Leaders – Do they need to feel Belonged?

Leaders – Do they need to feel Belonged?

800 371 Kamal Karanth

Whom would you give credit for the recent Chennai Super King’s IPL victory? Dhoni’s leadership or his experienced team or CSK’s ecosystem. Some of us said it wasn’t difficult to spot how relaxed he looked here compared to his previous stint. Much of this crew were there at Pune too. I would attribute the victory to the ecosystem of CSK which made him feel belonged.

After all, aren’t champions supposed to be performing in different environments and the surroundings shouldn’t matter? Many corporate examples tell us that the ecosystem is equally important for the leaders to produce the best results. Think of successful corporate leaders who couldn’t reproduce their magic when they switched camps. Groupon’s Andrew Mason, Marisa Meyer, numerous CEOs at HP all had excellent past track records. But, they aren’t remembered the same way like they did with their previous ventures.

Ecosystem Influence

Leaders are human too and they need a sense of connectedness, support, familiarity to perform at their optimum level. That also explains why leaders bring their ex-colleagues when they take up new assignments. They want a few faces which give them a level of comfort. Additionally, CEOs need all the stakeholders to be successful in their new jobs. Board, partners, Immediate reportees and extended teams. Yes, CEO’s are cynosures of success and villains of failure. Nobody can ignore their entire ecosystem in the background for them to go either way. Most leaders are told to build that ecosystem or manage them well. It’s called shrewd politics at one level and stakeholder management at another. Nevertheless, every CEO you talk to will acknowledge the power of ecosystem that they inherit or create.

Replicating Success

Many CEOs with long tenures are reluctant to move jobs. This in spite of attractive offers is due to the fear of the ecosystem change. CEOs who jump the ship negotiates funny things to keep the status quo as much as possible. They bring in their ex-secretary, negotiate for the same city operation even if the Hq is elsewhere. All said and done you can only replicate your comfort zone to a limited extent. Could this be the reason many boards opt for internal succession than outsiders in most cases? The ecosystem connect to the internal contender would be crucial in many cases than the outsider perspective.

Therefore the premium for CEOs who can create magic in new settings is high because they are a rare commodity. Some of us are used to our bosses, few to the culture, many to our team and place of work. A leader is able to perform if he gets all these in the right doses.

That is why some of the traditional companies don’t change leaders in spite of interim stock market pressures.

Outside Leaders

When I was negotiating an offer from an MNC my would be boss asked: “ are you sure you can handle, the new world of structures and process”. My movement was from a large entrepreneur set up. I told myself how could it be any different from all the customer and the industry segment was similar. I was wrong, it turned out to be a complex transition where I felt I was unfit for the job for the first year or so. In my opinion, we all carried policy manuals to every meeting. If the customer or an employee asked a question, we would say we would get back to them. Speed was an enemy and then there were multiple forces. You had to manage regional and global headquarters. For most of the time, I felt I was at war with multiple departments of the organization to get things done.

The larger issue I faced was that of trust. Though, they hired me for my track record and experience they also curbed me with a complex rule-book and approvals. People who had worked with me earlier started to complain that I was off-color in this stint. Truth be told, I never felt belonged till new leaders took over, changed the entire ecosystem and my ownership.

The Change

Every time an organization underperforms we call for the head of  CEO. As much as s/he is in charge they are also a product of their ecosystem. Yes, they can change or influence the behaviors of their circle. But, it’s an uphill task in most cases to simultaneously battle boards, demotivated employees, disgruntled customers and sulking partners. But a CEO who has a sense of belonging, a past or tenure with the organization and is trusted by the board always has the edge.

If we dig deeper it appears that Dhoni is the latest but not the only example. Leadership is meant to be lonely at the top but counterproductive without a sense of belonging

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