Politics has recently seen a number of extraordinary election outcomes that will have, or indeed, already have had, detrimental consequences for many of those who voted for them. Amongst these, Brexit, Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn stand out as notable examples. For many, this was the equivalent of turkeys voting for Christmas.
We’ve probably all done it at some point, but does this have any relevance for organisational leadership?
Agreement is emerging that the key factors that lead to people ignoring the irrational and accepting what is clearly rhetoric and hyperbole include:
- A loss of faith in the establishment or ‘elites’ that have disproportionate influence and/or wealth.
- A corresponding feeling of disadvantage, being unrepresented, or having been left behind.
- A catchy rallying cry that appeals to a desire for restoration of the status quo or romanticised past glories such as “Making America great again” and “Taking back control” did for Trump and the Brexiteers.
Sadly, such feelings of disenchantment that can lead to extreme responses are not confined to national and local electorates. In many organisations, similar sentiments can often be found. The consequences will be a feeling of marginalisation and a growing sense of dissatisfaction, particularly with the organisation’s management and leadership.
In larger organisations, this can lead to extremes such as industrial action like that taken by the Junior Doctors or Southern Rail train drivers. Alternatively, it may result in sabotage such as that enacted by Lennon Ray Brown who disabled 90% of Citibank’s IT network in December 2013, or the Scottish Widows Call centre staff that helped pensioners to the detriment of their employer. In smaller organisations or departments, just one person feeling like this can seriously disturb the atmosphere in an office or workshop.
As a leader, it becomes important to recognise and address the creation of a forgotten few. A firm I know had recently decided to outsource their data centres, which immediately gave rise to grumbling by data centre staff to anyone that would listen. A series of individual conversations with those that were to be affected fortunately reduced the angst and the feelings that they were being overlooked.
A key leadership message is therefore to let people know that what matters is them. However, this needs to be backed up by positive action to avoid amplifying undercurrents of discontent that leads to serious acts if self-destruction.