on a kind of social contract that says, ‘Follow me, and I promise that I will help you succeed.’”

There are many things that you can do to bolster your leadership contract with your staff, which is step three of your recovery process. Some of these suggestions apply as well to rebuilding your relationship with the Board.

  • Talk with your employees about their concerns with the merger and how they believe it may impact them. Allay as many of their fears as you can; and if you can’t, be upfront about the situation and what the likely outcomes are.
  • Ask them for specific feedback on how you perform your job better.
  • Engage them in discussions on how to position your organization for success in the approaching merger. Act on their advice.
  • Recognize them – it’s amazing what delight and loyalty a simple candy bar and a sincere ‘thank you’ can bring.
  • Play a little – have a potluck in the park or a themed dress up or down day.
  • Communicate regularly regarding the status of your personal action plan as well as the merger and information coming from the Board. Try to communicate face-to-face as often as you can – you need the personal contact as you work to reclaim your credibility.

The last part of your leadership rehabilitation program is the toughest. To re-establish your relevancy, you must consistently, sincerely and authentically walk the talk every moment with both your staff and the Board. Your performance of your job tasks must be exemplary. You must be committed to repairing and rebuilding relationships by communicating, involving and rewarding regularly and authentically. No one can doubt for a minute that you are genuine in your quest to get back on track and be a solid, trusted, well-performing leader who has the best interests of his staff and the organization at heart.

I’m rooting for you. There’s much work ahead of you; but your self-awareness in recognizing the need to reach out for advice is a great first step. Make it so!

Thank you for writing to OfficePolitics.com.

Warm regards,

Jane Perdue

About Jane Perdue, MBA
Jane Perdue, MBA, CEO and founder of The Braithewaite Group, is a leadership consultant, coach, speaker and author who challenges your thinking at the intersection of the art of leadership and the science of business. The Braithewaite Group, is a small female-owned professional development and leadership consulting firm focusing on that exquisite but rare business balance between head and heart.

Jane’s career includes 20 years of executive level leadership, with 15 of those years spent as a Vice President for Fortune 100 companies. She writes a job coach column for the Charleston, SC Post and Courier and has made speaking and TV appearances discussing leadership, purpose, power and performance. Jane works with organizations and individuals to bring a sense of fun, adventure and limitless possibility — along with creative and playful thinking — to leading people, achieving common visions, delivering results and being our personal best.

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  1. 3 Answers to “Lost Leader Left out of the Loop”

  2. It sounds like your subordinates have lost respect for you due to your situation. However, lets not lose sight of what reality is from your perspective, You are a leader and you still hold your title, maybe you could write a letter reflecting your remorse for the situation and restate your commitment to your organization.

    By Sherry on Mar 30, 2010

  3. I agree with Sherry. Know this: employees who use a past mistake to say things like “who are you to tell me if you you had done this” and keep using that past event as a negative against you, its plain and simple that these people are trying to pull you down using this past event as a weapon. My advise is this: do not care about what they think and say. Its like quicksand: the more you try to come out, the deeper inside the muck you get. Just stop giving a damn and do the work you are supposed to do. Meanwhile, make sure you get the much needed emotional support from other people in your life (family, spouse, children, close friends etc) to make sure that the people WHO REALLY MATTER KNOW THAT YOU ARE INHERENTLY A GREAT PERSON. The key is to surround yourself with people who believe in you. Let go of the people who have a negative influence on you. Hope that helps.
    Srinivas Kari, India.

    By Srinivas Kari on Oct 14, 2011

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