LA 032: How to Handle Tall Poppy Syndrome and Madras Crabs in the workplace
“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever the cost, but the urge to serve others whatever the cost.”Arthur Ashe
I've been working with a client this past week who's something of a maverick. A rebel. A person who has a different opinion and ideas about the way forward. It's a joy for me to work with someone so intent on making a real difference and not content to follow the way things have been done in that particular organisation for years. Because the organisation is in a bit of a rut. They're not growing, they're stagnating. And before long, they could easily simply die out. This leader has passion and believes that, with a few changes, things could be different. That there is life in the old dog yet. But no-one wants to change. Whispering and worry abound in the company, everyone knows that there's problems. That margins have been squeezed, that the market is drying up and they could easily become obsolete. They know this. They understand this. Yet, this leader, my client, is struggling to be heard. Anytime he rises to offer a possible solution, it is rejected out of hand as being too new, too risky, too dangerous. After all, that is not the way we do things around here. He faces tension from all directions, the company leadership, his peers and the staff: but in different ways that I refer to as Tall Poppy Syndrome and the Madras Crabs. The old guard resent his new fangled ideas. They see this upstart as a tall poppy in the management team. The younger staff keep their heads down and seem fearful of supporting any proposal that wins such disfavour. There's a tall poppy in every workplace . They're the people who seem to have it all. Whether it's looks, talent, success or simply they got what you deserve. Resentment can soon build and, left unchecked, turn into abject misery. What would you do in the same position? You are certain that you know how to turn things around. Do you push back or do you back off? When should you push back? Are you telling them what they NEED to know rather than what they WANT to hear? Then you should push back. If you know that time is running out, you should push back (heck, if you’re right, then maybe the business won’t exist so you’d lose your job anyway!) I love this phrase about time running out: The broken glass on the ground is from the window of opportunity that was slammed shut.
The broken glass on the ground is from the window of opportunity that was slammed shut.
If you have been entrusted with a responsibility and are having difficulty, it is better that your boss knows about it and has the opportunity to help you rather than fail miserably alone. Push back Or should you back off If you’re promoting your own agenda. Doing your own thing. If you’ve said it a couple of times and they don’t seem to catch on… they probably don’t want to catch on…. Back off. Have I already made my point?
“You do not lead people by hitting them over the head – that’s assault not leadership.” – Dwight Eisenhower
Does my request exceed my relationship? I was working with a Malaysian company and the Chairman’s son and daughter were in the ‘high-potential’ group I was coaching. And as is quite common when such situations occur, they had an air of superiority because of their relationship with the big boss. Quite often they would both step beyond normal boundaries in their relationship with their direct bosses, which was inappropriate. Not only is it inappropriate in that they were trying to abuse a family relationship, but by stepping beyond the relationship level with their direct boss, they were actually antagonizing their own direct bosses who would often respond by deliberately undermining their power whenever they could. They were not making friends and influencing people, rather they were building a culture of nepotistic favour and would become reliant on positional power in the future. Now I pushed the matter with them both and the cha