Invisible Leaders

Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a distressed employee (public sector) on the issue of organizational cliques and the toll it takes on productivity. It cannot be ignored that there are many employees across organizations who are not the best fit, but they are retained because of poorly developed structures to assess performance. Efforts by leaders to impact on the negatives associated with the formation of cliques often lead to frustration.

As the story unfolds, the employee has become deeply dissatisfied with the unprofessional behavior demonstrated by the leader. A number of critical objectives have been stymied because of the friendships that appear to be deeper than the commitment to developing a world class educational facility. As I adjust my thought to a Human Resources frame, I can piece together in my mind, from the singular experience shared, that a number of values need to be addressed.

I will reinforce that cliques occur whether we want them to or not. People are drawn to others by commonalities: beliefs, causes, social networks and so on. The challenge in an organizational setting is that of transforming destructive behaviors to encouraging signs of productivity in high performance teams.

In the experience shared by the employee, the leader appears to have abdicated her role as a professional, seeking instead to create a group of loyalists. In this script, team members shield each other in non-performance and excuses are the norm. In performance management activities, how does one begin to engage in real discussions aimed at improving the contributions of those who are lagging? The solution I have found is to create standards that will support the objectives being pursued. By developing standards, the output of each member becomes critical to success. Standards of measure are equally important. For example, a school is a system with the objective of producing educated individuals. It is a system within a larger more complex framework. As a unit, the leader within the school environment has to ensure that the standards and measures developed for success are achieved. Underperformance of his or her team must be met with supportive resources to meet or exceed standards. It matters not if the team or clique are members of his/her social circle. The larger picture is to achieve the purpose for which schools are intended.

Accountability is and continues to be a buzz word in the field of human resources. We acknowledge knowing what the word conjures but yet, in our daily conversations, there is always a reason why a target was not met. Whilst there may be honest examples of threats to productivity, it is our dishonesty with ourselves about how we contribute to the organization that impacts gravely on our success. Owning our mistakes and closely examining how we messed up is the first step to recovering from the derailed efforts. Blaming someone or something else slows the process of recovery and creates instead, a pattern of “covering oneself”.

Cliques that are supported by the inaction of leaders produce other forms of disastrous outcomes. Of importance are these two: firstly, the erasing of morale of those team members who are truly committed to the organization because their values at one time or the other they were in sync with the mission and vision statement. They become adrift when they experience the nasty underbelly of organizational politics. Secondly, a deep resentment and lack of respect for the leadership of the organization, resulting from the behaviors that do not complement fair and balanced management of the company’s resources. The outcome to this is further highlighted when good employees leave bad employers. This has a debilitating effect on how competitive an organization can be and impacts on the ability to keep talented individuals in the work environment.

Keep In View

  1. Cliques if not managed can impact on the performance or any organization.
  2. Leaders at every tier have the responsibility for upholding standards.
  3. Performance appraisals are important to the maintenance of healthy organizations. The approach should be in an unbiased fashion, with appeal structures in place to help maintain the integrity of the process.
  4. Developing a high performance team takes work. Invest in learning and development programs to support teams that demonstrate a commitment to the success of the organization.
  5. Provide support for team members who are experiencing challenges in the performance of their duties.
  6. Discipline those who fail to adhere to the required standards.
  7. Encourage team work by providing opportunities for collaboration across departments.

To the distressed employee, my advice is for her to create an exit strategy. This approach is necessary, after she has exhausted every available means to share her discomfort about the dysfunction of the members in the organization.

What leaders must be constantly aware of, is they too are being measured. Their ineptitude will also be discussed in and outside of the organization. The question should always be: what message are you relaying to the broader community that would encourage others to view your organization as an employer of choice?

Copyright 2013 Suzette Henry Campbell



  1. Leaders who have human skills are able to understand, change and lead and control behavior of others. If leaders are able to communicate, coordinate and motivate their employees and mold them into a cohesive team shows effective and ineffective leaders… Sherene

    • Spot on Sherene! The missing link in interactions appear to be a lack of emotional intelligence and ambiguity in the interpretation of the expectations of a leader.

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