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And thou shall not enter…

by Janaki Rajagopalan

Teamwork. The first interpretation of this word is of people coming and staying together to achieve a goal.  A closeness develops, even if for the period of their project or mission, as they exchange ideas and information, pool their collective experience to draft plans and actions.  And the longer the association is, the tighter the bond grows.

Such tight bonding that forms the basis of teamwork, it is good, right?

But wait!

When does this become a suffocating clique that bars entry to other people or ideas?

Hmmm…good points, but nothing new. There is enough leadership counsel that warns leaders what to look out for and how to build agile teams that embrace diversity.

But here is the catch. What happens if leaders themselves form this clique?

iStock_000019077481XSmallLet us step back for a minute. There are three basic traits most of us display to varying degrees at work. One, we guard our independence. Two, we think of our importance a tad higher than it actually is. As a consequence of these two traits, we end up with the third – we control the information that reflects on our work.

So much for us as individuals. If the situation now moves to a close-knit team, these three traits balloon to form the perfect clique. And the higher this group moves in the hierarchical ladder, the clique becomes an impenetrable fiefdom!

When leaders possess vision and values, an organization can experience great growth and success. When they fail to pass on the baton to the next generation of leadership, and are more interested in protecting their turf, the organization gets stale and goes into decline.

The promise of the next level will either battle to break such fiefdoms, or leave. Leave to translate their promise to reality elsewhere, where they are appreciated and can blossom. Both are bad news for organizations. The old cliques will eventually tire of meeting new challenges, may wonder why there is no competent second line and leave the organization to be rebuilt from the shambles they created.

It is a question of perspective. The ‘let-me-guard-my-authority’monarchs need not worry. It is really not about giving up ‘turf’ – it is about being ‘welcoming’ to the promising next-gen leaders and not make them wonder if they will forever be on the outside.

The willingness to step off the spotlight and let others step into it to grow and develop themselves is the signature of a great leader. What makes them even greater is their willingness to take ownership of minor failures during this transition.

How do I, as a leader, look out for signs of any unintentional fiefdom I may be creating? I would keep the following questions as my constant watchdog.

  1. Am I acting as a gatekeeper to monopolize and manipulate information, relationships and resources?
  2. Am I playing the game of strategic non-cooperation? Saying yes, but delaying to act?
  3. Am I subtly or overtly excluding or ‘outlawing’ individuals or groups? Using my authority to create doubt about another person’s competence or credibility?
  4. Do I intimidate others?
  5. Do I distract needlessly – out-talk others and prevent action?

A recent article in ‘The Economist’ on the increasing clout of the internet giants concluded thus “The four big fish nowadays also have a reputation for arrogance and plenty of enemies. If they really want to keep the trustbusters at bay, they should not let their size go to their heads”

Not a bad message really, for individuals too!