A Word Problem: Leadership Is About Others

Solve for W (Who):


  • X = CEO, Y = CFO, Z = Department Head, and C = The Company.


  • X communicates well with Y.

  • X will listen to Z but provide no constructive feedback.  Nil. None. Zero. Zilch.

  • Y completely ignores Z (except terse email messages related to financial reporting).

  • Z loathes X, will stop at nothing to undermine X’s authority, but survives due to his control of the company’s valuable business relationships.

  • C is slowing failing.


  • Solve for W - Who is responsible for this dysfunction?


  • W = Z ?

Z is a cancer.  The organization is imploding, partly due to Z’s arrogance (or is it insecurity?) and lack of willingness to work with other team members.  His job has been “safe” due to his control of the company’s customers.  Z is an enormous short-term and long-term problem, but is not responsible for all the dysfunction.

  • W = Y ?

Y never left the playground.  Although an experienced, full-grown adult, Y is petty and childish.  Y feels invincible given his good relationship with X, so he continues to play games with Z.  The continued, unchecked existence of Y’s behavior is a symptom, but not the cause of all the dysfunction.

  • W = X ?

X is responsible for the dysfunction.  X is not a leader.  

My friend, colleague and leadership guru, Jeff Anderson, is the president of Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.  He was recently asked by a group of executives to explain leadership in one word.  Jeff didn’t hesitate for a moment.  He responded “Leadership is about ‘others’.”  

Our leader X is not about others.  He has allowed the company (and all other employees) to be held hostage by Z.  He has not attempted to lead Z, rather he has avoided most contact and all constructive feedback.  Our leader X has completely ignored the unproductive, and often destructive, rift between Y and Z.  Sticking one's head in the sand is not leading for others.  X, like most leaders, probably knows the technicalities of his business inside and out.  However, he lacks the emotional intelligence that’s required, and necessary, to be a successful leader.

If you are X, or your team has X on it...