Most know the romantic short version of the story of King Edward VIII and American socialite divorcée Wallis “Wally” Simpson. The young king gave up the throne so that he could marry and spend the rest of his life with his love.
The longer version of this story is seldom discussed, and it’s not quite as romantic. In fact, the situation was fraught with tangled and tawdry conflicts up from the time they met until the end of the couple’s lives.
The history books recount Edward publicly showering Wally with jewels and lavish vacations, and upon becoming king, continuing to consort with the still-married Wally, creating scandal and confusion touching not only his own family, but also the government and the United Kingdom. Even after abdicating the throne, Edward and Wally continued to flirt and fraternize with risky and dangerous relationships and situations, including heavy indicators that they supported Adolf Hitler and his efforts.
What does this wild situation have to do with leadership in the workplace?
Whether Edward should have left the throne for the woman he loved is not in judgment. Rather, it is the way he went about things – poor focus, direction, and execution. This resulted in a loss of trust and support by his inner circle and his country, and a challenging life after leaving the throne.
It’s when you’ve lost the trust and support of your people that it’s “game over.”
What does leadership abdication look like in the workplace?
It may be more subtle than stepping down from a royal throne, but it’s just as damaging.
Here are some styles of those at the top who may or may not be physically present, but who abdicate their responsibility as leaders.
Through poor behaviors and approaches, these hurt the morale, and productivity of those around them. Teams silo. Key talent leaves. Confusion reigns. The bottom line suffers. Do you or anyone you know have a boss like one of these? Or, as a leader, do you identify with any of these traits in your own leadership or in that of your team?
Jan, the Benevolent Dictator.
The Benevolent Dictator is the proverbial maternal/paternal figure, who keeps a tight rein on everyone. As a report, you aren’t always sure what you are supposed to do until you get directives from Jan – what to do, how to do them – and then Jan will check with you frequently to make sure you are doing what she told you to do. Sometimes she will even change her mind about what she tells you to do so that you have to change direction in the middle of a process. In short, the micro-manager extraordinaire, Jan may have you in her office several times weekly to tell you when to turn right or left. Is it any surprise that Jan doesn’t have her team operate from an action plan that empowers them and allows them to move forward on their own? In addition, chances are, your job description is “in the pile to update,” and so is your raise. Good luck with that.
Sam, the Disappearing Act.
Sam likes for you to take over while he disappears. In the beginning, it was pretty exciting to have so much leeway with what and how you run your area of responsibility. But then, you began to catch on – Sam reappears at the oddest times, parachuting into the middle of your projects and decisions. He questions what and why you are doing what you are doing. He changes things. It’s pretty frustrating, and you can lose credibility with others when he does this. Feel like a yo-yo? You are. You’ve probably been promised a promotion for some time, and it’s overdue. If you could just get some time with Sam to discuss – but then, everyone else is lining up with questions, too. Because there are some critical, time-sensitive decisions that have been waiting for his endorsement – and he hasn’t been around to answer them until right now. Catch him quickly! Because, when you least expect it, Sam will be out the door, again.
Julia, the Decision-Adverse Boss.
Julia is famous for bringing enough of her homemade strawberry pie into the office for everyone to have a slice. She knows the names of all your kids and pets. She plans the best staff retreats. But it never seems like the right time to get a decision on critical items from Julia. “Let me mull this over,” and “That’s a great idea – let’s put it on our list,” are two of her favorite responses to your queries. Face it – you just can’t move forward with some of your initiatives without her help. You get the feeling that she cares about some things – just not about getting the work done. So forget your goals. Have another slice of pie. P.S. You’d better hope that when evaluation time comes around, she doesn’t blame you for poor performance.
Jim, the Easter Bunny.
Jim loves everyone, and everyone (seems?) to love him. He thrives on being liked, and it’s because of this that he refuses to do the right thing. Jim doesn’t want anyone to think he is playing favorites. Consequently, he hands projects and opportunities out like candy, and when one person gets a raise, everyone gets one. You can imagine with this kind of distribution that the remuneration is modest. You’ll hear things like, “Well, let’s see, you say you are doing twice the work that old Bernie is, and that you have twice as many reports, and twice as much revenue to generate as he does. But, you know, Bernie has been with us for 25 years, now. We wouldn’t want him to get the wrong impression, would we? So let’s just hold that promotion idea until we can come up with something for him, too. Maybe we can take it up with the team tomorrow.” Just a word, here, but you’ve probably already guessed it: Tomorrow never comes.
Mark, the Candy Man.
Who’s a good girl or boy? I’ll tell you who – it’s whoever is favored at the moment. Feel like you are favored? Try as you might, you won’t find out why you are loved at the moment, so you just hope you keep doing whatever it is keeps you on the boss’ good side. On the other hand, do you feel like the boss is spanking you for something and you don’t know why? Chances are you won’t find that out, either. You may not have done anything wrong, but the boss will deny any unfair treatment when you ask about it. Meanwhile, you feel like you are continually shut down – your ideas, the way you do things. Tired of playing with crazy? Time to think about alternatives.
There are so many ways of abdicating one’s responsibility in leadership. But no matter what style or behavior it is that holds someone back from leading, it always winds up damaging self, others, and the enterprise.
What poor style of leadership have you witnessed or heard about in the past?
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Patti Cotton is a CEO and former foreign diplomat. A sixth generation business owner, Patti not only coaches leaders – she has extensive experience in actually being one. Her experience, record of unprecedented success, and extensive training and certifications make her uniquely qualified to bring value to you and your team in the areas of leading self, leading others, and leading the enterprise.
Patti’s areas of focus include leadership and talent development, with specialization in leadership behavior and communication, conflict management, executive presence, succession planning, and strategic personal, leadership, and organizational growth.
With over 25 years of proven leadership experience, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across diverse industries. As an executive coach, trainer, and Fortune 500 speaker, she will inspire, influence, and impact your organizational leaders to reach new heights of success in their personal and professional growth, and to improve performance across your organization.
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