Misleading Conduct # 8 – Playing Favourites

As a leader is it wise to have an apple of your eye?
As a leader is it wise to have an apple of your eye?

No matter what size or type of business they lead, leaders will most likely interact with dozens, hundreds or thousands of people in a month. Most of them will fall into various categories: executive team members, customers, stakeholders, media, etc.

The best way to mislead in interactions with the members of each group is to divide and conquer. You know what I’m talking about – Misleaders give one or a couple of them more of their time, leadership, and knowledge of what is really happening than they give the others. In the office they are seen to be the apple in their leaders eye. This will create a special relationship with the favoured ones. It will also send nicely confusing messages to others, make them very insecure, cause them to be diverted from their real role to wonder what the heck the leader is up to and cause them to act politically rather than strategically to protect their rear end.

Some time ago Tom worked for a leader who played this game nicely. As one of the favored,   Tom initially thought he was in seventh heaven. He got his leader’s ear when he needed it, the leader told Tom things that gave him a sense of  power and privilege and Tom felt really good about himself and the people he  was responsible for leading. Then another favorite emerged and Tom’s star   waned. He spent long hours trying to work out what he had done wrong and what he could do to restore his place in the sunny dial of his leader’s smiling face. When Tom talked with his leader about it, his response was: “Don’t be so sensitive. I do this to keep everyone on their toes.” It certainly kept Tom on his toes; he walked! When Tom reflected on it, he realised that whilst  he was in that so-called favoured relationship with the leader, he was not   able to have a great relationship with his colleagues. It made them edgy and anxious.

One of the key insights from Self Organizing Systems theory is that the health of these systems depends on the ongoing quality of relationships, usable information and a shared understanding of the current state of things. If you play favourites you will disturb the relationships in the organisation in a fundamental way and destabilize them.

Good leaders disturb systems with the intention of making them more productive. They will do things like improving the general quality of relationships for everyone, most often by providing opportunities for people to get better related in the organization. And they will continually pay a lot of attention to check the results of each of their actions to see if they are leading to better relationships for all.

Author: This post is by Ian Sampson (B.Comm., LLB., FAICD, FAIM). Ian is a Cause and Effective Associate (www.causeandeffective.info). He is a Strategic Advisor to Boards, an Executive Coach and a Facilitator of our Powerful Leadership in Action Program. He can be contacted here.

Ian’s other posts in his “Misleading Conduct” series are:

Leaders Behaving Badly; Misleading Conduct #1 – Not Providing Context; Misleading Conduct #2 – Not Providing Space For Your People; Misleading Conduct # 3 – Justifying Poor Performance; Misleading Conduct #4: – Making Lousy Decisions or No Decisions At All; Misleading Conduct #5 – Lacking Integrity in Your Personal and Professional Life; Misleading Conduct #6 – Misconducting Yourself; Misleading Conduct # 7 – Micromanaging Your People


About B-Cause

B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

2 Responses

  1. Aisling

    This is a great article for reminding people of the value of relationships. It also highlights the importance of open and fair communication. So many people hold back from having ‘grown up’ conversations with their staff because of some misplaced belief they ‘won’t understand’. My experience is that is you treat your staff as equals and are honest and truthful they will respect you.

Thats our take on things. Over to you, please add to the discussion.

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