Disagree? Pack Your Bag

Just a couple of weeks ago, Bertelsmann AG announced that its Chairman and CEO, Dr. Thomas Middelhoff, would leave the company. The press release was silent as to what led up to this departure, but it’s not hard to imagine why this departure occurred.

In this day and age, when corporate performance is increasingly coming under scrutiny by Boards, previously entrenched CEOs may be looking at a renewed accountability for their actions. It is highly likely that we will see more of these abrupt departures as Boards take a more proactive role in reviewing performance of their management groups. Major change usually starts at the top, with a new CEO assembling his or her own management team.

Middelhoff made substantial bets in digital technology, preparing Bertelsmann for a new age. Maybe he went too fast. Maybe the executive board got cold feet. Maybe he was ahead of his time. Look what has happened with Bob Pittman, former COO of AOL Time Warner. He’s gone as well.

There has been and always will be disagreements between reasonable people. Disagreements, when constructively managed, can bring out new ideas. The spirit of the debate will normally result in a better answer. When debate is not handled effectively, however, the organization bogs down in a swamp of indecision. It is important, at this time, to remove one party so the company can progress.

A leader’s responsibility is to be able to identify and recognize when the disagreement in an organization is counterproductive.

Just consider the old cliché of an apple. When you have a storage bin of fruit, a rotten apple in that basket starts out rotten only by itself. But, soon surrounding fruit begins to rot as well, simply because of its proximity to the first apple. Ultimately, the entire basket becomes rotten and we need to throw away the fruit and start over. Like a basket of fruit, organizations have a similar composition. One employee can begin the decaying process and this condition weakens the entire organization; before this gets out of hand, the leader needs to decide to make a change.

Often these are painful decisions, but we all know we will be better off making the decision and moving on. All change creates loss (even when we need it and want it) and all loss needs to be mourned. We leaders need to be sensitive to this and accommodate the mourning period of all those affected. Until we do that, we will not be able to successfully move ahead.

Now ask yourself… Am I a Leader?

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