Author Topic: Leadership and Resistance  (Read 989 times)

TheDrake

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Leadership and Resistance
« on: February 19, 2020, 09:11:17 AM »
Naturally, everyone knows why I thought of this topic, but I'm genuinely interested in addressing this as a wider idea.

I suggest that there is a spectrum of obedience, for lack of a better word. This would range from actively undermining leadership to wholehearted support even when it goes against a subordinates beliefs or instincts.

Lots of writings on leadership talk about the need to build consensus, to convince your executive staff to adopt and implement your vision. It's the difference between compliance and commitment, which are on the spectrum of obedience. Doing something because you have to is less powerful than doing something you want to.

Change leaders often have an uphill battle. If a new leader is brought in to make a radical move, sometimes there has to be housecleaning. Jim Collins refers to this as getting the right people on the bus. When you need to make a change, try to help people exit with dignity and grace. A leader in this situation has to be careful not to wipe out institutional knowledge in the process, however. You can't fire everyone and expect a business to function.

In my own career, I have had circumstances where I was a "resister". This took the form of slow-rolling policies that I didn't support, definitely pushing back on bosses directives that I didn't fully understand or agree with. The lightest form of this was simply not putting in extra hours to move something forward. I've certainly seen it with others, especially when it was unclear if management was really committed to a course of action or if it was just a whim or a fad.

Likewise, I've encountered resisters who were my subordinates. Sometimes I couldn't fully get them on board. If the situation were not mission critical, then I'd often let them pursue their own idea. Sometimes this would result in a good outcome, other times a bad one. Either way it becomes a learning opportunity for one of us. If it was critical, I would try to acknowledge that the person had valid concerns but I had to make the call because it was my responsibility. Sometimes, I would change out the person assigned that task. More often, I would select the person I assigned the task in the first place based on whether I thought they were aligned with my ideas.

I draw the line at actively undermining a person in authority. I take great care not to disparage or demean any superior. I would not be the person to post internal communication publicly in an effort to force superiors to act the way I wanted. If I were consistently finding myself not in alignment, I would resign. The exception would be superiors acting illegally or unethically.

I feel that I would be doing my company a disservice with blind obedience, and yet I generally respect my superiors and would generally follow their directives even if I mildly disagreed with them.

I wonder what others here have experienced. We have a wide variety of backgrounds, professions, and life experience for such a small group.

Seriati

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Re: Leadership and Resistance
« Reply #1 on: February 19, 2020, 11:23:53 AM »
It's an interesting write up, have you considered though how it may differ in the public context?  I mean you're dealing with career staff who are seeking to serve for 40 years or more in a highly policy driven environment that is supposed to be answerable to politics.  In the private world, you may share the vision of a company and have to deal with a CEO's whose implementation of that visions is suspect, you don't have to deal with a CEO who wants to build the biggest zoo, followed by a CEO who wants to run the best slaughter house, followed by one that wants the company to build cars, followed by one that wants to make clothing. 

It's almost impossible to imagine that one could serve for 4 administrations and do so faithfully for each one's vision.

ScottF

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Re: Leadership and Resistance
« Reply #2 on: February 19, 2020, 11:25:48 AM »
I think there's an important distinction between building consensus (usually good) and making decisions by consensus (often bad). Leaders who have established trust are often able to get subordinates on board with decisions they don't agree with. Leaders who haven't established trust will run into the types of pushback you mention above, even if they're making effective decisions.

I like Jocko Willink's book, The Dichotomy of Leadership. He uses his experiences as a SEAL and platoon commander to describe the balance between seeking consensus and buy-in vs "Not up for discussion - just do it". It's a tricky and imperfect balance. The best leaders are able to walk the line because they have established credibility and trust.

The passive resisters you describe, who just drag their feet or quietly poison the well behind the scenes are the ones I have the least respect for. If you strongly oppose your leader's decision(s), make a cogent case as to why and what you'd suggest as a better course of action. Managing up like this can be tricky in it's own right but not impossible.

If your leader isn't the kind that will respond well to that, roll the dice and go above him, or dust off your resume and work actively to move on. Anything else is cowardly, lazy or both.
« Last Edit: February 19, 2020, 11:28:22 AM by ScottF »

Fenring

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Re: Leadership and Resistance
« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2020, 11:30:44 AM »
I've read countless Reddit threads on this topic, and one that comes up often is how much your boss respects your opinion. If they listen to you then it becomes a discussion, and if you are ultimately overruled then I think it is proper to try to implement the plan to the best of your abilities, provided it doesn't amount to an ethical violation for you. Sometimes even an ill-conceived plan can turn out ok if everyone makes it work. If people let it fail then that doesn't help anyone. But the more troublesome case is when the boss has no interest in your opinion. Any leadership structure where "you are the employee, do what you're told and be quiet" is the norm is almost guaranteed to be a poorly run company and will disintegrate eventually. It is probably best to jump ship from a place where they don't know how to take information from subordinates. It means that either the top is micromanaging, or else simply not managing. Either way life there will be bad for all concerned, and the middle managers will end up struggling for power.

That being said, having been both at the top and bottom of organizations, the onus is on the leader not only to make decisions but to rally support and create good morale around the plan. If people are upset about a plan then there is a problem. In some cases this is unavoidable: a plan to downsize business and lay people off will upset everyone but may also be the best solution. It is also important for the person or people at the top to hear the word on the street. If you never hear the complaints from the guy at the bottom you are too far removed to know what's really going on and have made yourself too busy in the wrong ways.

My personal disposition is that of a resister, specifically in the sense that I will make sure to lay out what I see as the complications or consequences of a particular plan of action. Often this may feel to others as pushback from me, whereas I feel it is necessary to make sure people are going into a plan with eyes wide open, knowing the pros and cons. I frequently present cons because in my experience the most likely scenario is people drinking the delusion juice and just nodding their heads. In real life things are more complicate than that and require looking at the nuts and bolts; "have you considered what happens if X; or if Y happens without Z in place do we have a contingency for that?" Things like that. Programmers and devs have to deal with these types of questions all the time, but in other areas of business I often don't see that discipline.

TheDrake

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Re: Leadership and Resistance
« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2020, 11:44:44 AM »
I think Scott just called me a coward and/or lazy. :P

The public context definitely changes things. You could consider a number of professions in this category. I would include in that category an NGO, a public school system, a hospital,  a prosecutors office. Each of those people are more likely to do something as a calling more than just a job.

So you get a top-down policy like NCLB standardized testing. With no consensus or alignment, you see various responses. The obedient side might follow instructions and teach to the test. The resister might do anything up to full on cheating. They may well believe they are doing so in the best interests of the students. Some will actively speak out against the practice.

A brief article talks about the value of using safety checklists in hospitals, but yet resistance occurs.

checklist

This is accepted culture in aviation, and yet health professionals can resist it as a waste of time or somehow beneath them. I don't think you would simply fire them, nor do I think they necessarily should comply or resign. Even with life or death on the line.

ScottF

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Re: Leadership and Resistance
« Reply #5 on: February 19, 2020, 12:18:06 PM »
I think Scott just called me a coward and/or lazy. :P

I've been both at various times throughout my career - not a fun way to live.

Fenring

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Re: Leadership and Resistance
« Reply #6 on: February 19, 2020, 12:27:27 PM »
I think Scott just called me a coward and/or lazy. :P

I've been both at various times throughout my career - not a fun way to live.

I remember one time at a job I cared about that I was constantly trying to improve my department, trying to fight for resources for it, bringing up general issues or ways I thought we could improve, and otherwise basically being a pain. I was a bit too young at the time to recognize just how much certain bureaucrats want as their #1 priority to not have to deal with problems or 'issues'. Under the category of 'issues' is typically 'things we can do better.' I think one sees this especially in schools, where the #1 demon for the admin is complaints and they will do almost anything to avoid them. Anyhow I was chastised indirectly for being a pain in this way, by being brought up on some unrelated and essentially irrelevant points that lacked substance, but I got the idea that it was about me generally being a thorn in the side of an admin that didn't want to have to think about things other than the daily routine. I resolved to try instead to "do absolutely nothing", essentially working to rule and not trying to do the slightest thing for the future of the department. I got a glowing commendation shortly thereafter and they said they were very happy that I took their talk to heart and that I was now doing a much better job. I pretty much laughed walking out of that meeting, knowing exactly what had happened and why. It was an example of that balance between doing what you're told and saying important things, skewed way in the direction of "just don't bring stuff to us". So I didn't; but that is a really bad way to run a company.

TheDrake

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Re: Leadership and Resistance
« Reply #7 on: February 19, 2020, 01:28:50 PM »
Thanks for that story, Fenring.

I've hit a wall before where I shut down and just went through the motions. Okay, Mr. Big, whatever you say! Then implemented the disastrous policy with great gusto and and watched the project crash and burn. That could be considered cowardly, or lazy. I called it sweet justice. Actually, it probably wasn't lazy, because I had to make sure to document everything I did to make sure it wouldn't lie on my doorstep. It wasn't entirely cowardly, because I did try to raise issues. The reaction was pretty much "do what you're told" - so I did.

I've learned how to manage up and present feedback in a way that it can be received without the person losing face. In some cases, it is better to lead someone into thinking it was their idea. Just ask leading questions that push them towards my solution and then get them to propose it. Only a few people require that treatment, in my experience.

I think Scott's comments on trust are also very important. Building trust should be a big part of developing business relationships and networks.

TheDrake

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Re: Leadership and Resistance
« Reply #8 on: February 19, 2020, 01:32:33 PM »
The biggest risk in being a leader who won't take criticism from subordinates is the "emperor's new clothes" effect, where everyone is a yes man, a sycophant, or terrified to say anything negative.

Seriati

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Re: Leadership and Resistance
« Reply #9 on: February 19, 2020, 02:08:14 PM »
I've read countless Reddit threads on this topic, and one that comes up often is how much your boss respects your opinion. If they listen to you then it becomes a discussion, and if you are ultimately overruled then I think it is proper to try to implement the plan to the best of your abilities, provided it doesn't amount to an ethical violation for you. *** It is probably best to jump ship from a place where they don't know how to take information from subordinates. It means that either the top is micromanaging, or else simply not managing. Either way life there will be bad for all concerned, and the middle managers will end up struggling for power.

I've primarily worked in thought based work places, which means that the more senior people present have a decided expertise advantage over those junior to them.  It's literally a case where if you're incompetent you're out, and if you're not incompetent someone with less experience will not be able to perform the tasks at the same level.  Now that said, junior staff can still perform at a very high level and may contribute insights that others may have missed (or may have seen and already accounted for).

I think that's very different where you work in a corporate entity where "manager" is a different skill set and skill track than the line workers they supervise.  Of course "executive" is still another different skill set and skill track.  Managers and executives who don't learn from their underlyings will fundamentally underperform those that do, as they don't have the overlap of skills.

Fenring

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Re: Leadership and Resistance
« Reply #10 on: February 19, 2020, 03:12:19 PM »
I've primarily worked in thought based work places, which means that the more senior people present have a decided expertise advantage over those junior to them.  It's literally a case where if you're incompetent you're out, and if you're not incompetent someone with less experience will not be able to perform the tasks at the same level.  Now that said, junior staff can still perform at a very high level and may contribute insights that others may have missed (or may have seen and already accounted for).

A lot of my experience is in artistic workplaces, which perhaps depending on your definition are very much thought-oriented areas. It's true that the person with the greatest knowledge, experience, and vision may even dwarf those below in terms of understanding what is needed, and yet in these cases the onus is even greater to use every brain present. When knowledge is very technical and specialized it can happen that you micro on something super-focused and are missing one category of awareness; or else the ones in charge are excellent at being generalists but need to be aware when you have a sub-specialist on-hand. In the arts it's sort of relevant to always keep in mind "you don't know what the people you're dealing with know." You may know you're more advanced than them in some particular area, but you'll never know that occasion when they know some critical stuff you don't until it comes up. Establishing a two-way flow of information prevents this being a problem. In a pure managerial situation, as you say it's two different skill sets, so in a way the entire job is about mining the work or expertise below you. But in the scenario you describe it's trickier because you need to have the flood gates open enough that information you need gets to you, without being able to tell in advance when that information will be needed or available. So you need the managerial sense even though it doesn't come into play constantly.

Seriati

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Re: Leadership and Resistance
« Reply #11 on: February 19, 2020, 04:29:52 PM »
I would think an artistic work place is almost always subject to the issue of talent, and that a less experienced person could just be better.  My friends who were programmers operated in a manner like that, with highly talented individuals able to move up quickly, but even there they weren't moving past equally talented and more experienced programmers.

But my own experience is tied into a field where talent is important but it can't substitute for knowledge and experience.  Most human generated systems are only partially logical and you can't accurately predict how something turns out by relation to your existing knowledge.  In my case, it's very easy for the correct answer to be completely contrary to the obvious answer, based on a detail that all experienced practitioners know, but the new guys have to be taught.  It's very easy for a specific principal to be contrary to a general one, and only knowledge not talent gets you that answer.

It's also very easy to get confused with the sometimes ridiculous complexity built in, and with similar but different concepts layered on top of each other.  The biggest issue with filtering up, is often that juniors are actually not useful because they lack too much knowledge (it's not uncommon for something to take them 20+ hours that would take a senior person an hour, and for the review of the 20+ hour work to take more than an hour, but without that process they never advance).

In reference to the original topic, it makes it impossible to "manage" and effectively practitioners end up managing other practitioners rather than having professional managers.  It means leadership style is often irrelevant as it takes a very persuasive pitch to get them to change their ways or how they operate.  It generally works, if it does, because those senior enough are effectively independently responsible and not in need of management (executive guidance on the other hand they could use).

TheDrake

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Re: Leadership and Resistance
« Reply #12 on: February 19, 2020, 04:59:31 PM »
It puts me in mind of some friends who talked about investigating credit card fraud. They hated working with inexperienced people because there were all kinds of crappy little nuances that followed no logic. If you're dealing with Megacorp A, handle it this way. If you're dealing with B Inc, do it that way. Don't follow what the training materials tell you to do with form #429, you really want to skip that and use #721. If the denied charge is a restaurant, you handle it differently than if it is a taxi. If you want to clear investigations as fast as possible, you have to dance along the Pattern like a Prince of Amber. Forget about changing jobs, because all the stuff you learned at Wells Fargo won't translate to a job at Chase and you'll have to start over.

It's often a sign of a broken process, lack of industry standards, or modifications based on the temperament, relative power, or personal relationships that pertain to each client individually. A lot of times this occurs when a company tries to wring as much as possible from each situation rather than accept a more consistent standard for all situations.

This is only one scenario where it would be difficult for a less experienced person to be able to offer something of value to a superior. However, it still behooves the superior to handle questions with grace and teach them the ropes. On the other hand, more senior management may well issue directives that are inconsistent with the experience of these specialists. They might misuse metrics that they invented to make those people "more efficient". That's where you really require trust building, and using other feedback mechanisms to determine whether someone is doing a job well that you don't know how to do.

Seriati

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Re: Leadership and Resistance
« Reply #13 on: February 19, 2020, 07:46:09 PM »
If you want to clear investigations as fast as possible, you have to dance along the Pattern like a Prince of Amber.

I object, not even a Prince of Amber can dance on the Pattern and survive.

Seriati

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Re: Leadership and Resistance
« Reply #14 on: February 19, 2020, 07:57:19 PM »
A lot of times this occurs when a company tries to wring as much as possible from each situation rather than accept a more consistent standard for all situations.

In my experience companies try to keep things as consistent and idiot proof as possible, it's generally governmental interference through regulation and arbitrary laws that triggers a need for multiple standards, endless forms and record keeping and otherwise for inefficiency.

Quote
On the other hand, more senior management may well issue directives that are inconsistent with the experience of these specialists. They might misuse metrics that they invented to make those people "more efficient".

I did find this to be the case when I worked at an international bank.  Lot's of directives on high that were tone deaf or even in some cases illegal if you were to apply them at a local level in a particular country.  The process on push back was beyond an exercise in lack of efficiency.  That's where I got my experience with risk reporting, where you have to complete a 10 page risk report to provide to your manager.  Your manager has to complete a 10 page risk report to provide to his manager summarizing his own risks as well as the risks of his 14 direct reports.  His manager also gets the same 10 pages to report his 12 direct reports (and their hundreds of direct reports), up and up and up through more than a couple dozen levels to get to a CEO who ask his direct reports to summarize their 10 page reports.

Pretty easy to see how a paper pushing process designed to document everything ends up reporting next to nothing of use to the top.  Hard to manage down if the information process inserts dozens of fingers making their own judgements on "what's important".

And that's before you throw in incentives that are designed to pursue the wrong goals.  Our senior management was far more motivated by short term statistics that appeared in public reports than by long term growth or success, which didn't.


TheDrake

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Re: Leadership and Resistance
« Reply #15 on: February 22, 2020, 07:40:07 AM »
Regulatory can cause issues. I can't speak to international rules, but there are state rules. California requires that people have dedicated sick time, rather than pooling in general pto. A company then has a choice, they can fragment payroll or they can adopt California rules nation wide. We saw this second choice with automobile emissions.

Similarly, however, companies might normally pay accounts in 60 days. But then a big powerful supplier insists on net 30. The company could just pay everyone in 30 days, or they can complicates the system.