January 13, 2004      



The authorsThis month we talk about dealing with that member of the inner circle who speaks for every one else - and not always accurately.

Please forward this newsletter to your colleagues and friends who are interested in organizational and leadership issues. Your feedback is always welcome at info@thetrustedleader.com

-Rob and Anne-



The Trusted Leader

Previous Issues:

When Someone in the Inner Circle Fails

When You're the Outsider

The High-Level Clique


Next month's serving of Dim Sum: Conflict in the Inner Circle


One member of the leadership team speaks on behalf of the entire team, and speaks inaccurately. Others now have to sweep up the damage. But they’re not comfortable explaining to their people how it happened. They don’t know how to defend the action, even as they understand the importance of maintaining a “united front.”

Things to think about: How does one identify responsibility and authority in a leadership group? Is it appropriate to criticize other members of the group? To whom?

It’s a common fantasy that an “intervention” would work in this scenario. That the group would simply gather around the person in question and tell them their behavior was inappropriate, and that the person would, in turn, dissolve into tears of gratitude for the honest feedback, and never ever let it happen again.

Don’t go there; it won’t work. You’ll likely end up with a member of the top team who is resentful and feels as though he has been attacked. He’ll be thinking defensive thoughts, justifying his behavior, along the lines of “I was just trying to do the right thing. And it’s a good thing I did speak up; if I hadn’t done something, we’d really be in the soup now.”

Instead, you have to wear your listener and facilitator hats, and deal with this on a one-by-one, one-on-one basis. It will require a series of meetings, until the ship is sufficiently righted to the point where people might be able to discuss it in a group meeting, or get past it without a general discussion.

As for what the rest of the team tells their direct reports and the organization at large? The rule of thumb should be to tell as much as possible without resorting to “those hurtful truths.” You – and they – can say that there has been a difference of opinion in this group of people. And that there has even been a difference of opinion about how to handle the difference of opinion! You can say that the message delivered did not reflect a unanimous opinion. But unless there is now a unanimous opinion to offer, you should refrain from voicing another potentially conflicting view.

Tell people, instead, that you know this wasn’t the smoothest way to talk about whatever the issue was, and that you’ll report back when there has been a decision (make sure you do.) And acknowledge that you and the other members of the group have talked about what happened among yourselves, and that you’re working to make sure that that kind of miscommunication doesn’t happen again.

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How about you? Has a member of your inner circle sounded off in a way that didn't represent the way the rest of the group thinks? How did you handle it? Let us know.


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