Thursday, February 14, 2013

Holding the Devil at Bay

The other day I summarized that I thought there were only two options in dealing with a devil boss: 1) pray for a miracle (such that the boss might actually change when only 10% of us do for any length of time) or 2) leave. There is another option that helps create change and it comes the work in addictive behaviors and wellness: have an entire group trying to change.

You may be able to create a 'support' group that reinforces not being overly influenced by the toxic boss, who charms, manipulates and undermines others--and other destructive and dysfunctional behaviors and characteristics--in order to create serious and enduring harm to the group. You and other compatriots might be able to identify the manipulations and support each other in the resistance. Even with something as pervasive as rudeness, 60% seems to come from being overworked but nearly 25% of the time is because the boss is rude. You want to recognize that influence and deal with it. Just like trying to quit smoking or excessive drinking or reducing obesity or overcoming a sedentary lifestyle, it's more effective if others are doing the same. It's really hard to eat salads when everyone else is eating macaroni and garlic bread. It's really hard to go running if no one else knows or cares. If you have a running buddy, it gets easier and there's at least one person to hold you accountable. (I used to play tennis with a group and they were sure to ask you on Thursday if you missed Tuesday.) Same thing with corporate culture and behaviors. If you've got a group that's trying to change and can hold each other accountable, it's much easier.

Also, the group is a good sounding board. "Did the boss just insult me and put me down in front of the whole staff, or was it a legitimate criticism?" When there is criticism, recognize the difference between inducing guilt and inducing shame. Guilt is based on the action and the situation which can be corrected. Shame is based on the person, who often can't do anything about who they are. We shouldn't put down the person. Focus on the issue. Your Coalition to Fight the Prada-Wearing Devil is a great resource.

If you can expand the coalition, you're now creating a critical mass whose values might ripple out to other parts of the organization. This is guerrilla change. If completely successful, the toxic leader will become ineffective and need to be replaced.

Secondly, with more difficulty, you might be able to capitalize on a company crisis. Leaders often temporarily change in the midst and just after a crisis. You might be able to institute some organizational changes that reduce the ability or the impact of any recidivism. Organizational changes might increase the social isolation of the leader and his sycophantic entourage. A shuffling of job responsibilities and authority will help too. If the devil is at the top, changing board directors might increase the level of accountability and access. Whatever changes are made need to be nearly irreversible, like Richard Luecke recommends in Scuttle Your Ships Before Advancing.

Pray. Get a support group. Take advantage of a crisis. Leave. A few choices, but not as many as some academics think.

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