More Serious People

June 2nd, 2023 by Douglas McEncroe · No Comments · Culture, Leadership, Organizational Culture, Personal Development

Greek TragedyThe recent TV series Succession has provided some valuable observations about life in organisations. Series director Mark Mylod  always interpreted the story of the Roy family as a Greek Tragedy, where the tragic destiny of the main characters was already set from the very beginning of the series, due to their personal flaws. And so, despite the hope generated in the beautiful scene in the kitchen when the three siblings briefly returned to the playfulness of their childhood while they anointed Kendall CEO, their fate was sealed due to the flaws in their personal characters.

As Logan Roy had stated when talking to his three children in an earlier episode, “You are not serious people”, or put more crudely by Roman Roy when arguing with his siblings just before the final vote, “you’re bullshit, she is bullshit, I’m bullshit, we’re all bullshit”.

And yet, there is no doubt that they were all capable of political manipulation and the toxic nature of the leadership provided by the father allowed that to flourish.

Why do corporate politicians often thrive?

This begs the question. Why do people who don’t actually make great contributions to the success of their organisations, but who are masters in the art of political manipulation, often thrive in organisations? In my experience the answer to that question can be found in the CEO. If a CEO does not actively create mechanisms to identify people who are hardworking and who are  actually making real contributions, due to their concrete actions and behaviours, then political behaviour thrives and is rewarded.

 In some organisations, there has been a series of CEOs over a couple of decades who have not rewarded real work, thus favouring politics, and it has become part of the organisational culture and therefore harder to change.

 Others, however, have been very clear about promoting talent and rewarding hard work and encouraging leaders throughout their organisations to do the same, and their organisations inevitably thrive.

Leaders who tick the box versus leaders who create real change

Over the last thirty years I have worked with many CEOs as I designed and implemented a lot of corporate change or leadership development projects. I have seen two types of CEOs. Some who want to go through the steps of carrying out team development workshops for their senior management team, followed up by leadership programs for their senior leaders and middle managers, but who have no real intention of changing anything. In these projects I have been able to help individuals develop their leadership and have perhaps achieved some improvement in the lives of employees due to better leadership behaviours, but no real organisational change ever happened. These CEOs just wanted to show their boards that they were doing something but had no intention of changing anything. They just ticked the box.

Fortunately, I have had more experience working with some great CEOs who actively got involved in the projects from the beginning, contributed to having real conversations in the Senior Team Development Sessions, admitted errors, and made sure that actions that were agreed on as a result of the work done in the sessions, were implemented and followed up on. When it came the time to roll out the leadership development programs to their managers, they often appeared themselves in those programs to present a clear vision of what they were trying to achieve and listened to the comments and feedback of their people. In those organisations real change was achieved.

Real contributions need to be seen and rewarded. Politicking needs to be penalised

 It wouldn’t be much fun working for the Roys, and the organisation would suffer. CEOs need to:

  • Actively identify real actions and behaviours that are positive and that achieve results.
  • Communicate clearly to the organisations what these actions are, and who did them.
  • Promote these people.
  • Reward managers who are doing the same with their teams.
  • Create metrics for measuring actions that produce results.
  • Encourage everyone to communicate actions that have helped the organisation.
  • Recognise and reward managers who publicise the good work of their people.
  • Penalise people who try to take the credit for other people’s work.

These actions create healthy organisations which are happier places to work in and inevitably produce better results.


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