In my consulting work, it is incredibly frequent to see people stuck with a question: ‘but what do they want us to do?’. Or, ‘we need to know what they want so we can do it’. Or, ‘should they not tell us what our role (mission, remit) is, first?’ They are the execs on the top floor. Or the exec suite. Or the ones with the closed office door.
This is particularly frequent for groups and corporate functions often sitting at the crossroads between other functions or Business Unit. I have in my mind Internal and External Communications, Branding units, Franchise structures, Project team structures etc. They all seem to need clarification of frontiers, a declaration of borders, even better if that comes with Border Police and a Manual: this is mine, this is yours, do not trespass. Not unreasonable. Perhaps. In the 19th Century.
There is a hidden, or not that hidden, assumption that there are people (execs at the top) who seem to know the answer, but they don’t tell you. If they just did, once and for all! Of course, in the absence of they telling you, a possible path is to guess. Here, the game of guessing, and second guessing, comes in, one of the most futile exercises in organizational life, big organization or small organization.
In my experience, nine out of ten of the cases when they don’t tell you, is because they haven’t got a clue, not that they want to keep it secret from you. I am saying this as a partial compliment, not a criticism. Of course if they knew, but decided not to tell you, they will be simply deceiving you. Frankly, this is not my experience. The partial compliment comes from the fact that, at least, they have not made it up so that ‘they have an answer for everything’.
A good working hypothesis is this: there is no magic answer on the 10th floor. If we are stuck with this, they are also stuck. So, there are two options.
One. Wait. Wait for the magic to come down, and put up with it if you don’t like it. You may finally have tremendous clarity, a clarity that you may regret.
Two. ‘Occupy the street’. Take accountability, take the space, figure it out yourselves. Chances are, they will very much welcome this. To the surprise of many of my clients, this is generally the case.
The reason why the above partial compliment was only partial, instead of full one, is this. They should be more open and honest and say: you figure it out.
The dark is not a workable leadership place.
For more thoughts, insights and discussions on leadership:
Watch my recent webinar on leadership as a praxis
Read my latest leadership book: Camino – Leadership Notes on the Road. For more information about the book and for sample extracts visit: Camino
The Chalfont Project – Your Organization Architects
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