x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Lead from the front when there’s unease at the office

Workplace Doctor: Debbie Nicol reveals what to do when the leader steps down and middle management jostle for position.

Debbie Nicol often say the walls have eyes and ears, and while these senior team members are keen to be heard currently, it may all be for the wrong reasons. Sarah Dea / The National
Debbie Nicol often say the walls have eyes and ears, and while these senior team members are keen to be heard currently, it may all be for the wrong reasons. Sarah Dea / The National

The chief executive of the company I work for recently resigned, leaving a gaping hole at management level. There is now a lot of political infighting among his senior team and the middle level executives as they all jostle for power in the hope they will take over. For the rest of the staff, there is a feeling of unease and it is definitely affecting morale and productivity. How can I, a middle-level manager, help to energise and reassure the staff during this organisational shift at the top? SS, Abu Dhabi

Hello SS, yet I’m not so sure it will indeed be a good morning, with you and your team heading into another directionless and divided day in the workplace.

I love observing people when they find themselves in differing situations, with differing levels of reactions. The first was when I watched humanity flow in times of survival, as I witnessed in the 2004 Thailand tsunami. We were all in it together and everyone simply had one goal in mind for the sake of everyone around – that was physical and mental survival. In times of disaster when we are stripped of everything, ego simply slides away and we become united. Clearly the departure of your CEO is not that situation, as it appears egos have ignited, self-promotion is the focus and unhealthy behaviour has produced an outcome of workplace separation. The very essence of business has been sidelined.

I was recently listening to a radio show that stressed the importance of professional behaviour having priority in workplaces today. I often say the walls have eyes and ears, and while these senior team members are keen to be heard currently, it may all be for the wrong reasons – I guarantee the people around are also being affected. Just imagine if all that energy and effort they currently display was directed into business goals, into keeping things moving along and ensuring all in the organisation were informed on a regular basis; if that was the case, they may have all eyes on them for taking the organisation well beyond where the departing CEO took it, thereby being noticed for the right reasons.

A study from Harvard provides the top five reasons leaders get fired: mismanaging change, ignoring customers (internal and external), tolerating low performers, denying reality and too much talk and not enough action. It seems this list was handcrafted for your senior infighters, wouldn’t you say? Wouldn’t it be great if somehow that Harvard article could mysteriously and anonymously end up on the desks of these people to hopefully redirect their energy. SS, is there relevance in the above information for you as a middle manager?

So what can you do to ease the situation right now? To be honest, very little if you refer to the whole organisation. However, the news is a little brighter for you and your own team as they are within your sphere of influence.

Regarding yourself, you are the power source of your people. If your light goes out theirs surely will too. So find a source of protection first and foremost – for me, mine comes in the form of an imaginary, invisible bubble that I coat myself in. It not only protects me from being impregnated with negativity, but also it helps deflect and bounce that negative energy back to the one it came from, thereby not spreading it around the organisation. If there is a trustworthy colleague around, vent often with that person to ensure tension is released often as well.

Regarding suggestions to help your team through it all, just ask yourself about your own children – when they are feeling lost, what would you do for them? Suggestions may include:

• Be there for them; listen and understand their pain

• Allow them to be fully involved with the reality and build suggestions together to move forward

• Take them to new places so focus does not concentrate on the one situation

Resilience is the key trait of leaders – can you use yours SS?

Doctor’s prescription

Focus on what you can influence and shield yourself from all else.

Debbie Nicol, the managing director of Dubai-based business en motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. Email her at debbie.nicol@businessenmotion.com for the Workplace Doctor’s advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague