Leadership Vacuums Suck: 5 Survival Tips
Leadership vacuums are black holes that crush hopes, dreams and effort within their inscrutable, deadly grasp. Attempting to work within them is unsustainable over the long term. But you may be forced to do just that until your parachute is fully packed. (If you’re overly stubborn, you may also try to channel the Isley Brothers and attempt to “fight the powers” – but please don’t).
Regardless of your particular end game, you’re in survival mode. And unless you’re just another prairie dog in the cubicle farm, you’ve got people of your own to lead. Leadership is difficult under the best of circumstances but it’s even tougher when your own leaders have failed you.
This article considers a real (and ongoing) leadership vacuum and provides five tips on how to lead “your people” when you find yourself in this dreaded circumstance.
I. The Situation
Tom (not his real name) is an upper level manager (but not C-suite level) responsible for overseeing the IT needs of a large regional organization. He has been with this same organization for over twenty years. During his tenure Tom has worked under three very different Presidents.
President One was a strong leader that outlined a grand vision, created strategy, told a compelling story, invested in people and created a foundation for future success. This President was far from perfect but managed to harness “the vision thing” to drive the organization into the 21st century.
President Two was solely concerned with appearances and chose to faithfully execute President One’s vision while playing divide and conquer politics. Unfortunately, this management style and President Two’s failure to set forth a new vision prior to exiting, initiated a steady exodus of key senior mangers.
Enter President Three, who uses all the right words and has outlined a “vision.” Unfortunately, President Three’s vision is more tactical than strategic. Additionally, the senior level “brain drain” that began under President Two has accelerated and President Three has chosen to eliminate positions in lieu of filling them. This has left Tom’s department without direct representation within the C-suite as well as an expectation that this very critical department continue to “do what they do” – all without any direction or strategy. Multiple attempts by Tom to address this lack of leadership have been politely rebuffed or ignored and the department’s situation has not escaped the attention of its seventy-five plus employees.
Despite the leadership issues, Tom doesn’t want to leave. He is loyal to the organization, has faith in its original mission and is a bit like Fox Mulder – he desperately wants to believe. So, the question is: How can Tom effectively lead his department without leadership from “the top” while also retaining his sanity? If you’re in a situation like his, the following five survival tips may help you.
II. Short Term Survival Tips
Tip #1. Remain positive but don’t “blow smoke”
Tip #2. Be transparent and authentic
Tip #3. Reinforce (or Create) Purpose
Tip #4. Remain informed
Tip #5. Find a way to vent
III. Listen to the Isley Brothers
Intellectually, Tom knows that his current situation is unsustainable and that, despite using the 5 Survival Tips, his mental health is suffering. Emotionally, though, he can’t quite bring himself to bust that move and “leave the situation.”
Unfortunately, long-term exposure to a leadership vacuum is almost always fatal and continued survival has even been shown to result in the development of Charlie Sheen Winning disorder or CSW (where no matter what you do you’re always “winning”).
So here’s your plan: Instead of firing up the Tiger Blood and staying to “fight the powers”, let another verse from the Isley’s be your guide:
It’s your thing
Do what you wanna do
Don’t let me tell you
Who to sock it to
Let me hear you say it’s my thing (It’s your thing),
I do what I wanna do……
Do “your thing” – whatever that thing might be. But if you find yourself in a vacuum, don’t be afraid to do it somewhere else. The talent wars of the early 21st century are now in full swing and you’ve got options. Exercise them. Because no one should ever be forced to endure a leadership vacuum – they suck.
© 2015 Chad C. Harvey. All Rights Reserved