January 13, 2005

News & Opinion: Protection

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 4:21 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

One of the most interesting findings of our research is that in high-performing groups, the leader protects the group from the larger company, either in a positive way such as lobbying for more resources, or by shielding the group from company interference. Sometimes protecting the group means bending corporate rules when they are getting in the way of performance. Good leaders dont ever break the law or act unethically, but they know which rules they can break and which they cant.
One plant manager, the leader of a high-performing workgroup, tried for two years to get the company to change its compensation plan to reward the workers in her plant more fairly. When nothing happened, she informed executives in her monthly report as well as in an email that unless she was instructed otherwise, she was going to change the policy. She counted on the fact that no one would pay close attention, and she was right: she got no response. In this case, the manager protected the financial interest of her workgroup at some risk to herself.
Company interference often takes the form of incongruity between words and actions, or between the values posted on the wall and the way business decisions are made. When the leader is forced to protect the group from these inconsistencies, it takes a high toll. The workgroup develops an us versus them mentality. They become a secret society, unwilling to share their successful strategies. The companys performance suffers.
When I speak to groups around the world about this phenomenon, I always see nods of recognition in the audience. Imagine how much could be accomplished if leaders didnt need to protect their workgroups from inside interference!